When All You Can Do Is Gape

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

From L-R: John Cho, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto & J.J. Abrams. Photo taken by Andrew Eccles.

From L-R: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint. Photo taken by Matt Holyoak.

Oh, to be behind the lens...

P.S. Click on the pictures above to view MQ/HQ versions. Don't forget to credit the photographers if you post the pictures on your site. Peace!

From Days Of Long Ago...

Okay, before you go kill me with a phaser, I have a confession to make: my knowledge of Star Trek is about little to none at all. I wasn't even planning on watching it in the cinemas. Heck, I didn't even bother to watch all the online trailers. Perhaps, the reason behind it is my lack of interest for anything sci-fi. While I was curious about other life forms beyond our galaxy, I never fulfilled that wonder zealously. Which would probably lead you folks to ask me this question: why chose this rebooted version to be my baptism of fire?

Well, why not? I could cite many factors that piqued my interest. However, I'm zeroing in on no one else but J.J. Abrams.

I've been a fan of J.J. Abrams since Felicity. I make sure I give my due diligence by checking out his creations, small or big screen. The most recent of which is Fringe. While I admit to missing out on some of his works like Cloverfield, I felt the need to support him in his latest feature film endeavor like what I did for Mission: Impossible III, especially after reading the speculations and fears of hardcore fans on his vision. After seeing it twice on IMAX, first with the press and second with friends, I can say with great certainty that movie goers -- Star Trek fans or not -- will enjoy this delight of a film.

In true J.J. Abrams' fashion, the opening credits came several minutes after showing scenes that help build toward some crucial plot points in the movie (i.e. a Romulan spaceship appearing from a black hole, the birth of the future Captain James T. Kirk). Despite my limited knowledge of the Star Trek universe, I somehow knew by the scenes that this wasn't just a plain homage. It is indeed a reboot. And a gratifying one indeed. That particular brand of storytelling was apparent until the very end, all without disappointing the hardcore fans who happily cheered as much as I did. Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with J.J., deserve several high fives for this. The script was fresh and fantastic, that even incorporating famous lines such as "I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" didn't feel contrived or self-serving.

Along with the story and direction, I am very pleased with the actors selected to bring the beloved characters to life. Despite the pressures imposed upon them, I felt that the actors translated that energy into riveting performances worthy of their own merits. Chris Pine as Kirk was engaging, cocky yet cool, and tough as nails without being burly. Zachary Quinto fits Spock to a tee, with his eerie but gripping portrayal and sharp delivery of those lengthy, jargon-ridden lines. I'm quite sure that he has definitely lived up to Mr. Nimoy's expectations. Zoe Saldana's Uhura was strong yet feminine, sexy and smart without being over the top. Karl Urban's somewhat harried McCoy is a treat to watch, as were John Cho's deadpan but wry Sulu and Anton Yelchin's enthusiastic Chekov. Bruce Greenwood's Captain Pike and Eric Bana's Nero were formidable, their screen presence commanding. Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime is enigmatic and unquestionable. However, the one actor that gets my two-thumbs up is Simon Pegg. I may be a bit biased here but casting him as Scotty is genius to the nth degree. That line -- "Can I get a towel?" -- never fails to crack me up. Aside from that, a major delight for me was recognizing some cast members as J.J. Abrams' regular crop of actors -- those who've appeared in at least one of his productions -- like Amanda Foreman, Rachel Nichols, Faran Tahir, Oz Perkins, to name a few. For a moment, I thought that I wouldn't feel Greg Grunberg's presence. While all I got is his voice, he could give John Forsythe a run for his money. And that made it all well in the Abramsverse.

While the story, the direction and the acting ensemble carry a good amount of weight to ensure a film's success, the undeniably talented and hardworking crew contributed a lot to making Star Trek into the multi-sensory experience that it is. Most notable for me is Michael Giacchino who set the tone of the movie with his powerful yet elegant score. Other production elements -- Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Set Decoration, Special and Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Mixing -- made final product into a well-polished diamond, which I feel made it tricky for nitpickers to spot any goofs or continuity errors. I couldn't spot or find anything odd after seeing it twice on an 80-foot screen. Even if I plan to see it for a third time soon, I doubt I'd find something wrong about this movie.

By now, it'll be quite obvious to say that I was won over. However, does this mean I'll be a Trekkie? Perhaps but not immediately. Not anytime soon, to be honest, given the intimidating volume of material surrounding the Star Trek universe which is about four decades worth. Nonetheless, considering a $72.5M opening weekend and a sequel already in the works, I will definitely return to the cinemas a few years from now to satisfy that newfound franchise fan in me. Every Trekkie starts somewhere. Baby Vulcan steps are all I can muster. For now. =)

The verdict: Warp 4.5

Star Trek is now showing in Philippine cinemas. Special thanks to New Worlds Alliance and to Solar-UIP for the Press Screening invitation!

The Great Book Blockade Of 2009

If ever you're wondering why books in local store shelves have become more expensive lately, read on, be enlightened and spread word.

by Robin Hemley

Occasionally, my daughter Shoshie announces that she's going to be the richest person in the world when she grows up—this is what living in a poor country like the Philippines will do to a kid. She recently made this remark as we passed a girl about 9 years old, dressed in an odd kind of caftan many sizes too big and holding a limp infant as she begged.

"You should just want to have enough money," I said. "Why have too much?"

"I'm going to give a lot of it to the poor," she said.

"Then you won't be the richest person in the world," I told her.

"But I'm going to have a lot of jobs."

"Then you won't be the richest person in the world." I explained that typically people are rich or poor in inverse proportion to how many jobs they have or how hard they work.

"You only need one job," I told her. "You're a dual citizen, so when you are old enough come back here and be a customs official. Then you'll make a lot of money and won't have to do a thing for it." I'm not sure she got it. It's hard to explain to a 6-year-old. Hell, I don't even understand it.

Few countries can compete with the Philippines when it comes to corruption—it's always near the top of the list of most-corrupt nations and the G20 nations recently blacklisted it, along with only three other countries, for its banking practices. In polls, Filipinos tag customs as the most corrupt department. And for good reason.

Over coffee one afternoon, a book-industry professional (whom I can't identify) told me that for the past two months virtually no imported books had entered the country, in part because of the success of one book, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book, an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it.

"Ah, you can't be too successful in this country," I said. "If you are, then people start demanding a cut."

"Even before you are successful," she said. "But, yes, I'm a Filipino, but I have to admit this is true. Have you heard of 'crab mentality'?"

I'd been hearing of this so-called crab mentality since I first arrived in the country 10 years earlier. It's the notion that crabs will climb on top of one another to escape the pot in which they are to be cooked, but, instead of letting one crab escape, the remaining crabs pull the other one back.

But most crabs I've encountered in the Philippines are small-time little hermit crabs or dashing sand crabs. The crabs in government are the kind you'd find in an old Japanese horror film, with an entire city's population running in fear as the crabs snip away public works, entire highway projects, intangibles, such as hope and justice, and, now, books.

"Yes," I told her. "I've heard of crab mentality."

The importer of Twilight made a mistake and paid the duty requested. A mistake because such duty flies in the face of the Florence Agreement, a U.N. treaty that was signed by the Philippines in 1952, guaranteeing the free flow of "educational, scientific, and cultural materials" between countries and declaring that imported books should be duty-free. Mr. Agulan told the importer that because the books were not educational (i.e., textbooks) they were subject to duty. Perhaps they aren't educational, I might have argued, but aren't they "cultural"?

No matter. With this one success under their belt, customs curtailed all air shipments of books entering the country. Weeks went by as booksellers tried to get their books out of storage and started intense negotiations with various government officials.

What doubly frustrated booksellers and importers was that the explanations they received from various officials made no sense. It was clear that, for whatever reason—perhaps the 30-billion-peso ($625 million) shortfall in projected customs revenue—customs would go through the motions of having a reasonable argument while in fact having none at all.

Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales explained the government's position to a group of frustrated booksellers and importers in an Orwellian PowerPoint presentation, at which she reinterpreted the Florence Agreement as well as Philippine law RA 8047, providing for "the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing." For lack of a comma after the word "books," the undersecretary argued that only books "used in book publishing" (her underlining) were tax-exempt.

"What kind of book is that?" one publisher asked me afterward. "A book used in book publishing." And she laughed ruefully.

I thought about it. Maybe I should start writing a few. Harry the Cultural and Educational Potter and His Fondness for Baskerville Type.

Likewise, with the Florence Agreement, she argued that only educational books could be considered protected by the U.N. treaty. Customs would henceforth be the arbiter of what was and wasn't educational.

"For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?" she was asked.

"Yes," she told the stunned booksellers.

The writer David Torrey Peters, who once spent a year in Cameroon (which is even more corrupt than the Philippines), wrote of being pulled out of a taxi by a policeman who demanded that he produce his immunization card. David did this, but the cop told him that he was missing an AIDS vaccination. When David told the man that there was no such thing as an AIDS vaccine, the policeman was indignant.

"You think just because there isn't an AIDS vaccine I can't arrest you for not having one?"

This is the I-will-say-everything-with-a-straight-face-no-matter-how-absurd hallmark of corruption. It's what Orwell wrote about in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language" when he warns of the ways in which bureaucrats defend "the indefensible" by twisting words to suit their purposes. Though he singled out English, corruption happens in every language. However, he did make special mention of undersecretaries as being among the worst purveyors of actual meaning. Not that that has any relevance here (cough, cough), Undersecretary Sales.

Moving on.

During this time, the only bright spot for book lovers in Manila, or at least those who wanted to read foreign as well as local authors, came in March with the sailing into Manila Bay of the M.V. Doulos, the oldest operating passenger ship in the world, built only a couple of years after the Titanic. Destined to be scrapped within the next couple of years, the ship chugged into town, laden with books. The Doulos is run by a religious group and sails around the world as a kind of floating bookstore/library with an international crew of volunteers.

What?!! Volunteers?! Have they no shame?

The sheer shock of a boatload of selfless individuals sailing into Manila Bay must have given customs officials a brain freeze, dazing them long enough for the old ship to make it past the Great Book Blockade of 2009.

I visited the Doulos on one bright Sunday afternoon with Shoshie, Margie, Naomi, and two of Shoshie's friends. We walked up the gangplank into a scene of sheer chaos—a frenzy of book-hungry ManileƱos. A heartening sight, but not unexpected—the Philippines is one of the largest markets for books written in English in the world and new bookstores with such names as Power Books and Fully Booked have been cropping up all over metro Manila in recent years to compete with the ubiquitous and aptly named National Bookstore.

Throughout February and March, bookstores seemed on the verge of getting their books released—all their documents were in order, but the rules kept changing. Now they were told that all books would be taxed: 1 percent for educational books and 5 percent for noneducational books. A nightmare scenario for the distributors; they imagined each shipment being held for months as an examiner sorted through the books. Obviously, most would simply pay the higher tax to avoid the hassle.

Distributors told me they weren't "capitulating" but merely paying under protest. After all, customs was violating an international treaty that had been abided by for over 50 years. Meanwhile, booksellers had to pay enormous storage fees. Those couldn't be waived, they were told, because the storage facilities were privately owned (by customs officials, a bookstore owner suggested ruefully). One bookstore had to pay $4,000 on a $10,000 shipment.

The day after the first shipment of books was released, an internal memo circulated in customs congratulating themselves for finally levying a duty on books, though no mention was made of their pride in breaking an international treaty.

As the narrator of Aravind Adiga's 2008 Man Booker Prize–winning novel, The White Tiger, says, "Stories of rottenness and corruption are always the best stories, aren't they?"

Now, once again, Filipinos can read those words from a foreign author and customs can reap the benefits. And Shoshie? We were just reading a Filipino folktale the other night about a certain King Crab and his war with the mosquitoes. She only laughed when I suggested she might like to grow up to be Queen Crab.
Clockwise from Top Left: Alex Patsavas, Liz Phair, J.K. Rowling, Annie Leibovitz, Libba Bray & Stephenie Meyer

On several occasions, especially on dull afternoons, I daydream about having a different career. However, the careers I dream about are often those that would make you wish that money wasn't an issue. Being the eldest of two kids from a middle-class family, expectations of being the next breadwinner is often resting on your shoulders. I think I'm able to fulfill those expectations already. While I enjoy my profession, it never erases those little "what-if" thoughts. And sometimes coming across bios of the women I featured above make me believe that those little dreams, while a bit far-fetched, can be possible.

To start off my dream career list, I remember wanting to be a photo-journalist for National Geographic. While I loved browsing through fashion magazines, I'd prefer to take pictures of anything else but people. Until I encountered Vanity Fair and Annie Leibovitz. I started having by-line and contributor dreams. I don't know how Annie does it but her photo spreads are always unbelievable. She captures her subjects well and has a great eye for detail and light. The moment Annie becomes your photographer makes you feel like you've made it, especially for those who are pretty much under the limelight. I've been meaning to purchase my first digital SLR camera because of her. That and perhaps, the encouragement of friends who've seen my shots to take photography as a habit.

The journalist bit of my first dream career inspired me to consider another one: fiction writer. Writing is another love of mine. I think I write better than I speak. I was such a wallflower when I was younger that most of my thoughts often go to my diaries, which I burned after I discovered Microsoft Word and transcribed them. Most of my writing were short stories and poems until I started working on my own full-length fiction. I haven't added much to what I've written so far but I'm hoping that I'll be able to finish it sooner or later. As I started writing, I got reminded of some best-selling authors who are my personal idols: J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Libba Bray. The series of fiction they've written (Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy) will be always on my frequently re-read shelf. To be able to achieve a small bit of the success they have, it'll be really cool. There's a certain creative freedom you can afford by writing fiction. It's your story: you set the rules. And perhaps, that's what inspires me to go through with what I'm writing: the opportunity to lay my own groundwork.

However, the main fuel behind what keeps me going with my fiction writing, more importantly in my daily grind, is music. While I sing nicely, I'm not as musical as I would hope to be (or at least, didn't get enough training and resources for it). I don't have the creativity to make an arrangement or think of lyrics to match it. But I didn't realize that you can build a career in music without have to plot a note or a lyric. All you need is a pair of good ears like those of Alex Patsavas and Liz Phair, musical supervisors to two of my favorite TV guilty pleasures: Gossip Girl and 90210. While Liz forayed into the business as an artist before transitioning into the world of music supervision with 90210, Alex has been the go-to girl of a lot of popular US TV shows and movies: she's probably on Josh Schwartz's speed dial and has recently put her stamp on Twilight. As I reviewed Alex's IMDB page, I realized that we almost havethe same taste in music. I'm a soundtrack junkie for as long as I can remember. I made a lot of mix CDs for my friends whenever I felt like it. If I had an iPod, I'd probably make tons of track lists to cover my every mood. Heck, I don't know how to drive but I have a driving mix list in my head. Watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist made me yearn to have my own recording studio. Perhaps, that's one other thing my brother would also like to have as well.

While I do realize that these dreams are a bit far off my radar, it's nice to know that there are certain other things that I liked to do and can be possible if I can put my head and heart into it. All I need are some tools of trade to get me going full throttle: a digital SLR with a great set of lenses, a uber chic laptop and a recording studio. Oh, and throw in a baby grand in the mix. Might as well dream big. Never hurts to do so. =)

Me? A Dedicated Reader?

Yeah. I may to agree with that. =)

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

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I Never Imagined

Last Monday, I ate with a friend of mine at Teriyaki Boy. As I was munching on my order of Katsudon, Salmon Sashimi and a can of Coke Light, I got reminded of the fact that perhaps more than three years ago, I never ate a single Japanese dish. It was one of the things that me and my mother argued about: my so-called lack of variety in the things I eat. I am picky with my food. She thinks that the reason for it was that I was Gerber-fed when I was little (unlike my brother who was a Cerelac boy). It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that hounded me for years. What made the situation worse was it being coupled with a childhood sickness which eliminated aggravating food items on my options list. I was in that state for a good 10 years of my life until I turned sixteen and have had enough. I waged a battle against my own body's reaction to certain foods. While I'm still far away from achieving gastronomic nirvana, I think I've progressed well with the variety in food I eat. And that childhood sickness? Gone with God's grace, and hopefully it'll be so for a long, long time. Or else, I wouldn't be able to enjoy a good serving of Salmon Sashimi dipped in wasabi-infused soy sauce. Imagine that.


In a couple of the training sessions I have attended, several of my client team members -- mostly men or boys -- were with me. While most of them have been in the company longer than I am, I'm quite impressed of the fact that they'd still participate in those sessions to refresh their knowledge. In the course of those activities, I got to know them a bit more and share little puns already. Because of those instances, I felt I was channeling my inner P.J. Franklin: being one of the boys. Over the course of my existence, I noticed that I have a good set of guy friends and sometimes, the best of them were always in threes. I had three best guy friends in high school, college and even my first job. Now, maybe I have twenty? It's too early to tell but at least, they're more confident to include me in a joke or two. Imagine that.


Since I reviewed Watchmen, I haven't seen another movie in the Gateway Cineplex. For close to two months already. And here I was thinking that when I transferred last August, I'd probably be checking out a new movie at least once a week. I've got no excuse, right? I'm near a mall with good cinemas. I guess I was wrong. The irony of your workplace being located beside a mall: so close yet so far. Imagine that.


During this week, I got two e-mails that landed me free tickets to two of 2009's US Summer Blockbusters hitting Philippine cinemas -- X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Star Trek. Yay me! I'll be watching them on two consecutive nights. Some anniversary I'll be having: eye-candy with around 10 hot Hollywood actors. Imagine that.

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