Thursday, March 29, 2018


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.