ESSAYS by Wallace Shawn (2009)

I pulled ESSAYS by Wallace Shawn out of the bowels of my TBR pile. Maybe it was all the times I’ve been seeing him in YOUNG SHELDON reruns lately, I dunno.

Some basic impressions…

  • I read every word in Vizzini’s voice.
  • Be forewarned, a lot of these pieces were written around and about 9/11.
  • Shawn lays bare, in the plainest and simplest English, the stuff a lot of people think but are afraid to say out loud, let alone publish in a book.
  • It takes some balls to publish an interview with Noam Chomsky, but give yourself the last word. But I guess when you star in a critically acclaimed and highly referenced film about hanging out with your boy at a restaurant, you can get away with things like that.

Quickie Review: AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART by Elaine Castillo

Of the novels I’ve read so far in 2020 for Filipino-American History Month, AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART was the one that resonated the most. The Filipino-America these characters inhabit differs from the one in which I came up. But it rings true for all the ways it overlaps with my and my family’s experiences.

The ways Filipinos get by in the aftermath of trauma, whether from the Japanese Occupation during WWII or Martial Law is familiar to me. The stuff they have to go through when the emigrate or help their family members emigrate is familiar. The many secrets, white lies, superstitions, large Filipino social gatherings and the cliques within, the ways class, gender, and education intersect and create tensions that are barely suppressed by utang na loob — maybe too familiar.

The ratio of Ilocano and Pangasinan phrases to Tagalog (the language of my folks) notwithstanding, almost all of us in the diaspora know a Lolo Boy, a Bebot, and a Ka Eddie. We know what gets said about the brothers of a certain family, the doctors tried to make it but couldn’t, the nurses who were the anchors of a family, and the Ate who had more going on under the surface than you might ever suspect if you didn’t know or intensely care enough about to ask.

Quickie Review: PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay

If Gina Apostol’s INSURRECTO gives an overview of 120 years of Philippine-American history, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING gives us history’s most contemporary slice.

With President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war (condemned the world over for its sanction of extrajudicial killing) as a backdrop, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING shows how a young Filipino-American man faces a choice just about all Filipinos in the diaspora face: How do you live your life in the face of the multiple horrors which have touched generations of Filipinos throughout the last century?

This can be a no-win situation. You can choose to leave the family, the barangay, the country and as a result, feel survivor’s guilt layered with whatever guilt trip others might put on you. You can stay, and escape in other ways like hiding parts of yourself, hiding your convictions, hiding your fears and concerns behind “bahala na” while trying — sometimes failing — to avoid being subsumed by the horror.

To read about a 17 year-old Filipino-American taking up this challenge in ways I never could makes him look like Harry Potter to me. Being 30 years older, let me tell you that it would’ve been easier at 17 if to imagine myself being a wizard than someone who goes “back home” and does what the protagonist here does. If “All of the adults are failing us,” as he declares in frustration, I can offer one possible explanation (though not an excuse, by any means). It could be because I didn’t have a book like PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING growing up.

Quickie Review: INSURRECTO by Gina Apostol

This has been sitting on my reading list for too long, so I figured October being Filipino American Heritage Month was as good an excuse as any to get started!

Apostol uses several layers of meta to give us an overview of the century plus of commingled history between the Philippines and the United States, from colonial times to Digong. If I’ve read correctly, I generally seem around the age of the protagonists, so a lot of the contemporary touchstones resonate with me — the Thrilla in Manila, the peccadilloes of older Titos, karaoke murders, Filipino Catholic priests, mah-jongg, San Miguel beer, aswang, shabu and extrajudicial killings. The historical touchstones I expected in a novel called INSURRECTO are all there as well: water cures, juramentados, “Damn Damn Damn the Filipinos,” Colt .45s, krags, arnis, and massacres.

But the best part is how Apostol’s centering of women throughout the narrative(s) sharply illustrate colonization’s effects on both colonizer and colonized as the two main characters try to take a good-faith look at a shared history in which they both have a personal stake. And INSURRECTO does it in a way that interrogates the ideas of “Whose story is this to tell?” and “What’s the ‘proper’ way to tell it?”

Structurally the book might confuse some. I’m not the world’s fastest novel-reader to begin with; it took me just over a week to get through this. Totally worth it, though. I don’t think I’ve ever described a piece of art as a “tour de force” before, but that’s exactly what INSURRECTO is.

It reminds me of the notes-like structure of a Mary Robison novel (expanded to full chapters, of course). I happened on a review somewhere (I lost the link) that speaks of a peculiar pattern with the chapter numbering. I’d missed it, but never went back to verify it. That’s okay. The thing that helped me stay centered despite the shifting casts of characters as remembering Armand Ianucci’s THE THICK OF IT and IN THE LOOP — a TV series and film where the same actors play different characters in a similar setting. I know, you’re probably thinking “WTF are you talking about?” Just read INSURRECTO.

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E08: “Point of Origin”

Okay, I’m way behind on these, given that Season 2 is out now! I’ve avoided spoilers and stuff so when I get around to picking in up on Blu-Ray, I’ll review just like I’m doing with Season 1 on here. Speaking of which…

We’re all immigrants in an intersectional space called… The Twilight Zone.

We’re at a point in time where the privileged are openly showing their asses in public — just the kind of folks that would’ve been a ripe target in the classic TZ era. Easy pickings for Jordan Peele, who I think has a little extra glint in his eyes as he gives the intro to this one. But we don’t just see the outward oppression by the privileged. We see its more insidious sides: the way the rules don’t apply to the privileged, feeling good about doing something illegal that you don’t feel should be, when you assume all your problems will go away as long as you play by those same rules. It’s a good life for the protagonist, which is why it’s such a scary thing for her to lose.

There are some pretty strong callbacks to classic episodes like “The Obsolete Man” and, if you look carefully and manage to spot it, to “Eye of the Beholder“. And if I’m not mistaken, a dialogue callback to “The After-Hours“. Here are some other takeaways…

  • “Matheson” charter school, get it?
  • Yay for the illustration of Asian collaboration in oppressive systems.
  • “It could expose us, and them”
  • Gotta keep the children innocent (in their privileged bubble).
  • That way the kids can concentrate on knowing how to use the technology better than you do.
  • And now we’re in the world of The Obsolete Man.
  • You know, I think there’s a certain suspension of disbelieve that producers bank on when you throw in the name “Twilight Zone.” It works sometimes… but not always.
  • It’s so good to see you again.” “You don’t remember who you are.” — just like “The After-Hours.”

The Jack Elam Score for “Point of Origin” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”

Quickie Review of SEIS MANOS (2019)

I knew what it was going for but it suffered for trying too hard and from lack of focus.

I mean, I get it, this combo looks awesome on paper: A little Robert Rodriguez grindhouse (complete with Danny Trejo), a little Shaw Brothers kung-fu action (complete with logo “homage” and displays of snake, drunken fist, and other styles… from 3 students with the same sifu, but whatever), a little Shaft (Why yes, I can dig it!), some Catholic Church+Indigenous religion-infused horror, with a dash of wokeness — well, I think you get the point.

I honestly thought this was going to be right up my alley. But it ended up being more of a 6-way intersection.

I might give a second season a chance, though.

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E07: “Not All Men”

As if men needed another reason to be horrible… in The Twilight Zone.

If there’s a message in this one, it’s a little lost on me. But I think it’s hard to see the forest for the trees because the trees are pretty damn compelling. This TZ iteration gets the societal dark side of the human condition almost note perfect (In this episode: women who feel weird saying “no,” white knighting as a pretext, men who don’t take no for an answer, etc.), in the way that the original series never could — that is, under network and advertiser scrutiny. It makes me wonder how much further “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” or “The Shelter” would go if they were made today.

The difference is, a lot of those original episodes were about a turn. There was at least an illusion that your neighbors maybe weren’t paranoid or racist or would turn on you, which a strange occurrence would then dispel. But even though tiny meteorites are as good a catalyst as aliens manipulating the power grid or a nuclear false alarm, there’s no surprise in “Not all Men.” There’s no shock as “Not All Men” reveal themselves.

I almost rated the episode lower than I did until I realized: Maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE of the 21st century, where the real shock is that there wasn’t that much illusion to dispel after all — which makes it poignant on its own terms! On the other hand, I didn’t rate it higher because even if I’m right about the point, I still feel like I had to reach a bit to get to that conclusion.

Other takeaways:

  • “The Martians might be coming.” — not the Venusians?’
  • Calling someone “a jobsworth” is definitely something worthy of a Serling script.
  • All the acts of violence men do, great and small, are all compressed and on display in one episode.
    • Patronizing men. And the women who enable it.
    • No surprise that Zeke the Geek is an asshole, “He used to be so bullied.”
    • “It’s just assholes being assholes.” Boys being boys.
    • “I guess I gave him a confusing vibe.”
    • “I just didn’t say anything.”
    • “At least the men are just as aggressive to each other, too.”
    • Yes, even the gay men.

The Jack Elam Score for “Not All Men” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E06: “Six Degrees of Freedom”

Five astronauts in search of an exit… out of The Twilight Zone.

Definitely another original series mash-up of every episode with: astronauts, a catastrophe, obvious throwback references, and more importantly, a meta examination on the nature of reality. It was simple and straightforward, but still compelling. But just because I don’t have a lot to say about it, “Six Degrees” is one of those really solid episodes that I’d expect to see if this new series lasts long enough to get its own holiday marathons. Other impressions I had…

  • Featuring The Bradbury won’t necessarily get this episode a “4” rating, now…
  • Oh, TINA is talky — is it going to go H.A.L.?
  • I’m gonna be pissed if this whole thing is just someone’s delusion.
  • Otherwise, this would be a great pilot for a sci-fi TV series.
  • I swear, the astronaut who loses his shit is THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S answer to STAR TREK:TOS’s redshirts.

Okay, so while this episode does feature The Bradbury

The Jack Elam Score for “Six Degrees of Freedom” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E05: “The Wunderkind”

Art imitates life imitating a reality TV show imitating life… uh… “Twilight Zone.”

I hoped for a follow-through on the OMEN-esque vibe I got seeing the trailer. Some kind of new update of “It’s a Good Life.” Of course, the last episode that brought this to my mind didn’t seem so good to me. “The Wunderkind” had a promising premise, a compelling character, and the clever throwback touches I’ve come to expect from the new series. Trouble is, it couldn’t get off the note of “Look, look, it’s about how we’ve normalized the weird shit going on in Washington DC, get it?” The other impressions I came away with…

  • Five episodes and I have to be imagining the continual references to “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” That jukebox could be referencing a bunch of episodes. Right…?
  • You’re blatantly mixing your o.g. TZ references with John Cho strapped to hospital bed, there — part “To Serve Man,” part “Eye of the Beholder.”
  • But only in the modern TZ could you have the Asian character say, “I want Justin Timberlake to play me in the HBO movie!”
  • The polls being “high tech baloney.” A child who “tells it like it is.” Hm, seems familiar…
  • Only in the modern TZ can Asian guys be selfish a-holes proposing ridiculous candidates/ideas, blinded by the privilege that lets him think, “Everybody wins, nobody gets hurt.” Yeah, right.
  • Nope, the episode took my suspension of disbelief a step too far. Why would parents let Raff near them again. I could believe they could go for it once, but twice? Obviously, because the plot needs it.
  • Look, little Bobby Flay jumping up on the cutting board.
  • Ah, here it is — “That was a good thing you did, Oliver. A good thing.”

I’m reminded of the interview James Gunn (the sci-fi writer, not the director) did with Rod Serling where Serling mused about the consistency of the original TZ: “It wasn’t a good show every week. It wasn’t a good show, sometimes, three weeks running.” “A” for effort here, but…

The Jack Elam Score for “Wunderkind” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E04: “A Traveler”

An assimilated people still have a line in the sand against a colonial oppressor. It’s just pushed far back. For some though, that line is set all the way… into The Twilight Zone.

I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but just in this single episode there were actual or thematic references to every original TZ episode where…

  • …someone is in a jail cell
  • …it’s all police can do to just keep a grip on WTF is going on
  • …people get paranoid and shit gets crazy
  • ::that Giorgio Tsoukalos meme::

And this reminds me of another strength of the original series. I think part (a small part, to be sure) of the reason people say stupid things like, “Why can’t modern SF/F be apolitical like THE TWILIGHT ZONE?” is because a lot of the stories were crafted to sink its speculative hooks in you so deeply that it practically enabled a shallow viewer to miss the deeply political stuff. Now, I don’t recommend that kind of viewing for “A Traveler,” because you’d miss out on its commentary on colonialism. But hey, you do you!

Other thoughts I had as I watched…

  • This is the Christmas episode, but I get the feeling it’s not going to be “Night of the Meek.” Will we ever get an episode like that in this 2019 iteration?
  • Sure keep showing the Gremlin, Talky Tina, the Mystic Seer — I like merch! But I don’t know… I don’t think the alien with the bling and a Sherpa hat is going to be a thing.
  • Jesus, Steven Yuen dressed like Ross — fucking awesome
  • “Quallinat Christmas sucks”… but as long as you get turkey and pie…? Hey, I’m Fil-Am, I’m not judging!
  • Again, a good depiction of the low key everyday racism that I experienced. (Heh, “experienced.” Past tense… it’s a joke, get it?)
  • Dummy Christmas wrapping
  • A. Traveler.” HAHA I like it.
  • Aggro travelers are a thing…??
  • Love the rotary phone with buttons
  • Oh, now we have some “Monsters are Due” shit going on here?
  • Mayor “Matheson” — okay, I think by episode 4, new viewers know how Richard Matheson is by now!
  • I was fully expecting Greg Kinnear to the be a racist dumb-ass. No, just a bigger egotist than racist.
  • “What the actual what?” is a nice callback to “Wet… what’s, ‘wet’?”
  • “My people are going to intercept them.” What… from Venus?

The Jack Elam Score for “A Traveler” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”