Culture

Pre-Watergate heroism in The Post (2017)

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Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham. Photo by Niko Tavernise

One of the best films on journalism and empowered women

It’s wonderful how, especially in recent years, Hollywood has come to appreciate journalism as an industry, even to Oscar-award levels.

In 2016, Spotlight won Best Picture. In 2018, The Post almost did.

I love The Post.

It’s based on the 1971 story of Katharine Graham, first female publisher of a major newspaper (The Washington Post), and how she grappled with conflicting interests — a choice between keeping her friends, reputation, and (possibly) profits; or upholding freedom of the press and defying douchey US president Nixon.

Meryl Streep, as Graham, is divine as ever. You’ll see her character’s subtle transformation from a nervous, reluctant heiress of a newspaper (from her charismatic husband who had committed suicide), to a woman who — after a lifetime of being ignored or dismissed — has realized she has a voice: that of being the boss. There’s a scene where she, teary-eyed and torn to two sides, makes a decision that changes her life forever. You can’t help but feel victorious with her.

The Post is one of those movies that make you think, “The question is only whether to print or not to print — yet it’s nail-biting as shit!” But then, it’s a Steven Spielberg film. Artful montages of newspaper production — infused with music by John Williams — create an accelerating tension that will leave you breathless. Tom Hanks (as editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee) is also effective as the fire-spitting, feet-on-the-desk editor who locks horns with (albeit in a gentlemanly way) his publisher friend.

I have my reservations about how the Vietnam war scene was made, though. Spielberg chose the dramatic irony route, and I wonder how it would have been if it were in a different way.

But — yeah — The Post is awesome! I watched it twice and still found it riveting the second time. Five dazzling stars!

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Culture

Angels and Demons and Popes

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Sculptures at the Trevi Fountain. Photo by Ivan Bertona on Unsplash

Why Rome should be on your bucket list

Recently I watched Angels and Demons (2009), Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. It’s tolerable. Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is bland — but then we don’t really care, because Langdon isn’t the reason Angels and Demons is remarkable: it’s the fact that the story is set in the culturally rich city of Rome.

I’ve been to Rome once, in 2007, and I still get violently nostalgic and paralyzing daydreams of my visit there. It was there that I realized what a paradoxical city Rome is, and how it should be part of anybody’s bucket list.

St Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

It is a melting pot of cultures. For conservatives, it is of course the epicenter of faith (and power): it’s where the Pope lives (well, technically, no; but Vatican City and Rome are geographically too close and confusing that you can say the Vatican is Rome). It’s also a place where there’s a church in every corner, with artworks by Renaissance masters as well as relics of saints. And for liberals, it is a hub of freedom and license — even the birthplace and home of bacchanalia.

So it is perfectly normal to smell incense inside Santa Maria del Popolo one moment, and then fumigation-level cigarette smoke in the next, as you exit. Don’t be surprised to see couples smooching down Circo Massimo’ sloping fields…after your short walk to the Basilica of St John Lateran. And don’t forget: that Roman air you’re breathing? — it’s infused with essences from laws enforcing divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. All this contrast and heterogeneity is, for me, strangely…beautiful. It echoes words from St Paul’s letter to (precisely) the Romans:

Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

Also, Rome is a city-size “museum”. Once you’re there, you won’t really absolutely need to enter any museum, because there are museum-level sights even if you are outdoors: Castel Sant Angelo, the Colosseum, Piazza Spagna, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, even the Tiber River. Just get a good Internet connection and consult Google Maps and Wikipedia entries about the places you’re visiting (but don’t believe Wikipedia too much — it’s like your regular tour guide who mixes facts and rumors).

Castel Sant Angelo along the Tiber River. Photo by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash

But by saying “Rome is in itself a museum”, I’m not saying “don’t go to museums”! The most cherished treasures still are in well guarded enclosed rooms, most famously the Vatican Museums (again, I’m considering the name “Rome” quite loosely here).

A visit to the Vatican Museums is worth the queues and the euros. Inside you’ll find roomfuls of masterpieces, including those by three of the four Ninja Turtles: Raphael, Leonardo, and Michaelangelo (Donatello has a ciborium at St Peter’s Basilica, though). The most overwhelming part of the Vatican Museums tour is certainly the climax — the Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment and the Biblical scenes on the chapel’s ceilings are simply dazzling. From afar, the characters seem alive and three-dimensional. This part of the tour is best when there are few visitors — when you can dare lie on the floor and marvel at the famed ceiling…and the fact that this very room has produced popes in the last 500 years.

Sistine Chapel ceiling. Photo by Aaron Logan on Wikimedia

For me, however, the foremost reason Rome is just absolutely #1 on my bucket list is this: it’s the center of Catholicism, the Pope’s home (don’t get me started on the jurisdiction stickler-talk). If you can, visit Rome during Holy Week. Nothing beats an Easter Vigil Mass with no less than the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica. In the darkness of that Holy Saturday at St Peter’s 11 years ago, I shuddered thinking about the tumultuous history of the Church, filled with sinners and saints; the unbroken succession of 266 Bishops of Rome, from Peter to Francis; the many artists and intellectuals who have drawn inspiration from this timeless city aptly called Eternal; and, of course, how Robert Langdon, the boring symbologist, saved the day, again.

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Culture

Dear Government, this is how to make our daily commute less hellish

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Photo by Bash Carlos on Unsplash

10 suggestions harassed commuters secretly love

Because I hate Grab’s monopolizing schemes, I now advocate other means of public transportation.

But Metro Manila’s public transpo situation is, of course, the one you can expect in hell.

So, for whatever it’s worth, here are 10 suggestions on how government and operators can make the daily ride through hell less infernal.

  1. Make the damn elevators and escalators work. The least one can do to alleviate train riders’ sufferings is make them climb less. And don’t tell me they’re down for some “maintenance work”. Maintenance work for over six months? That’s not “work” — that’s retirement.
  2. Make the damn AC work. Precisely one of the reasons people would rather choose the long queues at train stations is the temporary comfort they’ll get once they’re inside the train — or so they expect. Because, no, the trains are often without air-conditioning that the windows are sometimes opened just to let oxygen in.
  3. Make a map of all jeepney routes and publicize it. Something like the famous Vignelli subway maps — color-coded, geometric, simple. This would help people (including tourists) to plan their trips around the city.
  4. Create co-working-space buses. This idea I got from a fellow Toastmaster, Mark Escay. If we are going to get stuck in traffic for three hours anyway (that’s six hours per day!), why not ride a (presumably premium, members-only) bus with wifi connection, poufs, cacti, coffee, and doughnuts? You’ll get some work done while on the road. (Though, frankly, I wonder why some people need to go to the office when their jobs are already digital.)
  5. Make the tricycles larger. It is dehumanizing to crouch so low and consider it “sitting”. I mean, pigs and chickens have better lot when transported to their slaughterhouse — at least they’re standing with dignity. And get those trikes some extra headroom: nobody wants to get out of them with souvenir concussions.

Now, a short disclaimer, what follows are suggestions which some may find offensive, but actually secretly love with all their hearts:

  1. Ban standing when riding the bus. This would alleviate unnecessary guilt by seated men in this age of gender equality.
  2. Create extra-fast lanes in train stations. I’m thinking slides. So aside from elevators and escalators (and stairs), there should be slides as well, for the chronic latecomers.
  3. Explore installing ziplines along train lines. These are for the daredevils who are late for work.
  4. Devise fart-bombs (FBs) to be used by commuters who are denied rides by taxi drivers. Make the FBs small enough for them to drop in the cab’s back seat as they — denied but undefeated — rush out and look for cover.
  5. Put spikes that automatically emerge on the edges of pedestrian lanes whenever the red light is on. This would discourage motorists from obstructing the crossing pedestrians.

Do you have anything to add to the list? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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Culture

Loco over Coco (2017)

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Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash

This Pixar feature is a classic

Coco (2017) is certainly Pixar’s best movie. What drew me to the film is not exactly its stunning visuals, but the emotions you’ll share with the characters.

Little Miguel pursues a dream that brings him to the underworld — the dream of becoming a musician and meeting his great-grandfather. He learns life (and death) lessons along the way, of course.

I’m guessing the film made the most money in collectivist-religious societies like the Philippines (and Mexico, certainly, where the story is set). It’s in these cultures where love for family seems to be most manifested and celebrated. While Mexicans have Dia de Muertos, we Filipinos have Undas which commemorates — to a quasi-festive level — our beloved departed. It’s the same theme of remembering dead loved ones whom, in a sometimes macabre manner, we treat as alive (e.g. talking to their graves and leaving them their favorite food or drink).

Coco (2017) movie poster from Disney/Pixar

I like how the movie pulls you to become part of Miguel’s family. Suddenly I loved Mama Coco (Miguel’s soft-spoken great-grandmother who has severe dementia) — or was it that I just missed my grandmother who died more than a decade ago? Suddenly I felt sad for Hector, who can’t visit the land of the living because nobody remembers him anymore — or was it that I suddenly became conscious of loved ones whom I’ve taken for granted and somehow forgotten? It’s these feelings that make Coco quite the hammer blow to my oh-so-fragile heart.

In the end, Coco reminds us that life on earth is fluid and impermanent. It’s a continuous welcoming and letting go. And it’s sad, really. But then, put into the picture love and memory. The whole drama of life and love and loss unfolds. And it’s beautiful. Sad, but beautiful. But, as the film suggests, there’s no need to lose joy: there is always the hope of ultimate reunion.

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