Monday, May 07, 2018

Petron Blaze Spikers win the PSL Grand Prix

Congratulations Petron Blaze Spikers for winning the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix. They exacted revenge against F2 Logistics, who beat them in last year's Grand Prix final.

Petron seemed to be the heavy favorites early in the tournament since they were undefeated in the first half of the eliminations, maintaining a streak that included a win over F2. Their air of invincibility was shattered, however, when Sta. Lucia upset them in straight sets. With F2 going on an undefeated run of their own, it was interesting to see how the final would unfold.

In the end, the firepower of Petron's new import Kath Bell (who replaced an injured Hillary Hurley) and the leadership and will-to-win of their captain Lindsay Stalzer proved just enough to give Petron the trophy. Stalzer in fact was declared tournament MVP, making her the only two-time MVP in the Grand Prix.

F2 Logistics actually dominated the individual awards, taking 5 out of the 10 awards given out. While most of the awardees were imports, three of the awardees were local players: Kim Fajardo was best setter, Aby Marano was best middle blocker, and Mika Reyes was second best middle blocker. Amazing how all three local player awardees are from DLSU and how all of them actually played together in the UAAP.

Petron and F2 Logistics seem to have taken a step further than most, since these two teams played against each other in the last three PSL tournaments. That said, the Grand Prix featured a lot of tough, close matches and a large chunk of the games went 4 or 5 sets, including some pretty interesting upsets and come-from-behind victories, so there's no telling how things will turn out in the future. With Jaja Santiago graduating from the UAAP, she may be able to focus more on her PSL career and if she remains teamed up with her sister, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, they could very well make Foton more formidable than they are now. I am definitely looking forward to see what happens in the next PSL tournament.

Congratulations, Petron Blaze Spikers!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

DSLU Lady Spikers Repeat the Three-peat and the NU Bulldogs Win Again

Congratulations to the DLSU Lady Spikers for winning the UAAP Women's Volleyball Championship! Add this to their titles in the previous two seasons and you have another three-peat. La Salle has now achieved this remarkable feat three times - S66 to S68, S73 to S74, and now S78 to S80. They have also won the title 7 times in the last 10 years and they have competed in the finals in each of those 10 years. That is impressive.

The Lady Spikers had two losses in the first round - against NU and Adamson - but proceeded to win all of their games after that. They faced FEU in the finals after the Lady Tamaraws beat the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the semifinals, marking the first time in the last 6 years that Ateneo failed to the reach the finals. FEU captain Bernadeth Pons played inspired volleyball the entire season and while it helped the Lady Tams get to the final for the first time since S71, it wasn't enough against the DLSU juggernaut. In fact, the Lady Spikers were so dominant late in the season that they didn't drop a set in the semifinals against NU and in the finals against FEU. Dawn Macandili made history yet again for being the first libero to be awarded Finals MVP in the UAAP.

DLSU will need to replace some incredible players next year since Dawn, Kim Dy, and Majoy Baron are all graduating. In fact, this trio are so impressive that they each have a UAAP MVP award - Kim was finals MVP in S78, Majoy was season MVP in S79, and Dawn is finals MVP this year. Wow!

On the men's side, National University finally came out on top against Ateneo, the team that brought them heartache over the last 3 years. While NU won the title back in S76 against Ateneo, the Blue Eagles with the help of volleyball legend Marck Espejo, beat NU in the finals in each of the last 3 years. ADMU seemed to still have the edge over NU in the first round but NU finally broke a 13-game losing streak against their rivals to end the second round. There was no looking back after that.

Not to say the road to the trophy was easy. Ateneo played tremendously well in Game 2 of the finals after NU beat them in straight sets in Game 1. The game was so close that both sets 2 and 4 went way past 25 points. NU won set 2 with a score of 31-29 and they also won set 4 with an even more incredible score of 33-31. In the end, it was NU's wider range of scoring options that got them the win.

Bryan Bagunas was awarded finals MVP but I have to mention the fact that Mark Espejo achieved something that may not be achieved by anyone else in my lifetime (or ever): he won season MVP in all five years that he played in the UAAP, including during his rookie year. In fact, he also got at least two awards in each of those playing years. Phenomenal!

Congratulations again to the DLSU Lady Spikers and the NU Bulldogs!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Nadal wins Barcelona #11

Another week, another record. As if winning one tournament eleven times wasn't enough, Rafa Nadal repeats his achievement last week at Monte Carlo when he took home the Barcelona title for the 11th time. That is just astounding.

By winning the title, Nadal manages to retain his very slim 100 point lead over Federer to remain at the top of the rankings for another week. This is also his 77th title, putting him on equal fourth place (in a tie with John McEnroe) for most singles titles won. By winning the Barcelona title without dropping a set, Nadal extends his current streak to 19 wins on clay and a whopping 46 straight sets won on clay. That he does this when he is 31 years old on a surface that is arguably the most physically taxing on a player is just absolutely extaordinary.

I don't want to get my hopes up too high for the French Open but I'm hoping Nadal can maintain or even improve upon his current form. Congratulations Rafa on your 11th Barcelona title!

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Lion King in Manila!

I am very happy that I finally got to watch The Lion King with my family. I bought our tickets several months ago and I had been looking forward to seeing this show since then. While I did get to see it in London back in 2001, it's always a different experience seeing a major musical in the Philippines and with your family.

Once the news came out about a year ago that The Lion King would be shown here, I decided to start saving money. I wanted to get the expensive orchestra seats, specifically orchestra aisle seats, because I knew that some "animals" would be parading down the aisles during the opening Circle of Life and I wanted us to be up close to them when they passed by. My research told me that the elephant would pass by the left aisle (left when you are facing the stage) so I made sure to get seats there. I gotta say, I was really excited when the elephant passed by. :)

The great thing about being seated at the aisle is that a few more performers do pass by. Another highlight for me was during the opening number of the second act right after the intermission, several performers walk down the aisles and stand in different parts of the venue. One of them stood right next to us and while we could hear the entire ensemble sing in harmony, we could also hear her voice quite clearly and it was beautiful.

I really wanted my family to see The Lion King because it is such an incredible production. The opening Circle of Life just so powerful and jaw-dropping, it is almost worth the price of admission. The animal costumes are so beautifully and intelligently designed and the performers move the same way that the animals do. The cheeatah, the giraffes, the gazelles, the elephant, Zazu, and all the animals were all just so incredible. Add to that the incredible voices and the brilliant stage design and colors and you have a life-affirming opening number. Words can't really do justice to its brilliance so it's better to see it in action. This video of Circle of Life is from the Life Helpmann Awards. Check it out.

video uploaded by Thais Persico

Other highlights from a production value standpoint include the stampede sequence and the scene where Mufasa's spirit talks to Simba. Musically, while I do love the songs from the movie, the songs that were added to the musical that weren't in the film give the live show even more soul - Shadowland, Endless Night, and He Lives in You. (I want to get the CD of the musical because I really do love these additional songs.)

What made The Lion King in Manila even more special to me is that we got a South African cast. Given how the musical is set in Africa, having a cast that is mostly from that continent just made the story and the performances even more meaningful and gave the show even more soul.

Speaking of the cast, I thought they were all fantastic. Ntsepa Pitjeng as Rafiki, Calvyn Grandling as the adult Simba, Noxolo Dlamini as the adult Nala, Antony Lawrence as Scar, Jamie McGregor as Timon, Pierre Van Heerden as Pumbaa, and Andrew Jewson as Zazu along with the rest of the cast were all superb. The revelation to me were the Filipino kids in the cast, Julien Joshua M. Dolor Jr. as the young Simba and Uma Naomi Martin as the young Nala, both of whome were amazing. I also love how the cast injected some Filipino words and even Filipino cultural items into the dialogue, specifically Timon's.

I have now see all but one of the musicals that had an impact on me twice: Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Wicked, and now this. (I have even seen Chicago twice as well.) The only one I haven't seen twice is Miss Saigon. I am hoping it gets shown here again. If not, maybe I will get a chance to see it again somewhere in the world.

The Lion King has extended its Manila run until May 27. Tickets are going by very quickly. If you want to see it while it is still showing, go get your tickets now.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Four Movies in April

I got to see a handful of movies at the cinema this month.

Avengers: Infinity War

Obviously, this is one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing this year, especially after the build-up over the last 10 years. This film has gotten some great reviews and multitudes of people who have seen it have been greatly affected. People have said that most audiences are left speechless at the end of the film. I've seen Infinity War criticized by some for having too many characters and being too overcrowded but I actually thought the screen time for each character and their interactions were done very well. Despite this, I was very strangely and surprisingly underwhelmed. Was it because I was expecting too much? I don't know. In any case, while I say I was underwhelmed, I will of course still recommend this movie.

Spoiler alert: please stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled!!! The opening scene was so powerful. In fact, I love that Thor had such a key role and that he was god-like here (Thor has always been one of my favorite superheroes, even pre-Marvel movies). I got really pissed off at Starlord and I feel like it was his fault Thanos ended up getting all the infinity stones. I personally didn't like the Thanos backstory. I somehow didn't find his love of Gamora all that believable - he tortured her after all - so when he cries for her, it just felt really out of character and out of place. I also didn't quite like the Hulk-saying-no scenes. I thought it was a bit corny. I really loved the Black Order or the Children of Thanos (I didn't know that is what they were called; I only found out later on). Speaking of the Black Order, I was surprised by the death of Ebony Maw. He was so powerful going up against Thor and Doctor Strange and yet he couldn't save himself when he was suddenly pulled into outer space. In summary, practically everyone I know who has seen it was "shookt" but strangely enough I wasn't. I guess for me, I knew that Thanos destroys practically the entire universe in the Infinity Gauntlet comic book series so it should've gone without saying that there would be a ton of casualties in this film, including many with whom we have grown attached over the years.

Pacific Rim Uprising

This film has been panned by audiences and critics alike, with sub-50% scores on Rotten Tomatoes from both critics and audiences. Even my nephew who watched it with me said that he felt it was missing something. Strangely enough, I actually really enjoyed it. (So I found Infinity War underwhelming and Pacific Rim Uprising entertaining; there is clearly something wrong with me LOL.) I will agree though that this sequel is not as good as the first one and I felt the build-up here took a little longer than I would have wanted, unlike in the first film which almost immediately opens with a Jaeger-Kaiju combat sequence. I did enjoy the tension and the sort-of-bromantic relationship of the two lead characters played by John Boyega and Scott Eastwood. I also enjoyed the visuals here a bit better. I guess that is because in the first one, all the battles were done in the dark (either at night or underwater). In this second one, the battles are done in daylight so you can see the robots and the monsters better. I guess the reason why I enjoyed this film is that I didn't really care too much for story, I just wanted to see Jaegers battle Kaijus (which I did).

A Quiet Place

I initially thought that this was a horror film but a friend told me that it was more like a sci-fi thriller. To be honest, I wasn't all that interested to see it but I kept on seeing amazing reviews; of the four films I watched this month, this one has the highest critics score on Rotten Tomatoes at 95%. I will say though that this film requires a great amount of suspension of disbelief since the premise is quite bizarre and it is quite easy to poke holes at the story and the concept. I have a friend who found it all too incredulous but I myself found it easy to accept the premise. I gotta say, Emily Blunt put in such a strikingly brilliant performance. If she doesn't get nominated for Best Actress next year for this, I will be greatly disappointed. I am also pleasantly surprised that John Krasinski (who happens to be Emily Blunt's husband not just in the movie but also in real life) is a very capable director.

Mazinger Z: Infinity

I was a fan of the Mazinger Z cartoon series back when I was a kid so when I saw that this was showing, I had to watch it. Interestingly enough, most other viewers at the cinema seemed to be my age or older. :) I didn't know what this film was going to be about but, similar to my basic expectation in Pacific Rim Uprising, I was just expecting to enjoy robot battles. I thought it was cool that the film featured both Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger as well as the characters of both series like Koji Kabuto, Sayaka Yumi, Tetsuya Tsurugi Dr. Hell, Baron Ashura, and Count Brocken among others. Despite all that, I can't say I enjoyed it. I guess the problem for me was that instead of robot battles, the film went all metaphysical as it talked about the destruction and creation of parts of the multiverse. It kind of reminded me of the popular Japanese sci-fi animation film Akira. I guess I am not such a fan of metaphysical discussions. I can't quite say I would recommend this movie but if you are a Mazinger Z fan and you don't mind paying money for a  movie ticket, I guess you can go and see this and somewhat enjoy the nostalgia amidst the strange storyline.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Nadal wins Monte Carlo #11

Wow, Rafael Nadal just continues to defy logic. The King of Clay is not showing signs that he is ready to relinquish his throne as he wins his 11th Monte Carlo Masters title. No other male player has won an event 11 times in the Open Era. The amazing thing about this win is that Rafa was at great risk of dropping back down to #2 in the world if he didn't win the event, and his title allows him to stay on top one more week. Nadal has now ranked #1 for a total of 171 weeks, moving him past John McEnroe into solo 6th place in terms of total number of weeks at #1.

Not only did he win the tournament, he did so in utterly dominant fashion. He didn't lose a set and in fact, he didn't even lose more than 5 games against any opponent. That includes Dominic Thiem against whom Nadal had his one loss on clay last year. Here's a print screen I took of the scores by which Rafa won all his matches. This is simply staggering.

As if the record 11th championship isn't enough, this is also his 31st ATP Masters 1000 title, moving him past Novak Djokovic and making him the current solo record-holder for most ATP Masters 1000 titles. Amazing.

Nadal has a lot of points to defend over the next few months, which means he may lose the #1 ranking by the time we get to the French Open. Still, I am already running out of superlatives to describe Rafa's incredible achievements. I am not expecting too much but I will continue to hope that Rafa can still add to his records in the next couple of months.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Slade House

Slade House is the first book that I started and finished reading this year. I actually finished another book, City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, last February but I started reading that last year. I can't recall the last time I finished reading two books in the same year so I'm really happy that I am able to read a bit more.

I actually became interested in this novel when I picked it up from a shelf in Fully Booked and read through blurbs published at the back of the book maybe a couple of years ago. What caught my attention was what Anthony Doerr said: "A Dracula for the new millennium, a 'Hansel and Gretel' for grownups, a reminder of how much fun fiction can be" That piqued my curiosity but since I felt that I didn't have time to read books back then, I didn't get it yet. A few months later, I was still really thinking about it so I decided I should go out and get it. Unfortunately, on my next trip to Fully Booked, I realized I didn't write down the title. I tried searching online for a book that was like a Hansel and Gretel for adults since that was what I could remember from the blurb. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a correct hit online. Luckily, after racking my brain as hard as I could, I somehow suddenly remembered that there was 'Slade' in the title, then I immediately remembered Slade House. I was absolutely impressed at myself for remembering. :) After that, I decided to get it.

Slade House is the first non-classic fiction book I read that didn't exactly have a happy ending, for lack of a better term. I don't really want to spoil the story further so I will just leave it at that. As my friend Lala told me, the book must be good if it affected me that much. And it really is good. Different chapters were written from different points of view and always in the first person, and that made the storytelling a lot more engaging and the horror more real. You could really feel the emotions, confusion, hope, and fear of the character from whose perspective the story was written. The author, David Mitchell, also wrote Cloud Atlas which was made into a film back in 2012.

I gotta say that I am really happy that I am getting to read a lot more now. Part of it is just the comfort and relaxation provided by sitting at a cafe enjoying coffee while reading a book. Part of it is enjoying the slow and deliberate way a story unravels when reading and how I find myself turning the pages more quickly as I get closer to the end. Part of it is also the way reading stimulates the brain. And I guess part of it is knowing that I have a lot more time for myself now if I am able to read. I got four books from my friends last Christmas and I have one more that purchased for myself a few years ago. I'm hoping I get to read at least a couple of them before the year ends.