Tuesday, August 28, 2018

ppp2018 : unli life


Miko Livelo’s Unli Life is, just like last year's Patay Na Si Jesus, that odd but hilarious member of the family in this year's Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Vhong Navarro is Benedict, a podcast DJ who is too eager to please his girlfriend wherever they go, whatever they do, a trait that can be considered sweet or suffocating. Unfortunately, his girlfriend thinks it's the latter. Crestfallen after the inevitable breakup, he finds a bar by the street called Turning Point that is manned by Joey Marquez. Here he is offered a “wishkey,” a strong drink that takes him back to different eras and gets to meet the people he knows except with different personas. He believes this is his chance to correct something in the past to prevent his massive heartbreak from happening in the present. Here’s a disclaimer: The concept here is definitely high, but the comedy is grounded, old school. And it works. Navarro’s shtick can sometimes be overplayed, his physical comedic mannerisms far from fresh, but it’s the treatment of these on a material so unhinged makes Unli Life a joy to watch. Even if the anachronisms are all over the place, the props and sets laughably crude, many of its sight gags and jokes are gold, benta, a feat that can only be inspired by Wenn Deramas’ filmography. For example: “Sinong John Lloyd?” “Ah, John Lloyd... Yung poet.” Who thinks of that?! It breaks the fourth wall, it feels unscripted, brimming with a veteran improv’s tendencies, like it has the spirit of a Monty Python work. Livelo knows the space of absurdity his movie occupies, and he is not ashamed to flaunt. He flaunts it hard.

[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Thursday, August 23, 2018

ppp2018 : the day after valentine's


Jason Paul Laxamana’s The Day After Valentine’s enlists again what makes his previous movie 100 Tula Para Kay Stella succeed despite its too-engineered plotting, which is the tandem of JC Santos and Bela Padilla, this time as Kai and Lani, respectively. (These actors have ridiculous strong chemistry). One evening, the two meet by chance where the Lani works, and like all love stories where two persons have no distinct commonalities—with Kai being private and cautious, and Lani being forward and spontaneous—they eventually find themselves stuck with each other, for reasons that are rarely seen in Filipino movies. It is immediately revealed that Kai self-harms; when his thoughts and emotions are too much to handle, he makes small cuts on his right arm to divert the pain. Lani, being a good person, comes to his aid. She believes she knows what and how he feels. She even goes the extra mile, literally, by flying back to Hawaii with the FilAm Kai, whose tourist visa is expiring. The movie soon shifts into a story of shared trauma and enlightenment instead of mere heartbreaks, and becomes an anti-love story, a direction that could either go really bad or incredibly good. The Day After Valentine’s goes somewhere in the middle. Metal health issues are taking major spotlight in many conversations today, which is good, but the movie somehow toys with the idea that you can be better if you have someone—can be with someone—and yet turns the other way around and reprimands you for bringing up the idea. All in all, it’s a dangerous idea. Nothing is more detrimental to a mind troubled by internal and external pressures than indecisiveness. But thankfully, in the end, it redeems itself with a message that barrels through this little ambiguity: Be kind to yourself because, like wounds, it always takes time to heal inside, and not one person can ever rush you to feel better, no matter the occasion.


[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

ppp2018 : pinay beauty, she's no white


Jay Abello’s Pinay Beauty: She’s No White does not waste its time in showing its intentions, one of which is to poke fun at the many demands of our insecurities constantly playing in our heads. We are instantly introduced to the world of Chai Fonacier’s Annie and her dreams of having skin so fair, so “white”—like Disney’s Snow White but with bigger boobs. “I am happy when I am beautiful,” she would say. And serving as a tension to this journey to voluptuous whiteness, the story parallels to Migs (played by Edgar Allan Guzman), Annie’s boyfriend, who has wronged his uncle after stealing money for Annie’s plastic surgery. It also throws into the mix Maxine Medina’s Lovely G, a morena princess-like celebrity who dreams of getting better roles, to further complicate the movie’s attempts at social criticism. Despite the breeziness and mostly unassuming demeanor of comedy, everybody should know that comedy is not easy. And for someone reason, it feels like Pinay Beauty knows this very well, too, because it strains extra hard to make these scattered elements work. Yes, it is funny, it is charming, and this movie can be Chai Fonacier’s validation that she could lead a movie. She effectively portrays the whiplash changes of her character’s emotions. The movie does have the absurdities that are a requisite of a work of satire, but Pinay Beauty feels like it is pulling its punches, does not whole-heartedly embrace the dark, ironic humor that often comes with risky decisions. You know, like going under the knife to look better and, thus, feel better? The movie slightly touches on the issue of beauty and what constitutes the idea of beauty in the Filipino context, but slight is not what we need. All in all, the treatment that we get is harmless and tame for this subject matter. For first time in a long time, I think this is a movie that simply stumbles for being not ridiculous and exaggerated enough. 


[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Monday, August 20, 2018

ppp2018 : madilim ang gabi


Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Madilim Ang Gabi, the second Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino movie I got to watch this year, comes at a most opportune time in Philippine cinema. Fantasy, action, comedy, and romance are just fine, but we also need the mirror that reflects the conditions of our reality. It stars Gina Alajar and Philip Salvador—both showing stellar, understated performances—as the couple Sara and Lando. They live not far from the PNR railway tracks and, for the sake of their only son and a dream of good life, try really hard disconnecting their ties to drugs by selling the last of their supplies. They believe in change, not purely out of fear but also of necessity. It shows in the recognizable baller ID that Sara proudly wears wherever she goes. And then one day their son goes missing. Many non-mainstream movies that tackle on the lives of slum dwellers often showcase a kind of hardship and poverty that could be indulgent and leave some viewers distanced or disconcerted. Not with Alix Jr. In his hands Madilim Ang Gabi takes an even more urgent tone when it accompanies several scenes with actual audio recordings of speeches of our current administration. The words are terrifying, outlandish, but you know it is familiar because it is real. There is no distancing from the truth. The movie also features a dizzying array of cameos from veteran stars, slipping in and out of the moment, some lasting for only a few seconds, which could be distracting to those easily swept by celebrity. The “night” that the title speaks of arrives very late in the movie, and yet every scene might as well be the titular evening. We see lives eternally enshrouded in darkness, whether in daylight or moonlight, because of a violence that is bureaucratic and of a system that only favors the powerful and the influential. This movie is a dismantling of everything that led us to believe that this vast network of oppression is all right and ordinary. Our reality is never just a case of good and bad, one that can easily be summarized with a message on cardboard like “Wag Tularan” to know which is which, especially when the bad knows the good rhetoric that people love to hear. It has never been. Madilim Ang Gabi has its faults though—the meandering plot, the unhurried pace, and the growing fatalism that pulsates throughout the film—but at the rate our collective moral decline is going, all this is easy to dismiss. We are all dead, we can all be dead, either in the streets or on the inside. But like Sara in the middle of the film, it is never too late to start living with the right choices, to genuinely change, to remove from her wrist the false promises that come with the baller ID.

[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Friday, August 17, 2018

ppp2018 : we will not die tonight


Richard V. Somes’ We Will Not Die Tonight fits in the distinctive space that Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino holds, even if this festival is only two years old: good production values, unique plot, famous actors trying out new material. Erich Gonzales’ Kray is a stunt woman, working hard to meet both ends meet for her and her sickly father. Desperate to create her own luck, she agrees to do one last “raket” with her usual troupe of friends who are fellow extras and stuntmen, a job that is proposed by a former lover. Upon meeting their employers one evening, she realizes this is not the job she is looking for, which involves kidnapping street children to slice out their internal organs for some shady market. Shocked and feeling betrayed, Kray and her friends run away from the situation before they themselves would end up on the chopping block. This is a very strong premise, but unfortunately everything goes downhill from here. What starts as a story (seemingly) about a woman fending off every odd that comes her way, especially heightened by the fact that she works hard only to be in the sidelines, abruptly shits into a raucous and messy film that only drowns out everything it wants to say. It has a distracting soundtrack that sounds prepared by an overbearing hipster who worships punk and metal songs. We Will Not Die Tonight could have been our very own take on 28 Days Later [2002] or The Purge franchise but then it becomes a straightforward torture porn packaged as a hide-and-seek game. When a group of middle-aged men search for a little girl in an abandoned warehouse, with machetes in hand, and whisper words like “Do you want me to skin you alive?” with so much glee, you know something is off and unmerited. The film lingers on this type of violence for violence’s sake, relishes on the pounding, piercing, and slicing of the flesh. In short, it becomes exploitative. It is a huge waste because Erich Gonzales here does a better action film than Anne Curtis in the much buzzed-about BuyBust [2018] by Erik Matti. There is a genuine physicality and heaviness in her moves (or her double’s?), her pain onscreen so palpable it could make your palms sweat. Early on in the movie, a character criticizes Kray for her outdated moves on set. Like in the 80’s, too old, nothing new. It turns out this could be the movie’s own criticism.


[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Monday, August 13, 2018

what spirit?


I am sorry but I am tired of seeing posts like this that put a (deceptively) positive spin on the suffering of many Filipinos because of our leaders’ inefficiencies. What Filipino Spirit? What resiliency? This is insulting. Nobody deserves to experience this, in the first place. Situations like this are not to be celebrated—they need to be solved.

If this is what they call “Filipino Spirit,” then I want to see the same thing, the same situation, for our barangay captains, councilors, mayors, governors, congressmen, senators, and even the president himself. These guys are culpable, through and through.

These days, proclamations of “resiliency” and “Filipino Spirit” have just become an excuse to shrug off and/or accept incompetency and the broken promises of our leaders. This only becomes problematic when the same leaders criticize anyone who seeks a better life by demanding more from them. Self-sufficiency should be enough, they would imply, as if we are forever immune to these calamities. Like a toxic lover who consistently takes advantage of you (and yet you keep welcoming that person into your life anyway), these leaders are the posterboys for abusive relationships on a national, political scale. 

An acquaintance argued to me that our leaders have nothing to do with these disasters, even going further by stating that “no country is prepared enough for Mother Nature, no matter how deep their drainage systems are.” 

Oh dear. Does this mean I have to put all the blame on Mother Nature for poor urban planning, undisciplined and ill-educated communities, inconsistent implementation of policies, substandard projects, absence of proper waste management, and government workers who do not do any work at all? Everything connects after all.

What this acquaintance of mine has forgotten or refuses to acknowledge is that the Philippines (and its leaders) is not equipped and just do not have the initiatives to handle situations like this, even if this country has been experiencing these situations regularly for decades now.

So yeah, I am tired of all this. If that guy in the photo is smiling, instead of praising it, I think we should all ask this question instead, louder than ever: “Why is this still happening?”


[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

here we are again


There’s always that instance when we chance upon something we don’t really need but we end up thinking it’s just what we need after all. One such instance is the premier of Ol Parker’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Nobody asked for a follow-up to the 2008 smash hit Mamma Mia! And yet, ten years later, as the subtitle implies, here we are, in this world of unease and uncertainty, about to witness a wild and colorful romp.

Here We Go Again is a strange prequel-sequel hybrid of sorts, and somehow it succeeds, considering it follows a film that is based on a theater musical that is loosely inspired by a bunch of songs from the Swedish pop group, ABBA. This latest installment traverses two timelines, with the present focusing on Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie, daughter of Meryl Streep’s Donna, and how she navigates a life trying to perfect, or at least capture, her mother’s ambitions. The past timeline, on the other hand, serves as a major performance showcase for Lily James (who is playing the younger Donna) and as a fleshing-out of the throwaway details that are mentioned in the previous film: How did Donna meet those three guys who become Sophie’s three fathers? How did she end up in that idyllic Greek island? Who is her mother?

Here We Go Again basically fills the gaps, and it does so with a balance of drama and comedy, and an excess of brisk and boisterous song-and-dance numbers. In here we get to see serious actors, once again, act like they are unsupervised and are just enjoying a break from the constraints that come with the label “serious actor.” Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters reprise their roles, and they are joined by a talented and absurdly attractive cast that serves as their younger versions. In full display they all get to perform both famous and lesser known ABBA songs (but are there really lesser known ABBA songs?).

Meryl Streep is little seen this time (spoiler alert!), but her duet with Sophie of the song My Love, My Life near the end of film could easily put anyone’s heart in a blender. Be prepared to ugly-cry. She is by far one of the greatest living actors of any generation. As if she is not enough, this movie introduces characters played by Andy Garcia and Cher, with the latter’s presence concretely affirming the case that we need to see her in many movies, that seeing her in only one movie this year is criminally insane. Cher is Cher, you get the picture.

All in all, it’s a bright and ridiculous, highly-saturated, overly-convoluted kitschy fun, but you won’t mind. Even if you’ve left the cinema, the songs are still playing in your head. Again and again. And then you might want to watch it again


[ photo borrowed from this site ].

Monday, July 30, 2018

another new poem published in the sunday times magazine

Hello, hello! My poem “Poetry as a Lesson in Relativity” is published in The Sunday Times Magazine (1 July 2018), the same magazine supplement of The Manila Times newspaper that published my other poem “Market in Matakana” last March. Just a bit sad though that I was not able to get a copy of the paper. But overall I am happy though, knowing that the magazine editor still welcomes my works.

Here is a link to the poem in case you, like me, couldn’t get a copy of the paper.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

look what i got!

Lots of people have been asking me how much “damage” was made on my budget during the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale in Cebu last July 12 and 13. But instead of telling you that, I’d show you the “what were bought.” That’s more interesting, right? (Let’s just say the amount I paid could only buy five or six hardbound books if I were in a regular bookstore.)

Weeks earlier, before I went to the sale, I already made a list of authors and titles (based on NYTimes and LA Times book reviews) that I’d want to see in my cart. Most of these are from and by People of Color (PoC), and I was glad I made that list. It made my hunt easier. At the venue, I was also searching for books my favorite writers: Jhumpa Lahiri, Ocean Vuong, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Wislawa Szymborska, Ada Limon, etc. Sadly, their works were either unavailable in the book sale or I already got of copy of what was on sale.

But all in all I am happy. I haven’t ripped open the packaging yet, because I have made a decision to finish first the three books I am currently reading: Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking (which I have finished just yesterday!), Shalom Auslander’s short fiction collection Beware of God, and Amy Hempel’s short fiction collection At The Gates of the Animal Kingdom. I am just a few pages away from finishing the last two books. When I am done with these, I’d open three new books. Just like they’re fresh from the bookstore. I am romantic that way.

Not all books I’ve purchased are shown here, in this picture, because I’d be giving them away as gifts to my family this December 2018. Para surprise. Advanced ako magisip.


Here are the books I got:
1. A Field Guide to Reality, novel by Joanna Kavenna
2. Love + Hate, stories and essay by Hanif Kureishi
3. Station Eleven, novel by Emily St. John Mandel
4. Lola Quartet, novel by Emily St. John Mandel
5. The Singer’s Gun, novel by Emily St. John Mandel
6. Ode to Childhood, poetry collection to celebrate the child
7. Life: Great Short Stories by Women, edited by Victoria Hislop
8. Loss: Great Short Stories by Women, edited by Victoria Hislop
9. Love: Great Short Stories by Women, edited by Victoria Hislop
10. Sing, Unburied, Sing, novel by Jesmyn Ward
11. I Am An Executioner: Love Stories, short fiction collection by Rajesh Parameswaran
12. Karma and Other Stories, short fiction collection by Rishi Reddi
13. The Sellout, novel by Paul Beatty
14. To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems, edited by Carol Ann Duffy
15. The Evolution of Everything, nonfiction by Matt Ridley
16. Love Your Enemies, short fiction collection by Nicola Barker
17. Heading Inland, short fiction collection by Nicola Barker
18. Eveningland, short fiction collection by Michael Knight
19. Mr. Bones: 20 Stories, short fiction collection by Paul Theroux
20. Arcadia, novel by Lauren Groff
21. The Japanese Lover, novel by Isabel Allende
22. We Need New Names, novel by NoViolet Bulawayo
23. Jesus’ Son, short fiction collection by Denis Johnson
24. 600 Decorating Tips & Finishing Touches
25. An Anthology of Flowers
26. Spice: Layers of Flavour by Dhruv Baker
27. Living Art: Style Your Home With Flowers by Olivier Guigni
28. How to Look After Your Kitten by Helen Piers (a must have!)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

12 tips on surviving the big bad wolf book sale in cebu


To my family and close friends, it is no secret that I am huge fan of books. For practicing writers, a book is a fuel that keeps the engines going. That is why I was devastated when I wasn’t able to get to the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale when it first came to the Philippines earlier this year, on February 16, at the World Trade Center in Pasay City.

Big Bad Wolf is a book fair that is touted to be the biggest in the world. It is handled by the Malaysian company, BookXcess, which is owned by the husband and wife tandem, Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng.

I was busy, I was preoccupied. Excuses. But luck seemed to be on my side this time. When news broke out that another Big Bad Wolf event would take place in Cebu this July, and a Facebook page of the event started organizing online contests to give away advance or preview passes to winners, I made sure I wouldn’t miss this chance.




And on June 30, I won an exclusive pass for two to the book fair’s Preview Day on July 12, ahead of the official opening on July 13. This meant I’d be one of the selected people who’d get first dibs on the books displayed. #blessedt

I soon traveled to Cebu City and finally found myself in the IEC Convention Center. Before me was a sprawling floor of books upon books upon books. There were gorgeous coffeetable books on design and architecture, beautiful tomes of award-winning literatures, collections of poetry and short stories, biographies and memoirs, book sets for children’s, books for gardening, books for cooking and baking, books for a whole lot of things. Anything you can imagine it is most probably in here. For 60% to 80% less of their original price.




My friend and I entered the book fair at 10AM. We left the venue at 4PM. What an experience. Below are tips and a couple of things we have learned and might prove useful to future visitors to the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale.

Are you ready? Read on...

1. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
This may sound negligible, but I tell you, this matters a lot. You’d be moving around the venue for hours just to find the perfect book for you (and probably also for your family and your friends), so wearing something that’s uncomfortable should be the least of your concerns. Besides, this is not a fashion show.

2. Create a list.
Before you go to the book fair, make a list of books (of a particular genre) that you’d like to buy. Save it on your phone. This would serve as your reference and would allow you more time to check out the rest of the items in the book fair. Since genres are each designated to and organized in separate tables, it would be easier for you to locate the area that you need to be in.

3. Do not go in hungry and thirsty.
You won’t be aware of it but you’d spend hours going through all the tables in the book fair, and since the security personnel at the entrance would ask you to leave all your water bottles and snacks outside, it is best that you enter the venue already well-fed and well-hydrated.




4. Bring some friends.
Aside from helping you find the books you want (or simply having someone to approve on the books you want to buy like a motivating coach) and vice versa, a friend could assist you on the books you’ve bought. Compare lists (refer to tip #2) and help each other track down these titles. When you notice the queue to the cashier becomes too long (just like on Preview Day), you can ask your friend to start joining in the line in advance while you continue checking out the tables for more possible purchases.

5. Have loads of patience.
The line or queue to the cashier is always long and winding. The book you’ve always wanted might not be available. The basket of books you leave for a second in one corner suddenly vanishes. People might bump or unintentionally hit you (or worse, hit you with a shopping cart of hardbound books) since the place could get easily crowded. No matter the situation, do not go hysterical. It is easy to be irritated when you are hungry or thirsty (refer to tip #3), but be aware of other people and their spaces. If you have lost a personal item (e.g. wallet, cellphone), immediately approach one of the book fair staff. They are usually wearing those aprons with the Big Bad Wolf print. Breathe in, breathe out. Additionally, expect that the book fair personnel are under intense stress the entire time that some of them couldn’t properly respond to your queries. In fact, most of them are only knowledgeable or aware of the genres and where they are located in the venue, not the specific title or author of a book. So it is pointless getting furious when you do not get the answer you want to hear.

6. Check out everything.
You might only like romance novels or you only read self-help books, but being in a book fair is not the time to be a snob. Widen your horizon, open up your interests, and check out every genre in the book fair (when you are done with tip #2). Believe me, the best books are usually those you do not expect to find and read. You don’t want to miss on that life-changing read, do you?




7. Be a responsible shopper.
Don’t be rude and make other book-lover’s experience a living hell by leaving an item anywhere other than its designated table. This is also helpful to the hardworking staff of the book fair. If you decide not to buy the book you previously put into your basket or cart, please return this book to its proper table. Above all, never ever cut a line or insert yourself in a queue to the cashier. Be mindful and respect other shoppers’ time and effort.

8. Be helpful.
If you find books on the floor, pick them up and return them to the table. And if you chance upon a person who is looking for a particular book that you’ve just recently seen, give that person a tap, a smile, and tell him or her where it is located. There is no harm in helping out a fellow book-lover.

9. Bring extra cash.
Electronic payment is trendy. Credit cards and debit cards provide quick transactions. But sometimes there is Murphy’s Law. Something could go wrong anytime, anywhere. Payment system is broken, perhaps, or you realize you left your cards in the car or at home. So it is best that you bring with you some cash on top of your credit card or debit card. Besides, this cash might come in handy when you go beyond your budget.




10. Bring your own bags.
It is heartwarming to see book-lovers on Preview Day telling cashiers/packers to skip the plastic bags since they are bringing their own eco bags or canvas tote bags for their purchases. Some big-time shoppers even brought with them travel luggage bags to easily wheel their books out of the venue. Although, for some people, it looks “cool” to be seen bringing books in plastic bags with the Big Bad Wolf print plastered on them, it must be noted that all cities across the country have a problem with extreme plastic waste pollution. Land-fills continue to expand as garbage continues to threaten all forms of life on this planet. Let’s not contribute to the problem.

11. Visit more than once.
The venue is huge. Even if you have spent several hours browsing through all the sections in the book fair, there is still that huge probability that you have missed a book over the other. Since the sale runs from July 13 to July 23, and is available to the public for 24 hours each day, it is highly recommended that you return to the book fair and check out the items one more time. Besides, a big bad wolf has told me that more books will be unboxed in the coming days. New titles are definitely on the horizon.

12. Bask in the glow of your purchase.
Be happy with what you have bought. You deserve this. Avoid buyer’s remorse. Ignore people who make snide remarks and tell you that there’s no way you can read all the books you’ve bought. Anything for the joy of reading and knowledge is never a bad thing. Or simply put, anything for what makes you happy is always a good thing. That’s what matters. I bought 27 books, and there are no regrets here. Enjoy your books.





Thursday, June 21, 2018

my baby


Finally. After weeks of preparation and unloading buckets of anxiety, let me introduce you to my first baby: Weights & Cushions, a chapbook of poetry by yours truly.

Most of the poems are first written sometime between 2007 and 2012, and most of them are previously featured in zines, journals, magazines and literary reviews like Dark Blue Southern Seas, Montage, Philippines Free Press, Philippines Graphic, and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.

Fresh off the printers this morning are 30 copies—20 of which are going to Dumaguete for Silliman University's LGBTQ Zine and Book Fest on June 25, 2018 (Monday) at the SU Main Library, starting at 10AM. The remaining 10 copies would be for people within my perimeters who would think of getting one. If I’d run out of copies, I’d publish another set for you.


I am selling these for P200 each. A bit pricey, I know, because working things on your own turned out to be laborious and costly. (Shipping costs will also be shouldered by the buyer; which is P100 for shipments around the Philippines).

If you want to support and help out a local writer trying to sell his goods that he has worked with sweat and blood, feel free to drop me a message personally. Feed an artist and get him to pay the bills on time. Trust me, you are doing something good with your purchase. Hehe.

Monday, June 04, 2018

in praise of janine berdin

Janine Berdin still got me thinking. I was so mesmerized by her winning performance yesterday on the second season of Tawag Ng Tanghalan Ang Huling Tapatan (even if that was the first time I heard her sing) that I spent the whole night watching her previous performances. Man, glad I did. It was like discovering a sterling talent, a new mineral that has yet to be named. Yes, obviously I cannot stress the superlatives enough.

I am not sure how this would affect her vocal capabilities in the future, whether this is natural or a result of her years-long stint on the stage (and family gatherings), but the crack(s) in her voice when she sings lends her renditions both mortal and ethereal qualities. It is a voice that definitely sits on another plane, at least for me. Don’t get me wrong; her competitors Steven and Ato are undeniably powerful singers but there is something in Janine’s voice that hits me differently the way my ears first heard QUEEN’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Adele’s “Chasing Pavements”, Janelle Monáe’s “Cold War.” Perhaps it is her untarnished and optimistic passion? Her focussed drive that could easily dismantle all pretenses and pressure around her? Who knows.

I mean, just watch her cover of Kamikazee’s “Narda” on YouTube and witness how she sang that 2006 rock song and turned it into a painful, forlorn yearning. I got goosebumps, seriously. And there were her renditions of Yano’s “Banal Na Aso” and Eraserhead’s “Ang Huling El Bimbo” where she managed to interpret these iconic masterpieces without getting herself trapped into the easy allure of copy and theatricality—the two-punch combo that TKO’d lesser singers. It is like she wrote these songs herself, knew them by heart. (Honestly, some producer should compile all of her covers and make an album out of ‘em ASAP).

And she is but a little 16-year-old girl from Cebu! Now just imagine when she finally gets acquainted with all the nitty-gritty of every emotion in the spectrum. Just imagine when she finally experiences her first massive, irreversible heartbreak that usually informs and shapes the finest work of many artists. This may sound awful, but deep I inside I cannot wait to see her get through these things soon.

Okay. That’s all.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

supersized superhero mayhem


It is inevitable. Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War is basically a culmination, among many future culminations, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that started long ago with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. Seems like ancient times, right? Thanks to this universe, the comic book superhero knowledge of the general populace is no longer limited to Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Darna, and the X-Men.

Aside from then relatively unknown Iron Man, we are now familiar with the likes of Captain America, Bucky, War Machine, Thor, Loki, Hulk, Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Panther, Shuri, Okoye, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Mantis. All this is no longer a geek’s secret source of delights.

These characters are but a microcosm of heroic desire, duty, and dedication in this massive if not overblown entry. The film’s story picks up right after the events in last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, and for the first time we finally get to witness the full menacing splendor of Josh Brolin’s Thanos, the latest big bad villain of the MCU. He is a stocky purplish giant in search of the Infinity Stones, six gems that grant anyone the supremacy of a god when gathered together in a gauntlet (some sort of glorified golden glove that Thanos had fashioned for himself). His ultimate mission? To eradicate half of the living entities in the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance.

Because some of the stones are held by a couple of our heroes (and antiheroes)—namely Loki with the Space Stone, Vision with the Mind Stone, Doctor Strange with the Time Stone—Thanos goes after them, and mayhem ensues. A lot of familiar and unfamiliar faces show up here and there, and although it requires a certain amount of investment in the MCU to enjoy Infinity War, anyone can still relish the whole shenanigan the same way one can appreciate watching a dog chase after its own tail on YouTube—it is sheer unadulterated entertainment. The stakes are higher here than previous MCU installments, the body count darkly indulgent, but being a Marvel film, there is the requisite humor and witty banter scattered all over the place.

Thanos is unquestionably an antagonist that necessitates a congregation of super-powered beings. But what makes him even more terrifying is that he falls under the classic category of the guy with the noble intention but with the problematic methods—a category that sticks too closely to our truth. His scheme to commit mass murder to attain peace and order resembles the many motivations of our outspoken, charismatic leaders from all over the world who couldn’t care less. If there is one wish that we, as viewers, can take from Infinity War, it is that we hope our very own mighty heroes could come and save our world real, real soon.


[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Sunday, May 13, 2018

happy ma's day


I grew up knowing a mother can do everything, anything. And up to this day, that thought never changes. At least when it comes to you, Ma. You are prone to tears with the teleseryes you follow, you can be hurt with the words, you are very human. But you are also that someone who’s closest to the manifestation of a miracle—how you can be strong when everything around you seems to crumble, how you can be kind in the face of cruelty and confusion, how you can whip up something out of nothing.

Sometimes, in the most difficult of times, I’d think I do not deserve such grace, but in every moment of each day with you, you always make me feel otherwise. So thank you, thank you, thank you… There is not enough “thank you’s” or “I love you’s” to wrap in one embrace all of the effort and sacrifices you’ve made for me and this family, but I will try. That is a promise. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma. I love you, always, clear as sunlight.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

silence is survival


All works of movie-making demand attention, but John Krasinski’s horror film A Quiet Place takes that truism to a whole new level. It is almost void of dialogue one must pay attention to every detail unfolding in the screen. The characters do not speak for almost 90% of the movie. Yet, in the hands of Krasinski, who does not only direct the film but also co-writes it and stars in it with real-life spouse Emily Blunt, the tension is cranked several notches up with the simplest of things: stairs, corn kernels, nail, some objects you wouldn’t expect.

The story is set in a not-too-distant future wherein the entire population has dwindled to a couple few and the world is infested with blind homicidal creatures gifted with exceptional hearing. The slightest sound sets them off in a murderous rampage. It is never explained where these monsters come from, but what it known is that an incident with one of these has left the Abott family traumatized. Lee (Krasinski), Evelyn (Blunt), and their children have managed to survive, thanks to their familiarity with silence. The eldest child Regan is deaf (played astoundingly by Millicent Simmonds who is a deaf American actress), thus, the family communicates in sign language way before the dystopia began.

Even if the Abotts live a secluded life now heavily constrained by rules—never speak a word, do not use plates and utensils, only walk on sand paths to dampen any sound—some things are just bound to happen, like in most horror movies. But A Quiet Place is not just a horror movie. Although the premise could easily be in a Shyamalan film, the whole setup is saved from ludicrousness for being wise instead of simply being clever and for having wisdom instead of having gimmicks. There is more to tell but to divulge any further information might lessen the impact of that brilliant, flawless ending.

The movie’s near total absence of sound is oppressive like it is a character in itself that heightens all the other sensations. The dripping water goes in cadence with your racing heartbeat and the creaking floor weighs on you like a ton. Basically every scene just rattles your nerves. The accomplishment of combining spare dialogue with high suspense speaks to the genius of Krasinski’s solid vision and craft. It helps that he has a team of actors and film professionals who is up to the demands of this crazy idea.

It is not difficult to see A Quiet Place as a mirror to our current reality. Each day there’s the confusion that tries to rob our logical reasoning, the unspeakable horrors shrugged by many as ordinary. In fact, the creatures must be an embodiment of incessant noise that invades our waking moments—political conflicts, fake news, never ending acts of prejudice and hate. And if that is the case, obviously, a quiet place is what we all need


[ photo borrowed from this site ].

Monday, April 16, 2018

playing with pop culture


Anything that deals with the past can sometimes be a turnoff to some people, that the antiquated must only be revered in museums, journals, and sweet old memories. But Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, which is adapted from a 2011 novel of the same title by Ernest Cline, tries to flip the table on that mentality. In here, Spielberg proves that the old can actually be just as interesting as the new. Because when it comes to pop culture—which is basically the fabric of this movie—the old is what becomes of all that is treasured.

Aside from being a critique on modern day distractions and anxieties (corporate greed, privacy issues, social media catfishing!), Ready Player One is a wild, visual feast of nostalgia. It’s as if it serves as a geek’s guide to 80’s and 90’s music, movies, pulp fiction, video games, comic books, and other sundry items that are usually deemed too inconsequential for lofty-minded individuals.

The story is set in the year 2045 and introduces us to Wade Watts (played by an effective but easily forgettable Tye Sheridan), a young man who spends most of his time in the Oasis as Parzival, a virtual world created by James Halliday. This is where anything goes, depending on the limits of your imagination (and the digital coins you collect in this computerized reality). Upon the death of Halliday, his avatar (or his digital persona) reveals to all players that there are three challenges to three powerful keys that grant ownership and control of the entire game. Everything changes when Watts meets Art3mis (yes, that’s spelled correctly) who reveals to him that this is no longer a game, when the order of the world is at stake and the gap between classes of society gets even more pronounced—especially that the power-hungry technological company Innovative Online Industries is doing everything it can to take hold of these keys.

Ready Player One has little of the subtlety and poeticism that shaped Spielberg’s other ambitious, fantastical works like A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report, but it certainly has the frenetic energy of The Adventures of Tintin and War of the Worlds. It just keeps going and going, with little pauses to process all the pop culture references bombarded at you before the next batch arrives.

Yes, it does wholeheartedly embrace the wonders of the past, which give the movie a tendency to tread on clichés and camp and the requisite shots at admiration of the familiar, but all this does not rob it of the fact that it is so satisfying to walk down memory lane. Each scene is like this homage to something exuberant, something vital to our understanding of reality, no matter what time it is derived from. Whether we as viewers are in it for the nostalgia trip or not, this movie sure knows how to play its game

[ photo borrowed from this site ].

Friday, April 13, 2018

new poem published in ecopoetry anthology


A few days ago, I finally received my (paid) copies of Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry, which is edited by Rina Garcia Chua, who includes my work "Poetry as a Lesson in Botany" in the collection.

I believe this is the first of its kind in the country; an anthology that attempts to meditate on our nation's concerns and priorities under the lens of ecological understanding. The result is nothing short of fantastic. I just wished the book's contributors though won't have to buy their own copies. Not all writers are, you know, blessed with disposable income. Writing the poem is already hard enough for us. Heh heh.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

trenta


Yup, the idea of a Dirty 30 celebration is tempting. You can’t be forever 30, right? You should meet the unknown with wild abandon as you leave behind the last vestige of your youth. But keeping it Lowkey@30 with the family will do. (It still rhymes!) I prefer it that way, too. Just chill, just closer to those who really matter to you. There’s a lot to say, but I will save all of it for some other time. The bottomline is this: If there is one wish I’d make on this day that’s not only for me, it is that we could all liberate ourselves soon from what perpetually pains us. Really soon. Cheers, friends and loved ones! Thanks to those who remembered, to those who made this day special.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

new poem in the sunday times magazine

Now here’s something to be happy about. My poem “Market in Matakana” is published in The Sunday Times Magazine (11 March 2018), the magazine supplement of The Manila Times newspaper. The piece is inspired from a long drive to the North Island town of Matakana in New Zealand. I hope I did it justice though. That place was just brimming with so much beauty.

Here is a link to the poem in case you can’t get a copy of the paper.

Monday, March 19, 2018

another tomb to raid


Movies that are based on video games have a long and rocky history of success (see Super Mario Bros., Warcraft, Prince of Persia, and Assassin's Creed) and audience recognition. Not everyone toys a keyboard or a game console for hours in front of a screen, right? But the Tomb Raider brand must have enough worldwide appeal in its arsenal that it is rebooted for the year 2018. This time around, in the hands of Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, the plucky heroine Lara Croft is played by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and the plot drones in on the days before she became the braided, frequent-flyer, two-gun-wielding adventurer that she is famously known for. In fact, the version of Croft here is so primal her weapon of choice is a bow and arrow combo.

This story is still basic in that it feels like a teenager’s uninspired computer game narrative in the 1990s and early 2000s. After realizing she cannot entirely live her life as a food deliverer, Croft faces the mysterious disappearance of her aristocrat father and employs the help of an Asian boat captain to get to the island of Yamatai, where she believes she will find her father. This also turns out to be the place where the mythical tomb of the fabled Japanese Queen of Death, Himiko, is located. Because this won’t be a Tomb Raider movie without a tomb.

Despite doing a good job at fleshing out the relationship between Lara Croft and her father, while also informing us of the major plot points ahead, the flashback scenes are, more often than not, distracting. It does not help that the requisite villain goes for the cold-blooded, two-dimensional killer route, which is unfortunate for the talented actor Walter Goggins’ who plays Mathias Vogel, a recruit of the shady organization Order of Trinity.

Yes, things are clunky, but once the machinations finally invest on the premise of Indiana Jones high-stakes action, it delivers. Vikander may not have the magnetic charisma and bombshell curves of the previous Tomb Raider titleholder, Angelina Jolie, but she makes it up with her grit and intense physicality. Despite Vikander’s petite frame and the excessive computer effects thrown around her, one could feel every grunt and squirm that she endures. This is one girl who can channel her struggles out of the screen really well and proves she can overcome anything in her capacity.

Perhaps this is the reason why this new Tomb Raider comes out at the height of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement (and coincidentally, National Women’s Month in the Philippines). Even if Lara Croft is the only female actor with significant screen time (even the extras are mostly male), the movie still celebrates the strength and intelligence of a woman, that being one does not have to be limited to being sexy or a damsel in distress. Women can be tough and smart at the same time, and that is basically what many of us have known for a long while now.

[ photo borrowed from this site ]

Thursday, March 15, 2018

ang larawan: review and observation



The journey of Loy Arcenas’ award-winning film, Ang Larawan, to Bohol is one that parallels the difficulties of getting it made and seen by an audience in the first place. It was never shown in any of our malls during the entire run of the Metro Manila Film Festival 2017 last December and January. When it got the chance to be screened in Bohol, it was cancelled and moved to another date due to typhoon Basyang. But the fates are still good, the hardworking culture-bearers of Bohol better.

Continuing the activities of this year’s National Arts Month, and being part of a school tour that would also take the film to Cebu and Negros Oriental, Ang Larawan is finally shown with two screenings at the Bohol Cultural Center on February 19.

Before the 7:30PM screening, the Loboc Children’s Choir performed a suite of pop musical pieces. Actors and producers Celeste Legaspi and Rachel Alejandro also sung in a cappella, after joining Loy Arcenas and producer Alemberg Ang for a symposium. The four of them fielded questions from the audience that touched on characterization, how commercialism could coexist with art, and the need for micro-theaters (or cinematheques) in provinces like Bohol that could readily accommodate unconventional, non-mainstream works and provide movie consumption diversity.

And how lucky these students and teachers were, these culture and art enthusiasts, these regular moviegoers, to finally experience Ang Larawan. Rarely do Boholanos see a Filipino musical of this pedigree. It is not just different for diversity’s sake; it is a landmark in Filipino artistry. This movie is based on a stage musical with translation and lyrics by National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio and music by Ryan Cayabyab, which is also an adaptation of the play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.

Ang Larawan is set in 1940s Intramuros, before World War II, and focuses on two spinster sisters, Candida and Paula Marasigan, who live in a cavernous house with their artist father Don Lorenzo—the man who painted the titular larawan and who kept to himself inside his room for a year and counting after a mysterious tragedy. The once glorious household, where the alta sociedad frequently mingled, now relies on financial support provided by their siblings Manolo and Pepang, who both agree it is better to sell the property than to hold on to it like dead weight. But all this could not hold up to the daily expenses; Candida even considers her rat-catching talent and Paula’s fluent Spanish as lucrative jobs, but both eventually acknowledge this is not true. Thanks to Tony, a charming vaudeville piano player and male boarder who the two sisters have to take in, the idea of selling the last Marasigan painting for $20,000 to an American collector is put on the table. This sets Candida and Paula in a head spin and moves the story forward to situations no one would ever expect (unless you have seen or read the original play).

The movie is so lovingly made, as evidenced from the very first frame down to the last melody of a song. It is the type of movie that grows on you even as it confronts you with difficult, conflicting ideologies—principle or practicality, heritage or commercialism. Even if it brims with the gilded beauty of the past, it is not afraid to remind everyone that everything can be preserved as much as it could be ravished by the consequences of a decision or force that is beyond anyone’s control. Very much like a representation of how the culture and the arts in this country often balance on a precarious tightrope. The movie does not explicitly take sides, but any logical viewer can instantly decide where one must lean on. In fact, Joanna Ampil’s tremendous portrayal of Candida drives home the message.

The only hitch in this near-perfect production is that its movements stick closely to the structure of theater, that sometimes the pacing feels lumbering and too deliberate for a movie. There is no questioning the genius of Rolando Tinio’s libretto and Ryan Cayabyab’s compositions (whose score breezes through bombastic jazz and zarzuela), but the musical exposition it employs is in the vein of a Stephen Sondheim musical; the songs can be hard to sing along with.

It is easy to brush off this movie as another passion project that’s weighed down by its own ambitions, which makes it dismissible by an audience contented with slapstick humor and cheap thrills, but the movie’s mere presence in this time and age, let alone in Bohol, should be enough indication that we do have something great and important in our hands, that something even more precious could arrive someday. Has anyone heard of the movie Smaller and Smaller Circles by Raya Martin that features a host of Boholano talent but is unfortunately never shown in our cinemas in 2017?

It is no simple task, to remind everyone of this when people are getting used to with what they usually get (read: horror, romantic comedy, Vice Ganda), but last Monday’s audience turnout, with the help of both the local government body and private sector, suggests that a cultural renaissance is indeed possible. These are all concerns and ideas that have yet to meet a solid, committed prioritization in Bohol, but for now, let us at least revel at the thought that, at long last, the portrait is finally unveiled to Boholanos. To echo one of the movie’s cries, contra mundum!


[ article previously published in The Bohol Chronicle, 25 February 2018 ]

Thursday, March 08, 2018

happy international women's day!



Happy International Women's Day to my lady friends, relatives, and especially to my mother and sisters (even if we are supposed to celebrate womanhood all throughout the year, on equal measure with the opposite sex, of course)! Last night, just before this day of commemoration, a thought struck me: I can finally confirm that men—no matter how macho and dignified they would like to be in front of a crowd—are almost always afraid of confident, strong, and intelligent women. Especially those who carry them with grace and decency. Keep it up, girls. You are beyond inspiration, and you never fail to amaze me. We need more of you in this time of hyper-toxic masculinity. Love lots.

Monday, February 19, 2018

balut beer ug balak 2018 : the heart is in the words

February is practically baptized by many as the Love Month. But last February 11 at the CPG Heritage House Open Grounds, the evening professed a different kind of love that goes beyond flowers, chocolates, and candlelit dinners.


In celebration of this year’s National Arts Month, Kaliwat ni Karyapa (KaKa) Writers Collective, with the support of the Center for Culture and Arts Development (CCAD) and the Office of the Governor of the Province of Bohol, opened the seventh iteration of Balut Beer ug Balak (which is concisely hashtagged on social media as #BBB2018).

Lutgardo "Gardy" Labad introduces Kontra-GaPi and Kasing Sining

What started as a struggle to get the literary arts recognized in the province’s many festivities is now an event that justly merits the praise and attention it received last Sunday night. Back in the old days, there was significant support for all forms of Boholano art—except for the literary. There were budget and regular gatherings for music, dance, painting exhibitions! Unfortunately, there was none whatsoever for poetry and other writing affairs. If there was one, only little was heard of it, the fanfare muted like a cold grave shrug.

Kontra-GaPi dazzles the audience with a rallying ethnic music (source: CCAD)

As a rebellion and as a need to balance the field, considering that our nation has a writer hordes cherish as their national hero (Jose Rizal) and once had a prolific Boholano writer-lawyer as a president (Carlos P. Garcia), like-minded individuals united and pushed for an activity that celebrated the letters. They put emphasis on poetry, our very own balak, because it does not only encapsulate the yearnings of the Boholano heart but also humanity’s soul. KaKa, the writers collective whose rich history demands a separate article, was at the forefront of this endeavor.

Theater arts group Kasing Sining performs an excerpt of the musical 'Dagon sa Hoyohoy' (source: CCAD)

So for Sandugo 2004, the balak was brought to the public space. Since it was first held at the formerly scenic city pier, a combination of balut and a glass of beer was unanimously deemed the most felicitous reward for (non-minor) readers and performers. No pressure from anyone to present; it was simply done for the joy of this groundbreaking occasion.

An obligatory photo of me trying to drive home the message while presenting my piece

Thus, Balut Beer ug Balak was born. The singular dream to have Bohol’s varied literary voices heard is now a reality. For its latest appearance, BBB has even become more than its namesake. With Lutgardo Labad’s considerable generosity, the event last Sunday was graced by UP Diliman’s Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino (or better known as Kontra-GaPi), and our very own theater arts group, Kasing Sining, who presented an excerpt of the Boholano musical folk-epic Dagon sa Hoyohoy.

Becky Demetillo-Abraham of Inang Laya performs with Butch de Juan

And like most events, BBB was not spared of how things could never go as planned. It was unanticipated, the number of mambabalak and volunteer readers was high, and the programme lasted longer than it should be. There were several presenters who read their original works that touched on emotions that may be too big for them to grasp, like young singers straining for the celestial notes, while some disconcertingly tackled delicate issues with humor, which could have been handled with more sensitivity and thought, especially for impressionable minds. It’s a common misconception that spoken word poetry must always traverse the territory of crass and shock.


Some of the guests, performers, and readers of BBB 2018 (source: CCAD)

But in the end, creativity requires influence, and an occasion such as Balut Beer ug Balak provided the perfect avenue for this much-needed enlightenment, as seafarers to a fortified parola. We are each other’s guides. Possibly and hopefully, in its next iterations, BBB could be not only a regular gathering to celebrate the literary arts but also as an occasion for everyone to better map the landscape of our current realities and to better maneuver the terrains of the Boholano imagination and emotion.

See you next time!

Because poetry is confirmation. It sparks in you what you knew all along. It is the language of the heart and the soul and their attendant nuances—love and rage, celebration and loss, resistance and surrender—and all this makes the entirety of literature even more transcendent, beautiful.



[ the article is previously published in The Bohol Chronicle, 18 February 2018 ]