Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ignacio de Loyola (2016)

I must admit, I had a semester's worth of Jesuit exposure while at the Ateneo de Manila University but I didn't use that opportunity to explore who St Ignatius of Loyola was... Except to know that the campus was named after him. So when I saw Tony's shared post about a movie on the saint's life, to be shown at the  Ateneo High School, I wished that the movie have a wider release... Because I couldn't watch on the school's film showing schedule. Wish granted... I heard that the film was to be shown in selected cinemas this week. Naturally, I took the first opportunity I got. (I went to the cinema right after I dropped by the French school).

I don't think that what follows are spoilers because the story is widely published. So here we go: The movie was about the life of Iñigo before he established the Jesuit order. Like many of the other saints, he wasn't such a straight-laced guy at the beginning... In fact, he was a soldier who hungered for death in the battlefield. He almost got what he wished for when Pamplona was overrun by the French. But he survived and was brought back to Loyola to recuperate. He didn't fully heal, though. With a limp that made him virtually useless in battle, he opted to live the life of a hermit, a beggar, and a nurse to the sick. His faith was forged through spiritual exercises, meditations which he prescribed to whoever listened to him. Of course the more conventional Church leaders had to verify if what he was teaching was following Church teachings. A tribunal in Salamanca found him innocent on charges of heresy but guilty of preaching without enough prior education. And so the movie ended with him embarking on a journey to Paris to study (theology, I assume). Eventually, he and his companions in the Jesuit order became missionaries to the rest of the world through educational institutions.

The movie is such a fascinating take on St Ignatius' journey... Paolo Dy handled the material really well, almost like a gift or a piece of treasure. It helped that the movie was shot in Spain, giving it a rich atmosphere. It also helped that Ryan Cayabyab's musical score, performed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic under the baton of Gerald Salonga, added texture to the scenes. Yes, this movie had a lot of talented Pinoys behind the lens... Oh, only just the best of them. I was so impressed by the quality of the work that I watched til the last of the credits rolled and the screen faded to black... Even when I knew there'd be no post-credit scene. Plus it wasn't just me; many audience members sat through the credits too. Finally, it definitely helped that the guy who played Iñigo (Andreas Muñoz) was handsome, easy on the eyes, and looked like a saint (based on how saints are commonly portrayed in paintings and sculptures).

My favourite scene in all this? When Jesus appeared during the end of Iñigo's meditation, bringing peace to the soldier's mind. The latter felt he was unworthy but Jesus comforted him, whispering, "I loved you first."

Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Happy birthday to me!

Here's a life lesson: happiness is a choice. A few people have said that I am similar to Joy in Inside Out. I try, I really do. There are days that are good and easy but there are days when I fake it until I make it (through the day). When the going is rough, all I can do is look at life through rose-coloured glasses. Unfortunately, some of those off-days came as June closed and July began. 

The days leading up to my birthday weren't so good so I didn't feel like celebrating my birthday this year. But I did learn something on those days: steer clear from people who feel that they are in the centre of other people's universes. It is not often that I am made to feel that I am not supposed to be where I am or that I am smaller than I am because these people feel that they're VIPs; less so so close to my birthday. 

While the start of the month wasn't so good, the rest of my birthday week was okay. I still bought my chocolate mousse cake and ate it. I walked in the rain. I met famous people. I ended my birthday week in style. I ate delicious food. I had a good time. I spent time on personal growth. I spent time with family. Looking at the bigger picture, what can I complain about, right? 

So as the month ends, I thank God for the blessings and the lessons. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

I honestly thought that a looking glass would play a major role in this film; instead, clocks. The looking glass was just Alice's way to travel between her world and Underland. And for me, the looking-glass successfully blurred the lines of red and white. Characters are all carrying a tinge of pink.

Time. I had thought that its embodiment was the enemy. Particularly because it demands patience. Apparently, Alice was the antagonist after all. She went to the past to save the Mad Hatter's family but she ended up destroying the fabric of life in Underland. Time warned her of this, by the way, and tried to stop her. But hard-headed Alice just had to do her own thing without thinking of the consequences.

... And consequences she did realise. With the clock ticking, she learned that her meddling wouldn't have much of an impact because of the invisible but omnipresent character, Fate. She had hoped to stop an accident, which she did; and then a second accident happened. Hello, Princess (Queen) Big-Head. She also witnessed why the two princesses (now queens) had a rift that led to much sorrow in Underland. What we thought was the picture of perfection (white) wasn't perfect after all. And the anger (red)? It wasn't plain evil; its roots stemmed from betrayal that wasn't addressed properly for years... Even decades.

Time. It is said to be a healer of all wounds. And indeed it was. Alice chose to run away as a mourning mechanism after her father died. She had become a stronger woman who could face the world when the movie opened. But through the lessons that only Time could bestow, she earned wisdom and catharsis. The Mad Hatter was a depressed bloke who felt his father thought poorly of him. Through Time, he realised that his father was actually proud, but demanded quality work and perfection of his craft. The two queens had the most at stake. They tore down Underland with wars and Jabawockees, and other monsters only because of a quarrel caused by cookies. Consequences of Time forced them to forgive each other; after all, they're sisters.

But the most acute of all lessons was that Time is limited. As I watched the movie, I felt it was almost a waste of time—I remembered the White Rabbit rushing back and forth, going nowhere, from the animated movie—because I didn't get the treatment of Time. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did a better job at showing the consequences of altering the space-time continuum, in my opinion. 

... And then I remembered Absolem, the caterpillar. In the crazy, hectic, frenetic world that Alice found herself in, Absolem was the source of wisdom and good ol' common sense. But being a caterpillar, he'd have to metamorphose soon in his cocoon to become a butterfly. Those changes take Time. And they are most certainly not wasted. Just the same way that resting, sleeping, and vacationing aren't a waste of time. Sorry, workaholics. You're motto: "I'll sleep when I'm dead" isn't correct.

Absolem was not a major character in this movie. The actor who used to portray him, Alan Rickman, had left the world, succumbing to cancer. I would like to think that he'd gone into his own cocoon to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly.

Time. A most non-renewable resource. Use it well.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rak of Aegis (2016)

"Heto ako, basang-basa sa ulan, walang masisilungan, walang malalapitan. Sana'y may luha pa akong mailuluha at nang mabawasan ang aking kalungkutan." (Aegis, 1998)

I am not familiar with Aegis (the Filipino rock band) though I've heard their songs frequently being sung at videoke bars by friends. The band is known for power ballads with raw vocal belting by the singer/s. And their songs are highly relatable to Filipinos. A stroke of genius, it truly was, when someone thought of putting the band's song into a musical. The final product is the Philippine Educational and Theatre Association's (PETA) "Rak of Aegis".

I trooped to PETA's Phinma Theatre in Quezon City with Krishna, Man, Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Pogs on a Friday afternoon. We braved the EDSA traffic and the small side roads leading to the theatre (thank you, Waze!). It took us a bit more than three hours to get there, as expected, but we came just in time to find parking and have dinner with Caloy, Pogs' friend from UPLB. 

Eewww!! Why is the stage full of garbage?!? What kind of audience watched the previous show? The nerve! They actually threw garbage onstage?!? These were my thoughts when I first laid eyes on the stage. It was really icky! Pogs heard my reaction and he explained that the play was set in a village that was flooded; hence the water, the trash, and the rest of the set design. And my head goes: the show is set in a squatters' area? Sounds so much like RENT, with the setting in that musical being the Alphabet City.

Anyway, with my mind at ease, I began to relax. The trash was intentional after all. As we settled in, we knew it was going to be fun show as the announcer's voiceover reminders proved to be hilarious. I mean, who wouldn't laugh when he warned audience members to not sing along with the performers or else they'd be taken outside the lobby to belt an Aegis song for everyone to hear? Or how about this public safety announcement: "Smoking, eating, and drinking are rhyming words."?

And then the play started. A young woman wanted to gain fame and fortune via getting her singing talent discovered on YouTube. The guy who navigates the boat to transport people to and fro the flooded village thoroughfare was in love with her and helped her get her anguished, watery performance online. The woman's parents were both unemployed and the village's industry (shoemaking) couldn't keep up with the competition of mass-produced shoes. The barangay captain had to deal with the flood and the diseases it caused, the failing shoe business, her belligerent but talented teenage son, her unrequited love for the young woman's father, and the temptation to be swayed by influential and rich people. The woman did get the fame that she was dreaming of but her father didn't like the get-rich-quick scheme; he believed in earning one's keep through hard work and perseverance. The woman's mother got sick with leptospirosis, an infection that typically afflicts people who are exposed to floodwaters. A rich landowner and real estate developer, who was blamed for the flooding, gave funding for a concert that would help the village finance its health centre (supposedly) and the shoe factory. And we all know who's going to sing in the middle of the flooded street, right? Unfortunately, the flood receded on the day of the concert and it had to be cancelled. There were mixed emotions. Some wanted to stop the flood from going down because they saw the money-making potential of the concert while the others were happy that the water's actually going down. In the end, the village folk got the happy ending that they predictably would have (given that this follows the formula of Filipino productions). 

Just my opinion: I didn't like the story so much. I'm not saying that it's not good... but it was a let-down for me. Yes, it's supposed to showcase people's difficult plight during post-typhoon floods; yes, it's supposed to show the Filipino's unwavering positivity in the face of difficulty; yes, it's telling us not to throw garbage so that the roads won't get flooded. The performers were all great singers. They belted the Aegis songs effortlessly. I felt it was a good way to spend two hours but it just left me wanting more out of the plot. I found the ending weak. Maybe I felt that the producers didn't know how to end the play. Or they just wanted to force a happy ending; otherwise it won't be pleasing to the general public.  I don't know... 

Maybe I was expecting something a bit more powerful because the premise was about engaging the audience to encourage social change. Other musicals got me to think about their pet issues, at least. Like the Philippine production of RENT that got me thinking about AIDS for six years now, and got me writing a few blog posts about it. Or the Australian production of the Phantom of the Opera, which I saw as a student, at the Sydney Opera House (or did I see this at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre? I can't remember now). The Philippine run of Les Misérables got me thinking about how I take freedom for granted; freedom that was the fruit of the sacrifices of my forebears. Okay, maybe it's unfair to compare Rak of Aegis with international plays. But still, I felt it paled in comparison with a school play I saw in the basement of the Student Union building of UPLB 18 years ago... a straight play in which the characters were chess pieces on a board, almost akin to Professor McGonagall's transfigured chess set in Harry Potter. Of course I've already forgotten the play's title but it had a profound effect on how I watch plays to this day.

Despite leaving me wanting more out of it, I did enjoy Rak of Aegis. It's assured in its comedy; it's unconvincingly dramatic; and it definitely was a fun show to watch. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

I was drawn to watch this film because Tom Hanks is one of the stars. He played the role of the father of a child living with Asperger syndrome, a mental disability, marked by diminished social capability in the child. Oskar, the child, was only able to communicate well with his father and eventually with his grandfather. He did not have a good relationship with his mother, who was often relegated to the background.

The close relationship between father and son was marked by their preoccupation with scavenger hunts. These games put Oskar in a position to communicate with other people. The fun and games abruptly ended on that fateful morning of September 11th, 2001. Oskar's father was in one of the two World Trade Centre towers and he died when the building collapsed. It was a pretty traumatic experience for Oskar but somehow, through his father's effects, he was able to conjure a last scavenger hunt. One of the most difficult for him to do because his father wasn't by his side.

What he didn't know was that his mother knew him too well. She contacted everyone that he would meet along this scavenger hunt, despite their seemingly worsening relationship. Her love for him was suddenly put under the spotlight: while Oskar's father bonded with him, his mother worked in the background. And this, for me, is the most touching, most delicate relationship of all in the movie. She was almost like the guardian angel who was watching over him all the time. 

I liked the movie a lot, though I felt punched in the gut when I heard the father's last words before the phone call got cut. At first, I found it hard to watch because the kid was so loud! But the quieter moments were when the movie shone the brightest, and these scenes drew me closer into the story. At the end, I was quite happy that I took the time to persevere through the movie.

Now waiting for the next Tom Hanks movie. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

This is the first live-action version of Tarzan that I watched. I'm not sure how historically accurate this is but it was the apt movie choice after the discussion I had at brunch on Sunday with Nikos, Denis, and Hélène.

See, as we were eating, our discussion led to colonisation. The Philippines, Senegal, and Peru were all colonies of European nations at one point or the other. Peru (1) gained independence from Spain in 1824. Spain ceded the Philippines (which had declared independence) to the United States of America in 1898. The Philippines gained independence from the USA in 1946 (2). Senegal (3) is the youngest nation represented at the breakfast table because it became independent from France in 1960. In contrast, Greece is one of the world's oldest civilisations. But it also had its share of colonisers before it became recognised as a state in the 1830s (4).

And so as Denis, Nikos, and I took our seats at the cinema, I found it serendipitous that we chose to watch The Legend of Tarzan. It began with a bit of trivia: The Congo was split between Belgium and the United Kingdom, thanks to the Berlin Conference (which reminded me of Spain and Portugal dividing the unknown world between them at the Treaty of Tordecillas, 5). The movie said that King Leopold II of Belgium was at the brink of bankruptcy and was desperate to find treasure to finance the kingdom's infrastructure projects. His envoy, Léon Rom, was unsuccessful in getting the diamonds in a mountain guarded by a savage tribe; in exchange for the diamonds, the tribal leader wanted Rom to give him Tarzan.

Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, cutting through the forest with a golden track.
Then along the riverbank, a thousand miles, tattooed cannibals danced in files;
Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song and a thigh bone beating on a tin-pan gong.

In the UK, a man called John Clayton III had taken his rightful place in society, and was married to Jane. He didn't want to go back to Africa upon the invitation of Belgium but was convinced to visit when the American delegate told him of his suspicions: the Congolese were being sold to slavery by the Belgians. So off John, Jane, and the American went. Turned out that the invitation was a ruse; it was designed to lure Tarzan (John) to the tribal leader who wanted revenge for the death of his son. His son had been killed by Tarzan when the kid, who just had just come of age, went to kill a gorilla as part of the tribe's ritual. Of course, it had to be Tarzan's gorilla mother that got killed. Anyway, Tarzan escaped but Jane didn't; and Tarzan had to save Jane from the evil clutches of the Belgian diamond hunter and the savage tribal leader. The animals of the jungle recognised Tarzan and helped him rescue Jane from the Belgian camp. The tribes, including the one that wanted to exact revenge on Tarzan, helped him out too. Tarzan and Jane eventually settled in the village where Jane used to live and their eldest child was born there.

Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost, burning in hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell, cutting his hands off down in hell.

And what of the American delegate? He went back to the United Kingdom to show evidence to the Prime Minister that the slave trade was going on in the Congo. I suppose, in real life, that Leopold II was criticised severely for this by the international community, by his government, and by his fellow monarchs. He must have been most unpopular. But the movie never showed what consequences he faced.

Redeemed were the forests, the beasts, and the men, and only the vulture dared again, 
By the far, lone mountains of the moon to cry, in the silence, the Congo tune:
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you, Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."

The movie injected some historical perspective into the plot but I don't know how accurate this imaginary take on history is. I mean, I could easily refer to the Disney royal bloodline theory because it is fictitious... but embedding Tarzan's story in a narrative of greed by the Belgian king, I'm not sure. It did give meat to the story, I'd admit to that. 

And the movie reminded me of one of my favourite poems, The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race (6) by Vachel Lindsay (select lines in italics in this post). I first heard this poem performed by a a speech choir when I was in high school and I was in awe with the power behind the cadence of the words, the onomatopeia, the rhythm. When I had received some more literature education (in college), I understood a bit more and I was just flabbergasted at how racist this poem could be taken... but then, this poem was written in the early 20th century. And Martin Luther King's civil rights movement didn't take form until the 1950s. Now that I've read it again, after watching The Legend of Tarzan, I understand a bit more about the context. I didn't know who Leopold was until I've seen the movie, for instance. In fact, now that I've read it again many years after I first heard it, I see that Lindsay must be onto something important with this poem. And this Tarzan movie showed it in the sidelines, but not in the main plot. To me (now), The Congo doesn't sound so racist as before because I interpret it (now) as a poem about finding one's identity; it is malleable but the roots will always be there to come back to. 

We never know; I might go back to this poem someday and see it in a different light yet again.

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.


Monday, July 11, 2016


I've been wondering how my birthday would be unique this year. And then it happened: the FIBA Olympic Qualifier Tournament was being hosted by the Philippines! Val, Denis, Nikos, Hélène, and I went to the SM Mall of Asia Arena to watch the basketball games. My mission, which I accepted (from Krishna) was to have a photo with Tony Parker, of L'équipe de France.

Wait, who? Tony Parker? Eva Longoria's Tony Parker?!? NBA celebrity Tony Parker?!? Why is Tony Parker playing for France?!?!?

Obviously, I am not an avid follower of basketball. I enjoyed watching it back in the day with my dad because I associated basketball-watching with Shakey's Manager's Choice pizza. And then there's Michael Jordan (who, apparently, has retired long time ago). 

Anyway, so I got general admission and upper box tickets... which meant we were watching the games (the eliminations and the semis) from some of the highest seats in the venue. These were good places to watch, if you want to see the plays and the strategies.

View from the upper box
The French national anthem being sung as we watched in general admissions... the highest seats in the venue.

But if you're a fan (like Val), then the best place to watch was closest to the court. During the finals, we were able to snag lower box tickets on the cheap (people were desperately selling tickets because the Philippines didn't reach the finals).

Lower box seats! I realised how small I am when I was seated here.

France and Canada battled it out in the finals to determine who would go to Rio for this year's Olympics. It was a very tough match, with tempers rising and many missed shots. But in the end, France won. I was nervously rooting for France because the scores were very close. Also, I was looking at people who were watching the game. Right below us was the Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines. Right across us was Philippine basketball celebrity Robert Jaworski (Ginebra playing coach) and other Filipino basketball players. 

While Nikos, Denis, and I were immersed in the game's second quarter, Hélène and Val disappeared during the first few minutes of the quarter. Then they came back very excited... They were able to talk with the Senegalese basketball team staff and the group was invited to see the team at Sofitel Philippine Plaza! That would be fun: for them, they'd see basketball players; for me, I'd be in THE Sofitel! Bonus points: all FIBA team members were staying there, so there's a probability that we'd see them... up close!

While Hélène and Val were looking for the Senegalese team, Nikos, Denis, and I lounged at Le Bar (we ordered beverages so we didn't look like we were loitering). I thought that if we didn't see the athletes, I would still be happy because I finally saw what Sofitel was all about. It's my first time to be in it and it's really pretty albeit on the dark, warm side. I couldn't help thinking that the Peninsula Manila was more brightly lit, with lots of marble tiles on the floor where I ate a heap of ice cream long long ago. Anyway, Val and Hélène finally got back, disappointed because the Senegalese team wasn't there; only the coaches and the staff were. So they got drinks as well and were just resting before the long drive back... when in came the Canadian Team followed by the French Team. The avid fans left the table and followed after the athletes. I didn't like the idea of badgering them for pictures while they're exhausted so I just sat back and watched them walk into a function room for dinner.

While looking for the toilet, I bumped into a basketball player instead. He's Canada's Melvin Ejim, who is a fellow Phi Kappa Phi member.

Melvin Ejim, Canadian forward.

This is an illustration of how short I really am. Not yet convinced? Here's one more picture. With Tony Parker this time.

Does this count as mission accomplished?

... his standee, that is.

Monday, July 4, 2016

That's called art?!?

Pintô Art Museum, Antipolo, Rizal—The province of Rizal has always been known as a hub of visual arts. For some strange reason, many painters and sculptors hail from this province. Angono is a town known for its artworks. It's literally an outdoor art gallery, the last time I was there! Anyway, my annual art/culture field trip to celebrate Jose Rizal's birthday led me (with my friends) to Silangan Gardens in Rizal, to visit Pintô Art Museum.

Pintô Art Museum opens its door (get it?) to people who want to see contemporary art and to learn how to decipher and appreciate the artists' messages. Of course, everything in the museum is subject to the viewers' interpretation but it's also healthy to listen in on what the artist wanted to say through the piece. I am not a fan of contemporary art—I've seen quite a few modern art museums and I'd always left scratching my head in puzzlement—so this, to me, was a welcome arts appreciation lesson.

Let's go down, willingly, the garden path, shall we? All interpretations are mine... and they're not necessarily correct.

The galleries started off with pieces that were easy on the eyes... probably easing us into going beyond looking and finally start seeing meaning out of abstraction. We begin the journey with this piece. It reminds me of an artwork in the Burning Man. I liked this piece because it shows caring and empathy between two people. It's almost as if they did not need to talk because they could read each other already.

This next piece is, I think, about one disappearing slowly. Here is a shy person who's slowly blending into the background. The sadder thing about this is that nobody will actually notice that he's no longer there. For me, it's a symbol of people who are always taken for granted, who are not appreciated, who work behind the scenes... this is a tribute to the wind beneath  everyone's wings; a reminder, perhaps, to be thankful for every act of kindness.

The artistic style in the painting reminds me of van Gogh. There's an ethereal, out-of-this-world feel to this representation of Silangan Gardens. It is one of my favourite pieces in the museum.

This piece is entitled Maria Makiling, I think. I've seen many statues about the guardian of the mountain. However, this is the first time I've seen her represented in such a dire state. The woman is definitely not happy. Perhaps, this piece is all about deforestation, the destruction of natural resources, the endangerment of wildlife, and human encroachment. 

I was most fascinated by classic paintings recreated to look like they're still covered in bubble wrap. The scene in the painting is of Jesus calming the storm, a classic theme in paintings. It resembles the Rembrandt original... with the one major revision: the addition of bubbles all over. It, therefore, now looks like a newly commissioned piece about to go up in an art museum. It speaks of new ownership, of new appreciation, perhaps. It also seems to convey the message of art being inaccessible to ordinary people. We see it only through bubble wrap.

The invisible man was already in such a sad fading state... then it became worse because he got into an motorcycle accident.

This guy didn't value his safety. He wanted to be famous and so he got himself a Ducati. The thing is, he's had enough to buy the bike but not the helmet or the safety gear. Not the most intelligent of decisions, right?

Religion has been portrayed here as something that can only be lived fully by people from higher social classes (i.e., the church leaders). The crucified man is surrounded by religious leaders who are supposedly our direct link and guide towards eternal life. That kind of religious exclusivity was a pet peeve of religious secessionists back during the Spanish era.

I felt quite bad when I totally forgot to bring my SLR with me on this trip... the sky was overcast, perfect for a photo shoot! As I checked out the sky, I noticed this piece about a gymnast. I liked the fluid motion from one stage to the next.

With all the chaos happening globally, I was affected by this sketch. It's a reminder that we're a team; we are one boat; we need each other's support.

And then there were the pieces that made me go: "that's art?!"

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

So sorry to the artist but I don't get this one. Ate Mary said it might really be about the three ducks. But I was not convinced. It was difficult for me finding a story in it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy birthday, Daddy!

This is one of my favourite photos with my parents... back during that brief period when I was an only child. Hehe.

Happy birthday, Daddy!