Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2009 – Agony Amidst the Holiday Season

I have a small family of six, but everyone lives a very hectic year-round schedule. And we only get to bond as a family during the Christmas holidays. In fact, we only become complete a couple of times a year. This makes the Christmas season’s protracted holidays meaningful for us. We follow a very simple, albeit festive tradition of celebrating this season with things that we share together – Noche Buena, Media Noche, and then we troop to the cineplex to watch movies featured at the annual Metro Manila Film Festival.

As a child, I always remember the frantic rush to secure good seats for a good number of movies. It used to be fun, taking into heart that admission rates used to be affordable to the general public. But times have changed. Watching films has evolved into a budget-busting endeavor. Fortunately for the movie producers, the annual film festival has become part of a Christmas family tradition. Like many Pinoy families, we have programmed our activities around this festival, shelling out a considerable slice of the financial pie to patronize these films. Like the Simbang Gabi, we’ve also vowed to try to watch every entry. This year, we decided to get them over with just before the Awards Night. And boy! As we were nearing completion, we started feeling the psychological strain of cerebral malaise.

Laurice Guillen’s “I Love You Goodbye” is a throwback to the maudlin sentimentality and glossy melodramas that Viva Films used to churn out back in the ‘80s. The movie is riddled with scenes that gratingly linger on romantic mush and exorbitant emotionality. Notice the protracted verbal tussles, and the constantly coincidental situations that are conveniently utilized to manipulate an already confounding narrative; a storyline that heavily relies on chance and coincidences. This is not the “pinakahihintay na obra maestra ng taon” that its makers say it is. Star Cinema has done better flicks than this one. It is a puzzle why a lackluster cast is being fielded to topbill a festival entry. Simply put, “I Love You Goodbye” would probably suffer at the box office if this were shown outside its festival play date. But being one of the only 2 dramas in a field of mostly fantasy/action/adventure, it has more chances of earning here. For some reason, lovebirds Angelica Panganiban and Derek Ramsay don’t make sparks fly onscreen, as they do on TV or in tabloids. Neither do Gabby Concepcion and Panganiban, nor Kim Chiu and Ramsay.

Aside from poor chemisty among its main cast members, the movie is rife with mind-boggling scenarios. When Gabby’s patient eventually succumbs after a risky cardiac operation and guarded condition at the ICU, his hospital suddenly suspends him without even showing probable cause. Hospitals don’t just suspend a brilliant and hard-working surgeon (who’s on his way to heading the cardio-thoracic unit) without tangible proof of incompetence or misdeed. Or did I blink and miss a scene? A cardiac operation is in itself risky. The chance of mortality is always high! Don’t we all know that? Once again, Derek Ramsay dies in a movie he is in, a convenient way out of a situation where he is the main protagonists’ third wheel. After all, you don’t compete with Gabby Concepcion – or Sam Milby (“And I Love You So”). Prime-time darling Kim Chiu is likewise out of her league here. Her portrayal of a needy spoiled brat is half-baked and strained. It is easy to believe why Derek’s character find her utterly charmless. In this movie, Chiu teeters on looking plain and uninteresting. Angelica Panganiban, on the other hand, is luminous. She embraces her character and gives it some insight. She must be comfortable working with Guillen who directed her very first adult role in Unitel’s “Santa Santita”. Panganiban reminds me of Bea Alonzo (“And I Love You So”) – she delivers a seering, sincere performance in a mediocre film!

Joel Lamangan’s “Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love” suffers from a trite and implausible story. Foremost of its problem is its lead star, Sharon Cuneta. In an epic scope that tells the story of several generations of Chinoys, Cuneta conveys conviction and grit, but it is hard to suspend disbelief that someone who looks as robust and satiated could be impoverished and “inaapi” by someone like Zsa zsa Padilla who is only a third Cuneta’s girth! A slap from her fists may easily lead to cervical dislocation! Cuneta's character looks eternally “busog”, even when she undergoes the dreaded chemotherapy sessions. Yes, Hodgkin’s Disease has a high cure rate when detected early, but an “unexplainable weight loss” is a salient feature of this malignancy. Moreover, chemotherapy further aggravates patients' “weight loss” which obviously isn’t the case with the Megastar. Furthermore, their uneven slit-eyed make-ups suffer a case of “here today, gone tomorrow”. And let’s not even start with the accents. There is not a second that I believed Cuneta was Chinoy. It felt awkward watching her suffer. If this observation isn’t universal, this may explain the reason why the festival’s biggest star suffers a disappointing box office showing – a measly 6th spot (in the festival's 1st 3 days), besting only the horrible “Wapakman,” which languishes as the tail-ender.

As to its A-rating from the Cinema Evaluations Board (CEB), stranger things have happened. After all, CEB has consistently proven that it is mainly made up of dim-witted imbeciles who can’t winnow good from bad films. Among its superbly graded films: “Pitik Bulag”, "Ang Manghuhula" and “Mulawin” earned an “A”, KC Concepcion starrers “For the First Time” and "When I Met You", Toni Gonzaga’s banal “My Only U”, the ridiculous “Desperadas 2”, “Tanging Ina Nyong Lahat” and “Iskul Bukol” all got a “B”. As if that wasn't enough, the brain-dead “I.T.A.L.Y’ got a resounding “B”. Isn’t it time to rethink the raison d’etre and the existence of R.A. 9167?

Bong Revilla plays the iconic “Panday” role, but in one of the action highlights where Revilla scampers off and runs to retrieve his sword buried in the sand dunes, the slow-mo magnifies a painfully dyspneic hero – with a potbelly (and a huge belt masking the flab) juggling in wild abandon. It is disheartening to see a demystified Panday, and if this pays homage to FPJ, this reincarnation of a well-loved komiks character should have been left alone. No amount of CGI-effects can uplift a physically unfit hero. Moreover, if a Carlo Caparas flick such as this one qualifies for a “Best Picture” standard, then this country is really going to the dogs! The government needs to start building kennels - fast!

Ruffa Gutierrez was surprisingly watchable in Don Michael Perez’s vengeful wedding gown tale , “Ukay Ukay”. Thank heavens for this campy story that has the voluptuous Gutierrez wielding a chainsaw. Cristine Reyes in “Ang Darling Kong Aswang” revisits the role of a well-meaning aswang who must find true love to become human again. Unfortunately, we later found out that Vic Sotto’s love isn’t enough to do the magic! LOL. She had to get herself inside the church! Most monsters we know who would touch a crucifix disintegrate into smithereens. Cristine Reyes meanwhile turns into a bombshell. Didn’t we see Reyes play the same reluctant aswang (“Patient X”) a month ago - with the same cast playing monsters (Rafael Rosell, Gian Sotto)? In “Nobody, Nobody But Juan”, Willie Revillame gets a baffling best actor nomination - for playing Willie Revillame hosting Wowowee! There is too much homage to the host and his noontime show, Thankfully, Dolphy is around to bestow a degree of tolerability to this otherwise puke-enducing drivel. The comedy king obviously deserves a trophy more than the video-scandal riding, girl-hopping senator who ought to make ripples more as a law maker.

Lastly, I was in plain agony as I sat through Topel Lee’s “Wapakman”. Topel Lee is a veteran of commendable low-budget special effects thrillers (“Dilim”, “Gagamboy”), being an early player in the thriving indie scene. So, we expected something acceptable. Unfortunately, what does one do with an unimaginative script, too many loose ends and a lead actor who wears a single facial expression and an incongruous delivery that bears no emotion. An American expat accompanying his fiancĂ© at the cinema rightfully asked, “This is a festival of your best films?” I cringed as he waited for his companion’s reply, but she was at a loss for words! Fact is, only Filipinos were supposed to experience such world-class excellence! That “Wapakman” suffers its worst fate at the box office is testament that there is still justice in the world. It is one of the worst films this year, period!

My small family of six forked out PhP7,560 for our two-day agony marathon in the confines of Greenbelt 3, the setting of my post-traumatic stress. On point of economics, PhP7560 is serious money for the daily-wage earners; it is a lot of money to spend on mediocrity!

At a time when the economic climate is unstable (the government deficit is up by a staggering 300%), the implications of spending your hard earned money on trash is a serious matter to consider! Or may pera nga ba sa basura? During the MMFF, the answer points to the affirmative! In fact, this begs the question if we really owe patronage to a mainstream industry that considers “Wapakman” a contender to a best picture trophy; an industry that continuously affirms Philip Salvador’s downward spiral into over-the-top theatrics; an industry that proudly bestows Manny Pacquiao a best actor nomination!

If this mainstream industry is truly on its death bed (something that’s been predicted for the last 2 decades), may it rest in peace!

This is the Eye in the Sky, recovering from a traumatic MMFF movie marathon!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pavilion Crystal Fountain - A Festival of Lights in KL

At the heart of Bukit Bintang is Kuala Lumpur’s trendy megamall, the Pavilion. It houses 430 retail outlets spread luxuriously around its 1.37 mil square feet of prime commercial-residential space. Fashion boutiques like Burberry Prosum, Gucci, Hermes, Hugo Boss, 4-stories of Esprit, Versace and Prada also find home in this sprawling lot. But what is currently gaining rabid attention is its eye-catching Crystal Fountain, the tallest Liuli Crystal Fountain in Malaysia.

The Crystal Fountain is made up of 3 gigantic bowls that were crafted entirely in Shanghai, taking the bloom of its national flower – the Hibiscus (Gumamela) – as its inspiration! Since its inauguration last July 4 – with the presence of the Minister of Finance himself - Dr. Ng Yen Yen – the iconic structure has since become a national landmark.

While killing time, waiting for a movie’s screening time at the Berjaya Times Square, I took a walk along Jalan Imbi and its tributaries until I found myself right in front of the mall, and was entranced by the changing fluorescent lights of the fountain. Everyone around me couldn’t help from taking photographs, it became the centrepiece of an already eye-candy of a mall. Right behind it is a sleigh and some reindeers made of tiny Christmas lights. I wasn’t aware of this fountain until then.

In an article from KL Lifestyle Magazine (I got my free copy when I went to see KLCC Aquaria), Ms. Joyce Yap – CEO Retail for Pavilion KL – offered that they wanted a landmark that will be easily identified with the mall. She explained, “A garden may have been too elaborate (and KLCC Suria’s surrounding gardens is hard to top). And a statue – hard! The water feature of the fountain provided the soft feature to complement the property.” She said that the fountain had the capacity to draw attention and many were compelled to toss coins into the fountain. I was not! There was a red cordon surrounding the fountain. The coins will however be collected from time to time, then donated to charity, which is a great idea. The mall officially opened in October 2007, but despite its relatively young "shelf life", it has already won several awards, including a Retail Category Excellence Award as well as the Best Shopping Mall!

I say, it is high time that KL should acquire a new tourism itinerary. I am not too fond of shopping unless it concerns DVDs (I got several from a specialty DVD shop at Berjaya Times Square) and pasalubongs (gifts), but I had so much fun roaming the fountain grounds, watching ecstatic revellers take their own mementos of the crystal fountain. I had so much fun I didn’t make it inside the mall that night! LOL! I had to scurry off as a movie I wanted to watch was gonna start its screening elsewhere!

The ground where the mall stands used to be a girl’s school, but when the campus was vacated in 2000, ground work for the mall started. It consists of 6 shopping precincts – Couture Pavilion, Centre Court, Connection Centre (cinema, fitness, videoke), Gourmet Emporium (food court), Seventh Heaven (spas and beauty salons) - and a row of street-front boutiques. Opening hours are from 10 AM to 10 PM daily, 7 days a week.

Changing colors every couple of seconds, the Crystal Fountain is Malaysia's tallest Liuli Fountain!

Sleigh and a reindeer. Waiting for Santa to visit a cosmopolitan muslim city?

A stolen shot inside the sophisticated cinema hall of a Pavilion cinema. Camera's aren't allowed, but not cellphone cams. Besides, I wanted to document the seats, not the movie being shown.

Pavilion's Centre Court. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's jyi1693.

What is a Liuli?

"This ancient Chinese art of Liuli was discovered incidentally about 2500 years ago when Fan-Li, a well-known government official at the time, was making a King's Sword for his emperor. Ever since then, Liuli can only be owned and made for the royal families in China.
  • Liuli is very well known for its mix of colors and flow of light as it always seems very mystical in its nature.
  • Liuli Stone is similar in its chemical composition as Crystal and glass, but it is not as clear in its translucency. Its hardness is close to Jade.
  • The ancient way of making Liuli is being preserved until today. The mixture of colors are done naturally during the process, thus, no two Liuli are exactly the same in the flow of its colors.
  • The process of making Liuli is to heat up the Liuli stone in high temperature until it melts. Then the liquid is mixed with other natural ingredients and then poured into a mold. The natural ingredients added will cause some chemical transformation of Liuli and form its unique flow of color and light.
  • The bubbles inside the Liuli are naturally formed during the process. Collectors of Liuli especially appreciate these bubbles as they will reflect light and add to its beauty.
Check this out for an animated view of Pavilion's Liuli Fountain -

To every wanderlust and to my friends, Happy Holidays! May everyone welcome the new year with love, peace, hope and the purest form of happiness that only kind hearts deserve! Safe travels, everyone!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rainy Kuala Terengganu Visits and Avoiding Traveller's Inn Like the Plague

Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia - I was in Halong Bay in Vietnam when a smart Malaysian backpacker (a girl) first introduced Kuala Terengganu to my consciousness. That was 2 years ago! Terengganu is a particularly interesting "town" since it is the capital of the oil-producing state of Malaysia. It is also Malaysia's revered eastcoast town, and the bailiwick of the country's opposition movement.

In Terengganu, bored rich housewives go out to lunch. There is money going around this sober city. But I arrived on a very dreary day that drizzled and rained the whole day through. I was struck by how beautiful Sultan Mahmud Airport is. At the first counter by the entrance/exit, there is the prepaid booth for taxis, the "only" viable" transport out of the airport. Most distances cover an average rate of 25 ringgit, so that in itself was daunting. 25 was good but it would be a very expensive endeavor to have to go from one place to the next, paying 25 ringgit everytime. Much later, I learned that taxi commutes within town has a fixed rate of 8 ringgit which wasn't bad. A mini-bus is mentioned by Lonely Planet, but this bus is nowhere found. It's hard enough to wait for a taxi. Most people in this town seem to have cars of their own so taxis are hard to come by.

I worried of my mobility. What to do in a town without accessible public utility vehicle. I walked most of the time. I went to their white washed mosque, the Baywalk, the park nearby, the bus station in the center of town. I saw Princess Hill right by the Central Market, but it wasn't feasible to walk up a 200m hill when rain is falling hard!

The view from the Baywalk wasn't much. You see the South China Sea, but there is a straddling piece of land that blocks majority of the ocean view. If there is one thing that isn't too tourist friendly in this decidedly-rich town, it is the lack of tourist facilities as well as acceptable budget hotels. Traveller's Inn, the one and only budget guesthouse in town, and Lonely Planet's single recommendation for a backpacker accommodation is nowhere near the backpacker rate of my crummy hotel in KL. In fact, my room was a delectable 99 ringgit room - a hundred percent more expensive than my room in the capital - Lonely Planet says they have 39 ringgit rooms - my version should be year 1979?! This is a town with rates higher than the capital and the idea annoys me. It's supposed to be cheaper in small towns than the capital, isn't it? Here's the rub, the people at Traveller's Inn even asked for a deposit of 99 ringgit - which was hilarious. You are asking for the payment already, honey! 99 ringgit can't be a deposit! Some people can be too suspicious or untrusting.

As a result, less than an hour after I checked in, I checked out! I didn't care much for my 99 ringgit. They can have it, and wipe their smelly Bahasan arses with my mint-condition 100 ringgit, for all I care! I refuse to stay in a place that I despise for their silly small-brain practices, and really now, may you all rot in hell!

Here is my advise to tourists who plan to visit Terengganu, steer clear from Traveller's Inn. Opt for the more expensive shitholes. Believe me, you are better off elsewhere. For one, Taxi drivers find it a conundrum to locate this place, and it's situated a bit too far from the town center.

The Crystal Mosque taken from Pulau Duyong, Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia. This photo only courtesy of flickr's spOt_On.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dodging Skybus and Watching JALANG in KL Malaysia

KL, MALAYSIA - Travel weary, I decided not to use my prepaid Skybus ticket upon reaching KL. Trichy had been a tiring experience: getting up early in the morning, taking an autorickshaw to the airport, enduring the horrible queue as well as the tedious security checks and immigration formalities, etc. I wasn't a happy guy.

After almost 4 hours, I headed towards the Star Shuttle area which will drop me at the Hentian Puduraya area where my hotel would be. Skybus stops at KL Sentral which means I have to transfer to a train, walk 100 meters with my luggage, then upon arrival at Imbi, walk 200 meters along Jalan Pudu. I was simply drained and too tired. Star Shuttle cost me 8 ringgit, and a ridiculous 2 hours and 30 minutes (including waiting for passengers and the city traffic).

Later that night, I decided to relax and watch a movie at Berjaya Times Square. There were several options from the line-up. China's darma version of Disney's "Mulan" for one was interesting, but I wanted local color. There's not a lot of Malaysian films coming to the Philippines. So I ended up watching a horrible digital film called "Jalang" (at 9 PM).

"Jalang" revolves around a femme fatale looking like Philippines' Paw Diaz. Shot in Langkawi, this movie is about Marie who has guys falling under her spell. Most of the time, the lead actress postures like she is tickled pink somewhere under her knickers. She walks around with a knowing glance and sways with wild abandon. That was what constituted her entire performance. Campy ridiculous! Everybody else was ugly - ugly guys, ugly old people, ugly businessmen, and Marie! After an hour of suffering, I stood up from my chair and happily made my exit! Darn! I should have watched 2012 instead.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Idiots 101 or How to Deal with Clueless Immigration Officer in Trichy India

Disclaimer: The immigration officer on this photo above is NOT the subject of this post. This photo only courtesy of's offspring.

TIRUCHIRAPPALLI, India. There is something so wrong with the people they field as Indian Immigration officers - these are the people who stamp your passports and check your visas in and out of India. Last year, it was the same experience in Haridaspur (near the Kolkata-Benapole border), then again at the Chennai Airport. I dunno, but they seem to be handpicked from the University of Idiocy.

As I got my turn at the Immigration Desk, the immigration officer sternly looked at the pages of my passport - he must have gotten confused with the vast number of stamped entries accumulated since I renewed it January last year.

With his face all zonked out, he asked me :"Why you going out, you only have double entry?"

It was my turn to tread the streets of confusion. Am I gonna go on tutorial mode? First off, it was clear that I was a foreigner. I was in fact the fairest person in a see of dark-skinned individuals. This never happens in Manila, as I am not mestizo! I had a double-entry visa for this Indian visit, so what's all this fuss?

So I go: "First entry was Trichy! Second entry was Sunauli! (The Nepali-Indian bortder up north) THIS here NOW at Trichy airport is my EXIT, NOT my ENTRY! That is TWO entries!"

He intently stares at me again, furrow on his thali-free forehead. There were imaginary spirals moving across his cornea and if he would stare harder, he would drop on the floor and perform a mandatory seizure. Suddenly, like a flash of light that gleamed from his deepest recesses, he crawls out of some hole of stupidity - and begins to see the light! Then shoos me away!

I HATE HAVING TO EXPLAIN THESE THINGS as it is NOT my JOB to teach them. Was he schooled from some squat-type latrines?

Obviously, in India, some things take a little more time to sink in !

This is the Eye in the Sky on buffoon immigration duty!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Solitary, Lonely Planet and His Soundbites

This photo only courtesy of travelblog's ben.

For some unusual reason, I am taken to bus travels than trains. Trains stifle me, and I am reduced to being a prisoner. I even like the rush of the wind - dusty it maybe - against my hair. As long as no one intrudes on my tiny space and I see a myriad of sceneries passing before me, I am a happy soul.

I am somehow wondering why I feel like the lone traveller in most of my rides. I usually end up the only foreigner on my bus rides, train rides and border crossings. Aren't November and December supposed to be peak season for tourists' visits in India, and all over Asia? But looking back, even my Myanmar trip last March was much of the same. I ended up the only foreigner on a night bus from Yangon to Bagan. What is with that?


On a bus from Pokhara Nepal to the bordertown of Bhairawa, an old lady fully covered in several layers of textiles (it must have been 8-9 degrees) sat beside me.

Old lady: *+++&^^%^%^

(I turned to her and smiled.)

Me: Sorry, no Nepali! I don't understand.
(She smiles.)

Old lady: Oh, Japanese! (Stops herself for a second, then constinues...) Ah, Korean!


A reed-thin Nepali man stares intently at me. I was cam-clicking at the temple before me. Swayambhunath rises from a hill and offers specatcular views of the whole of Kathmandu.

Thin Man: From where you are?

Me: Philippines! (Emphatic, with a smile.)

Thin man: Ahhhh, Bangladesh!

This is the Eye in the Sky.