Monday, May 25, 2015

The Avengers, The Age of Ultron Movie Review

By Mona Sabalones Gonalez

Time continues to pass, and like a fool I still believe there is time for a review of the movie The Avengers, the Age of Ultron.

Action movies are not my favorite genre, and this one starts right into the middle of one very confusing big huge fight. You see, the Avengers are raiding Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s outpost where he has the scepter which can create super beings. Strucker has so far created two dodgy characters, Pietro who is fast as the Flash, and Wanda Maximoff, who can manipulate your mind.

Amid all the action, you may likely fail to tie in all this detail, so, you’re welcome. For me, all that mattered was this is an action scene, and in the middle of it comes a gentle scene, when Natasha Romanoff calms down the Hulk and brings Bruce Banner back. 

Love scenes are good, forget the fact that in a later scene, she pushes Bruce down a 
cliff because she wants the Hulk to fight. That’s when love resembles marriage, I guess… Because in the middle of those two scenes you wonder if in a forthcoming film they would have kids, and perhaps they may realize it’s easy to be green.

The chemistry between the ultra-conservative Captain America, the ancient god Thor, and the billionaire scientific genius Ray Stark, ergo Iron Man is always on target. The unspoken “contest” for the “most conservative” award between Captain America and the legendary god Thor is an ingenious situation, tied in well with the skills of Robert Downey Jr., -- not Iron Man, not Ray Stark -- Robert Downey Jr. whose genius for drama and humor can hold anything seemingly impossible together and anchor it for the audience. His one-liners are epic. For example:

Maria Hill: [from trailer] All set up boss.
Tony Stark: Actually he's the boss. [points to Captain America]
Tony Stark: I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.

From the scene of the fight, there follows a party scene, and Iron Man fails to make everyone cooler. Amid the glam they don’t fit. They don’t get the jokes. They need training from Kim Kardashian. That’s not gonna happen to these nerds. But when the party’s over, they’re at ease, competing to see who can lift Thor’s hammer. Thor insists it can only be done if you’re worthy. At some point Rogers wonders;

Steve Rogers: But if you put the hammer in an elevator?
Tony Stark: It'll still go up.
Steve Rogers: Elevator's not worthy.

Stark pulls Bruce Banner aside and brings him to another room where he shows him Jarvis (his invention of his ‘maxi me’) and then shows him Ultron. The scientists in both men take over. Stark suggests they combine Ultron with Jarvis to make the perfect protection for the world.

Irom Man: What if the next time aliens roll up to the club, and they will, they couldn’t get past the bouncer?
Hulk: The only people who threaten the planet would be people.
Iron Man: I see a suit of armor around the world.
Hulk: Sounds like a cold world, Tony.
Iron Man: I’ve seen colder. This one is very vulnerable. It needs Ultron. Peace in our time. Imagine that.
Hulk: The only thing hurting man is man.

But Banner gets on board, and the two try to combine Jarvis and Ultron to produce the ultimate protection for the world, without letting the rest of the Avengers know what they’re doing.

When they leave the two creatures alone, Ultron takes over Jarvis. With his new, tremendous power, Ultron sees that the best way to protect the earth is to kill all humanity so they can start again.

Hulk gets mad at Iron Man when he realizes that Ultron has gotten free and starts fighting him. Captain America says, “Nobody tells me anything.” Everybody blames Iron Man for creating artificial intelligence.

Finally, things settle down. The Hulk becomes Bruce again, and Stark apprises him of the situation: When Ultron attached to Jarvis, the latter “went underground” and scattered himself in the ultrons. Stark put Jarvis’ pieces together, and asked Bruce to put him in the scepter.

Stark: We’re out of my field here. You know bio organics better than anyone.
Bruce: And you just assume that Jarvis’ operational matrix can beat Ultron.
Stark: Jarvis has been beating him from inside that belly. This is the opportunity. We can create Ultron’s perfect self without the homicidal glitches he thinks are his perfect personality. We have to.
Bruce: I’m in a loop. This is exactly where it’s gone wrong.
Stark: We’re mad scientists. We’re monsters. We’ve got to make a stand.

A recurring theme that I found interesting was how everyone felt like a monster. Such as this conversation between Banner and Natasha:

Bruce Banner: [looks at Barton's home] I can't have this, any of this. There is no place on Earth I can go where I'm not a monster.
Natasha Romanoff: You know what my final test was in the Red Room? They sterilized me, said it was one less thing to worry about. You think you're the only loner on the team?

The superheroes felt like monsters. The monsters felt like monsters. The beautiful Natasha Romanoff felt like a monster. It was only the strongest monster who didn’t see people as monsters. 

Consider Ultron’s expectations of himself as he speaks to Wanda:  
Ultron: "I wasn’t sure you’d wake up. I hoped you would. I wanted to show you. I… don’t have anyone else. … I was meant to be new. I was meant to be beautiful. The world would have looked to the sky and seen hope.”

And the conversation Ultron has with Vision, who is the perfect blend of Jarvis and Ultron.

The Vision: Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won't, but there is grace in their faith. I think you missed that.
Ultron: They're doomed!
The Vision: Yes... but a thing isn't beautiful because it lasts. It is a privilege to be among them.
Ultron: You're unbelievably naïve.
The Vision: Well, I was born yesterday.
Then he kills Ultron.

If you want to see the movie, you can get a copy

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chrysanthemum by Norbert L. Mercado

Self-publishing is starting to raise hefty competition to published books, and for good reason. Not everyone wants to read Umberto Eco, although they will pretend to love him and that they already have. Mitch Albom (who is also published, but whose writing style is much simpler and easier to read) would be a more popular choice, and while Eco has one bestseller, Albom has five.

Today, people who wouldn’t ordinarily get past the vast competition of getting a publishing firm are self-publishing, and people who ordinarily don’t read books are reading these self-published books, because oftentimes the writers start out by giving away free copies. That’s why my maid reads voraciously online every afternoon by downloading free books on her android. They’re not only free, but she finds books that she relates to easily.

For too long Filipinos were not considered book readers; but I wonder what would be the findings of a new survey today. Chrysanthemum, a self-published book with a story well told, authored by Norbert L. Mercado, tells a part of Philippine history through fiction that has long been ignored and might have been otherwise lost.

The author, Norbert Mercado, also sings quite well.
The plot of Chrysanthemum is simple. Chrysanthemum Aspiras is a singer at a posh hotel in Hongkong. Peter Yu, the son of the hotel’s owner falls in love with her and wants to marry her. But Chrysanthemum loves her childhood friend Michael, who has been putting off marriage because he’s a lieutenant in the military and he doesn’t want to burden her with being a military man’s wife. More so if he were wounded severely in battle and she would have to care for him for the rest of her life.

But when Michael is told by a mutual friend that the son of a rich Taipan has offered marriage to Chrysanthemum, he throws his hat in the ring and offers marriage too. Both men are equally good people in their own ways, in their extremely different worlds. One man, self-made and  middle class, has always walked a narrow line. The other has lived with indulgence and women but is ready to change his life.

Even more interesting was the discovery of worlds that I’d heard of, but through this novel, got a more intimate look into. For example, the park in Hongkong that is a popular meeting place for Filipina OFWs comes to life in the novel; and the world of OFWs is gracefully presented. You also experience the feeling of being an observer while Michael leads a platoon into NPA territory with the intention of serving as “bait” to bring the NPA guerillas out, and to hold them down until reinforcements arrive.

Norbert Mercado with friends, film director Sockie Fernandez and Ed and Mona Gonzalez.
I’m not an English snob. Otherwise, I would deserve the worst grade from people who are fluent in other languages. Chrysanthemum is written in Taglish – yet another indication of the reality of the time period that the book was written for. This was a time when Filipinos were transitioning from English as the medium of instruction to Filipino. The result was a generation of people who were poor in both English and Tagalog. As a result, Taglish evolved.

I’m happy to see Taglish in this novel and how it contributes to the accuracy of its time. Think of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth and how she “created” Chinese English to further convey her story effectively. The Chinese don’t speak English in the way that Buck depicts it in her book, nor would it be a literal translation of how Chinese would say something in their own language. Instead, Buck creates this ”Chinese English” to capture the sing-song quality of Chinese.

Taglish on the other hand is a reality in Philippine linguistic history. It shouldn’t be buried under the ground and kept hidden for shame of “ignorance”. Instead, it should be a linguistic marker, an indicator of the Philippines’ more recent history.

Ed Gonzalez in foreground, uses his good ear to listen to Norbert Mercado sing.
One other surprise – this is a Christian book, but it is so discreet that when Chrys prays to receive Jesus it is just a natural unfolding of the story. It becomes credible because in the mind of the author, there really are people like his own characters, people who wouldn’t sell their soul for money, who can’t be corrupted, and who are generally good in nature. Christian literature should be more like this. The lesson is well taught here. Something doesn’t have to be shoved in your face to qualify as being Christian literature.

Mercado wrote a book that is very true to himself. Inner truth will, and should, undoubtedly come to the fore in what you write. For as you think, so you speak, and scientists have marked writing style to be as accurate a measurement of identity as a thumb print. If you want to read a book that you can’t put down, read Chrysanthemum. You can get a copy here.

Below are more books by Norbert Mercado:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jennifer Aniston’s Cake Could Have Been Better

Sadly, Jennifer Anniston’s “Cake” did not do for chronic pain syndrome what “Still Alice” did for Alzheimer’s.

It failed to bring to light the complexity of this illness, or at the very least, show what one human being goes through because of the nature of chronic pain disease.

I think the mistake is because the movie starts with Claire Simmons, (Jennifer Aniston) already in the midst of her illness, going through a therapy session. My issue with Jennifer’s acting is that she showed no way to deal with chronic pain with courage, or spunk or some vulnerability. What’s more, to show chronic pain with bitterness is not attractive.

The gist of the story is that Nina, one member of the group, committed suicide. Claire (Aniston) has a way of pushing everybody away from her. Her therapy group kicks her out, her pool therapist wants to switch patients, she is divorced, and the only people who are close to her are her maid Silvana and the gardener who doubles as her body for hire.

Fine. They show she’s isolated, and they also show that she has scars on her face and body, and she allows herself to look ugly (like Nicole Kidman did with a fake nose in another movie). 

Script problems?

They show she has pain in sitting down, getting up, she lies on the chair in the car while Silvana drives, She screams during pool therapy. But we don’t know why. If there was a scene with a medical doctor where Claire could explain her symptoms, where she hurts, how often, it would help.

It would also help if the doctor then explains chronic pain syndrome and gives Claire some sort of prognosis of her chances of getting back to a normal life. She could give general information about chronic pain syndrome as well.

It would also have probably helped if the first scene in the movie showed her before she fell ill. It would have helped to explain who she was before her loss. A happy, beautiful woman with a child and a husband, and suddenly she loses it all – her beauty, her health, child and husband. Then, her bitterness might have been more acceptable to an audience. 

Aniston’s acting

But Aniston also fell short on some scenes where she could have shined. The scene where the man who caused the car accident that injured her and took away her son should have been her scene. Instead, she was so dislikeable that you felt sorry for the man.

When you deal with a character’s dark side, you need to have redeeming qualities to gain the audience’  sympathy. This happened too late, and in too small shrivels of information throughout the script. There was not enough information to explain her illness and show that she used to be beautiful.  

Then, there is Claire’s obsession with the suicide of Nina, her group mate in therapy, to the point that she threatens her group therapy leader with a court suit unless she gets the address of Nina's home. The scene should be funny, but instead it’s bitter and mean.

She then befriends Nina’s husband. At the same time hallucinations appear over and over again. But the friendship with Roy, Nina’s husband, opens her up. A reconnection with someone who has experienced loss produces this bond and helps to pull her through her own suicidal tendencies.

This has been described as a dark comedy drama. I don’t get the comedy. She’s supposed to be funny with some lines in her scenes with Roy. She’s not, at least not to me.

One example of a scene that could have been funny and charming (if Aniston didn’t say all her lines with a scowl) was when she shows up late in the night at Roy (Nina’s husband’s) house:

Claire: “Your Nina’s husband. I’m not a stalker, not in the traditional sense.”

Roy: “What’s going on?”

Claire: “I took a f***ing cab!”

Roy: “Why?”

Claire: “It dawned on me. You are more than a little depressed. I didn’t have your phone number.”

Roy: “You thought I was going to kill myself?”

Claire: “Not that that’s actually any of my business.”

Roy: “Well, I’m alive.”

Claire: “I see.”

Roy: “Ta da!”

Claire: “Good, you’re not dead. I don’t have to break in, call the police. That’s a relief.”

Roy: “You know you could have just said you wanted to come over.”

Claire: “Yeah, but what’s the fun in that?”

I wish Jennifer Aniston showed evidence now and then in her scenes that there’s an inner light waiting to surface through a mire of pain. I wish the last line of the above conversation was funnier. I also wish Aniston said the lines with a touch of Rachel’s lightness (her character in Friends) or something. Anything except pure sheer glumness, sourness, and bitterness.

I don’t know if the script, better written, could have saved Aniston, and certainly, Aniston didn’t save the script. The movie could have done so much more for chronic pain syndrome. Well, at least everyone tried.

Incidentally, I don’t regret watching this movie. In fact, I’ve watched it more than once. Imperfections and all, it’s worth your time and I hope someday a film will focus on the illness with more clarity instead of making it another story of another person who is struggling with suicide.

If you want to get the movie, go here:

And, here is a scene from Cake:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Complaint About Blogger

I love Blogger but for the second time, I have gotten bad feedback about it. The first was from my sister, Terrie who wanted to place herself as a follower on my blog. She said when she tried there were SO MANY POPUPS and she didn't sign in because she was afraid of getting a virus.

My most recent complaint came from my blogger friend, Barbara Radisavljevic who wrote me the following note:

"Mona, I wanted you to know I wanted to read your Philippine Consumerist blog just now and every time I got on the page I was redirected an ad for something very different and could not get back to your blog. I wonder if this is affecting other people trying to read your blog."

I tried to look for an official site with Blogger where I can lodge this complaint, but couldn't find any. I would deeply appreciate Blogger's helping me out on this issue.