Friday, December 26, 2008

A pause as the year turns

From The Gold Rush.

Here's to another crazy year!

08 : Circus

My favorites for 2008.


The ladies ruled my music player.

1. Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy

2. Rihanna - Don't Stop The Music

3. N.E.R.D. feat. Julian Casablancas and Santogold - My Drive Thru

4. Amy Winehouse - Love Is A Losing Game

5. Amy Winehouse - Tears Dry On Their Own

6. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland - 4 Minutes

7. Kylie Minogue - Wow

8. N.E.R.D. - Everybody Nose (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)

9. Keane - Spiralling

10. Shelby Lynne - Anyone Who Had A Heart

11. Coldplay - Viva La Vida

12. The Pussycat Dolls - When I Grow Up

13. Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma

14. Rihanna - Disturbia

15. Madonna feat. Pharell Williams - Give It 2 Me

16. M.I.A. - Boyz

17. Duffy - Mercy

18. M.I.A. - Bird Flu

19. I'm From Barcelona - We're From Barcelona

20. Carrie Underwood - All-American Girl

21. Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Card

22. Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You

23. Ne-Yo - Closer

24. MGMT - Time To Pretend

25. Om Shanti Om soundtrack - Deewangi Deewangi


It's still too early to know what really were the best films of the year. Here are some that are supposedly excellent and that I'm really looking forward to watching (of course, we'll hopefully get to see them after weeks of being subjected to bad Indiana Jones rip-offs and unnecessary horror sequels this holiday season).

Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea (Hayao Miyazaki)

Milk (Gus Van Sant)

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)

Che (Steven Soderbergh)

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)

Man On Wire (James Marsh)

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher)

Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen)

Doubt(John Patrick Shanley)

Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman)

My favorites among the non-2008 movies I saw this year:

1. Phantom India (Louis Malle) - This landmark, but little known, 1969 7-hour opus by Louis Malle (Elevator To The Gallows, Les Amants), resurrected on DVD by Criterion Collection, is perhaps the greatest documentary on India ever filmed. This is not your typical BBC or Discovery Channel routine job. It is a highly personal account of the filmmaker's journey across India, with a narration by Malle himself. While watching it, I felt there was something oddly familiar about it. Then it hit me: oh my god, it sounds like a blog, perhaps the best travel blog you'll ever come across. The film reveals as much of India as the filmmaker's soul, with a camera that sees everything, and a narration that is reflective, inquisitive, judgmental at times, funny, and ultimately, beautiful. (Phantom India's companion documentary, the of-the-moment "Calcutta," is more typical of a western documentary on Asian poverty, and doesn't benefit from the filmmaker's insightful narration, therefore a less enduring work). Like its subject, Phantom India is timeless, massive, intimate, surprising, challenging, quirky, and utterly, achingly beautiful. Required viewing for everybody interested in India, if not for the entire human race.

2. Syndromes And A Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) - I don't know what it means (yet), but like Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love, I'll probably watch it again and again to find out. Intriguing, intoxicating.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg) - Of course I've seen it before, but not on DVD. It has lost none of the excitement and fun.

4. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-Wai) - One of those movies that took me forever to see. Wong Kar-Wai's star-studded 1990 film, a sort-of-prequel to In The Mood For Love, reveals that the director's hopeles romantic stylings have been there all along. Immerse yourself in Christopher Doyle's cinematography, Xavier Cugat's "Perfidia," and the charisma of the young cast, but the romance and yearning are all Wong Kar-Wai's. The movie was partly shot in the Philippines, and I've never seen Manila so lovingly shot in a movie as in this one (perhaps the only other time I've seen Manila photographed in such a manner was in Jim Libiran's "Tribu," but that was set in the slums). Tita Muñoz makes a cameo as Leslie Cheung's Filipino mother. Go see it.

5. Network (Sidney Lumet) - "I am mad as hell, and I am not gonna take this anymore!" Also, still the most acidic fuck-you to corporate media in the history of corporate media and fuck-yous.

6. 3 Days To Forever (Riri Riza) - The main characters spend the movie driving from Jakarta to Jogjakarta, passing through Puncak Jaya, Bandung, and other Indonesian towns, stopping to party, smoke stuff, get laid, enjoy the views. It's the fantasy road trip I haven't taken! Yet!




The hits:

1. The whole Nepal experience (finally coming to this blog very soon, I think!) - to top it all off, I was able to visit/see the country's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all 10 of them!

2. Finally stepping on Indian soil - a dream come true

3. My brother's wedding

4. The Eraserheads reunion concert

5. Nearly passing out becaue of the heat, hunger, and exhaustion in Ayutthaya, Thailand - I'd prefer to pass out because of travel anytime, than because of, well, anything else!

The pits:

1. People moving on - sad, but inevitable

2. The doctor's diagnosis that reminded me that I'd been living a very sweet life indeed

3. When the most stupid and rude mechanic was sent to fix my computer and wiped out almost all my travel photos - like your whole family dying on you, at least for three days (silver lining: there were backups, but not for everything!)

4. Prices just keep going up, up, up...while the salaries stay the same.

5. Cory Aquino apologized to Joseph Estrada for EDSA II?? I'm sorry, but was she out of her mind? She should then apologize to all of us who went to EDSA for four straight days to hopefully drive away the drunken, womanizing, stealing, good-for-nothing bastard out of office. Early this month, I attended a screening of the Mike de Leon (et al) Ninoy-era documentary "Signos," and after the screening, a middle-aged former street activist stood up and voiced out his disenchantment and dismay over those people whom they counted on during the Marcos era, who had/have not really done anything --and in fact, they themselves--did/have done harm to the Filipino people. Well, I'm 32, and I feel the same way now. God bless this country.

Vote for me because I love pink

The guy in-charge of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila, who is obviously aspiring for national office and is known for his love for the color hot pink, shamelessly hawks himself even outside Manila, way before the elections in mid-2010 (these images were taken in my hometown of Taal, Batangas). Let's hope he's using his personal money to plaster his face all over town.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Before the merriment, a song

And kids, SANTA CLAUS DOESN'T EXIST! It's all a LIE!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Toys art thou

The 3rd Toys & Collectibles Christmas Fair
December 19-21, 2008
SM Megamall

(Click any image to see more photos)
(Click any image to see more photos)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Duh, who else?

Barack is TIME Person of the Year

The Jonas Brothers did not have a shot.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes for Bush

Can the Bush administration get any less popular? A little more than a month before he steps out of office, George W. Bush goes on a last "victory tour" of Iraq. During a press conference last night, an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at Bush, shouting "This is a farewell ... you dog!". Throwing shoes is reportedly the gesture of ultimate contempt in that part of the world.

Like throwing rotten kamatis or smelly tinapa at a certain Filipino politician, not that I'm trying to suggest that or anything...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dahil kay R

"Hindi ka na nagsusulat?" Ricky asked as he signed my copy of his new book, his very first novel. "Well, I write in my blog." A heartbeat, and then I knew it was a rather stupid thing to say. "I hope you go back to writing soon," he wrote in his dedication, which made me feel worse. I wanted to say, I was never into writing so how can I go back to it, but that would be digging my grave just a little bit deeper. But I do write, just not literature or screenplays, and certainly just for fun. But still I feel a bit guilty.

How can I not if the person I was talking to was Ricky Lee, whose hands wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for such masterpieces as Himala, Moral, Brutal, Salome, Jaguar, Itim, Relasyon, and so many others? Who gave Philippine cinema strong women characters? Whose style influenced virtually every young filmmaker and scriptwriter working today in the country? Who was responsible for many of these young filmmakers' and writers' careers in the first place (that's why during Ricky events, you see them volunteering to help out, ushering guests, manning the tables)?

Ten years ago, I walked into the Mowelfund Film Institute compound to audition to be part of Ricky's writing workshop. I'd already been with Namfrel for just a couple of months at that time, but I was still dreaming to become a film director. I thought, how can I be a good director if I do not know how to write? In hindsight, I did not really know what I was doing. Many of the participants, as I would later find out, didn't either. We were there because this great opportunity was there. And we wanted to get to know, and be known by, the Ricky Lee, who in Philippine movie writing, was and is a god, no one bigger.

Apparently, hundreds of people were thinking the same thing. I think I went on the last day of auditions, and Mowelfund's spacious compound was just bursting with people. How the hell will I pull this off, I thought. A cattle call. Hundreds of people, hundreds of dreams. This could get bloody.

They made us write on the spot a short narrative, in longhand. I wrote mine in English, a comedy. I don't remember exactly how the story went, but the main characters were John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Sean Lennon, with the couple having an argument, throwing Beatles memorabilia at each other including a limited edition copy of The White Album, with Yoko making strange sounds, and Sean throwing a tantrum and wishing he were Jakob Dylan instead at the end of the story (I knew I should have made a copy). The screening committee was composed of writers and directors, including Marilou Diaz-Abaya. I left Mowelfund thinking, thanks for the experience, what a way to spend the weekend.

Less than a month later, I received a letter from Ricky and a call from his assistant. I was in.

There were about thirty of us in our batch, the 12th batch of Ricky's workshoppers (the first had theirs in 1984; officially there would only be two more batches after us). We called ourselves Dosé ("twelve"). Some of us were already writing, if not for TV, for print media. There was an illustrator, a businessman, some were jobless. There could have been an actor and a singer, had then-budding star Piolo Pascual not opt out due to scheduling conflict, and had Jeffrey Hidalgo not drop out for an unspecified reason. Some of us were from the province, spending many hours traveling to Ricky's house in Quezon City, borrowing money from relatives just to be able to buy bus tickets (once in a while we chipped in for the travel). We were a happy bunch. Isabella de Leon, the daughter of our fellow workshopper Dean, was our unofficial mascot, before she became a child star and did those movies and soap operas for GMA-7.

Aside from the writing itself -- from conceptualizing ("pagbubuntis") to characterization, structure, milieu, dialogue, to making the outlines and the sequence treatment, all taught by Ricky himself in his very informal, funny, thorough, and easy to digest style -- what I remember most fondly about those months of workshop were the movies. Sometimes we would spend half the day just watching classic movies; some even pulled all-nighters, watching stuff like Pasolini's "Salo" (which many of them could not stand, but remains one of my favorite films).

Then there's Ricky's house. The talent that has passed through Ricky's doors is innumerable, it being the venue not just of his workshops, but also countless nights of brainstorming, story conferences, or simple get-togethers with colleagues and collaborators. For a movie and music junkie (like Ricky), his house is a dream. I could spend a whole day just staring at his extensive book collection (literature, art, movies, music), his huge cabinets of CDs (mostly rock), and racks upon racks of laserdiscs and DVDs (mostly hard-to-find art films). And you can borrow them, if you ask nicely.

And of course there's Ricky himself. An orphan from Daet, Camarines Norte, he went to Manila as a teenager and worked odd jobs, while writing short stories for which he won Palanca awards. While studying English in UP, he was involved in the underground movement, and was jailed in 1974 when Marcos declared martial law. After his release, he went on to write more stories, stage plays, and finally screenplays and teleplays.

In spite of his achievements, what strike people upon meeting Ricky Lee (currently the creative manager of ABS-CBN and creative consultant for Star Cinema) is his being soft spoken, his humility, his total lack of airs. For us who have gotten a bit closer to him, what we really value is his generosity, his desire to share what he has, not only for our success, but most importantly, for the future of the art of writing in the country. There are now plans to make The Writers Studio, which he and some of his closest associates have founded, to officially become a foundation that will put aspiring writers in school and make those dreams closer to reality.

And he really goes out of his way to help aspiring writers enter the business.

A few weeks after our workshop wrapped up, I was shocked when his assistant called me up at the office. He then gave the phone to Ricky. Would I like to write for ABS-CBN? My NGO life could have ended that day. I was with Namfrel for only a few months at that time, and I truly loved my job. It was an easy decision to make.

(Which partly explains my guilt. After almost ten years, after everything he has graciously done for people like me, I still owe him a screenplay).

There is one advice from Ricky that has stuck with me all these years. Pertaining to the style of writing we should follow, he would say, "kahit naka-kahon, basta nakabukas ang kahon." It is okay to be conventional, as long as there's something in it that is not conventional. Or, it's okay to compromise (if you're in the entertainment business), as long as there's something in it that pushes the art form forward. Funny that it has not struck me as merely a sound advice for writing, but for living a life. It's okay to be normal, but don't be boring. It's okay to be a suit, but be a bit crazy after 6. It's okay to have a regular job, but do other things on the side. It's okay to go along with a group, but don't lose your individuality. It's okay to live according to others' expectations, but do not sacrifice your integrity.

It is probably one of the best advice a young person could ever get, probably the best gift that Ricky has unwittingly given me. And I'll forever be grateful.

(Click the image below to see photos from the launching of Ricky Lee's first ever novel, "Para Kay B: O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Pag-Ibig Ang 4 Out of 5 Sa Atin").

He he he

Regardless of how the De La Hoya - Pacquiao match might turn out, let it be said that Manny Pacquiao will never be caught dead wearing full-body fishnet stockings (when everybody knows they totally clash with fedoras!). Snaps to you too, Oscar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give kung give

This year, let us not forget the reason for the season: commercialism! If you don't feel any remorse or guilt whatsoever to spend a lot this Christmas for gifts, here are some suggestions. (Note: these are stuff I actually want to buy, or have already).

1. Those plastic thingies called CDs

Ang Bandang Shirley - Theme Songs

Eraserheads - 08.30.08
Where: your favorite record store

Kalayo (formerly Pinikpikan) - Sumigla, Sumaya (CD single)

Lakbay Lahi - Biyaheng Organik
(also available for digital download)

Makiling - Malakas at Maganda
(also available as a set with the two previous Makiling Ensemble CDs)

Patatag - Nagbabagang Lupa / Batang Clark / Masdan, O Yahweh (box set)

Pinikpikan - Rhythm Soup For The Tribal Soul (collection)

The Bembol Rockers - The Fabulous Bembol Rockers

The Dorques - The Dorques

2. Dibidi
Now that you have extra cash (I assume), why don't you, for once, not go to Quiapo to buy stuff from Manong dibidi and instead buy Filipino classic films on DVD, now out (and frankly, you should buy them now or wait another two decades for these babies to be in print).

Where: Powerbooks / Astrovision
For Filipinos overseas, try and

John en Marsha

The Philippines' favorite sitcom is now on multiple DVDs! All together now: "Kaya ikaw John, magsumikap ka!"

3. Books (sosyal, you read?)

Where: your favorite bookstore, or at

Ricky Lee - Para Kay B (O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Pag-Ibig
ang 4 Out of 5 Sa Atin)
The first novel from the hands that wrote or co-wrote Himala, Moral, Jaguar, Salome, Brutal, Karnal, Cain at Abel, and Relasyon, people!

Jessica Zafra - Twisted 8

The Flip Reader
Selected articles from the short-lived magazine edited by Jessica Zafra, that ran for 8 issues earlier this decade. Fun, fun, fun. (Trust me, I have all issues).

The Many Ways of Being Muslim
The first ever anthology of short stories from Filipino Muslim writers, spanning seven decades.

Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, The Complete Illustrated Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Instead of buying all those teenage vampire novels which you have been saving your money for, why not go straight to these originals, at a fraction of the price! (But if what you're after is the love angle, well, um, just take a bite out of a chocolate bar every other chapter!)

4. Sari-sari

Night out with your friends wherever Kalayo (formerly Pinikpikan) is playing. The country's best live act. 'Nuff said!

Night out with your friends, family, or date wherever Olivia is singing. The country's freshest and best jazz vocalist. 'Nuff said!

Tired of the usual kakanin during Christmastime? Then let me tell you that Indian desserts are TO DIE FOR! My favorite is the truly sinful gulab jamun (above), which you can even eat with ice cream if you're a big fan of gluttony. You can buy Indian sweets per piece or
in a box by the kilo.
Where: the Indian grocery stores along UN Avenue, Manila,
across Pope Pius XII Catholic Center

Vinyl records are the past and the future. Buy them used in eBay Philippines, or in Tiendesitas. If you want new, head to Fully Booked in Serendra, where they have a limited stock of jazz and rock classics (a bit pricey though).

You need a device to play those vinyl records in (no Junior, they won't play in your dusty Discman). If money is not a problem, get the TEAC GF-350 turntable, which has a bulit in CD writer for easy ripping of grandpa's Mantovani LPs.
Where: audio stores in Shangri-la Plaza Mall and Park Square Makati, or at

If you are one of those killjoys who actually know what Christmas is all about and the type who gives those envelopes with messages that says I have donated so and so amount on your behalf to so and so charity, then here are some organizations that could use some of that cash:

UNICEF Philippines
Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Wold Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines
Philippine Breast Cancer Network
Philippine Diabetes Association
Tahanang Walang Hagdanan
Golden Acres / Home For The Aged