Saturday, January 31, 2009

Keeping my fingers crossed

So I've just recently been told that my band Still Oz may start gigging again. After 8 months of not gigging, I'm hoping that this pans out.

So while I wait for news on whether we land another series of gigs, here's a video of us performing U2's "With or without you" from our gig last May:

Joaquin's first birthday party

I attended Joaquin's first birthday party earlier today. Actually, I didn't just attend it, I hosted it. I didn't have my clown costume and make-up or my magic tricks with me though. ;) Joaquin is the son of my friend Myra, whose wedding I also hosted (so I'm guessing she thinks I'm a pretty good emcee LOL).

There was a lot of good food and we had a few party games - one for the kids, one for the babies (2 and under), one for the adults, and one for the yayas. But the main event was a Gymboree program - Myra and her husband Jun got Gymboree to set up a play area and to organize a 1 hour program for the kids. It was a really good program that allowed the kids to be fully engaged and even had their dads and moms participate.

Towards the end of the party, we showed a really cool AVP of Joaquin's photos. You have to really admire Myra and Jun for documenting Joaquin's first year in photos. We closed the program with the cake/candle blowing and with everyone singing "Happy birthday".

So from wedding singer and emcee to children's party emcee. Makes me wonder what's next LOL.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Streep Snags A SAG!!!

I did not expect it to happen. And apparently, neither did Meryl Streep. But the Screen Actors Guild honored Meryl with a Screen Actors Guild award for best performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for her brilliant performance in "Doubt".

Meryl has a history of being nominated but not winning. The only awards she has won in recent years have been Golden Globes and it hasn't been for her work in dramatic roles but for her comedic or musical performances. In fact, her last and only Oscar for best actress in a lead role was in 1982 for "Sophie's Choice". That is almost three decades ago.

Kate Winslet's double victory in the recently concluded Golden Globe's cemented her as a frontrunner for the best actress trophy at the Oscars. And with the Oscar awards nominating her for only one award instead of two as she has been in both the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, one can't help but think that the Academy is priming her for a win by preventing its voters from being distracted with two nominations. It is her role in "The Reader", for which she won as best supporting actress in both the SAG awards and Golden Globes, that nabbed her a best actress nomination in the Oscars, and not her role in "Revolutionary Road" which seems to have been snubbed.

Winslet's too good an actress to not have an Oscar so I won't feel that bad if Kate wins. After all, she has been nominated 6 times now and has never won. But I would be really happy if Streep, who has now been nominated a record 15 times, can finally break her Oscar jinx and win her second best actress Oscar (and third overall).

I did read recently that Katharine Hepburn won 3 of her 4 best actress Oscars in her 60s and Streep turns 60 in a few months' time. So if she can't win this year, maybe the Academy will reward her again real soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three down, four to go

Rafa Nadal has breezed through his first three matches in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the calendar year. So far, he's been in incredible form, losing an average of only two games in each set that he plays. If he keeps playing at this level, he has a very good shot at winning the AO. Hopefully his form doesn't run out.


What the hell is wrong with Roger Federer?? He's supposed to be an ambassador of tennis and yet he starts a completely unprovoked word-war with world #4 Andy Murray.

It all started when Fed was asked what he thought about British odds-makers putting Andy Murray, currently #4 in the world. as equal favorite to win the title. Fed apparently didn't take to well to that, scoffed at the idea, and said that with no Grand Slams to his belt currently, he could not be considered a favorite. (Read more here.) Funnily, it wasn't Murray who declared himself the favorite. And funnier still, British odds-makers aren't the only ones who think Murray has as good a chance as anyone else for winning. Fred Stolle, the Australian Tennis great who now does commentary work, has said that he believes Murray is a favorite. This is obviously based on his recent form. Andy has beaten Nadal the last time they played, Federer the last three times they played, and Novak Djokovic the last two times they played. That's not even counting the exhibition during which Murray beat both Roger and Rafa back to back. Clearly, Andy Murray has the best record against the Big 3 right now.

As a response to these remarks from Federer, Murray saying "Well, I mean, I don't have a problem whether I'm a favorite or not. You know, I guess Roger would prefer to be favorite himself. That's absolutely fine."

And now Roger has made more comments, saying that he would take on Andy Murray in a best-of-five match any day (Read more on Roger's challenge here).

And to make matters worse, Novak Djokovic has joined in the fray, remarking that he should be more of a favorite than Andy based on rankings (Novak's remarks here.) I guess the current #3 in the world, who choked in this two opportunities early this year to take the #2 ranking away from Fed, doesn't like being left out of the spotlight in discussions of title favorite either.

I just don't understand why Federer, who is supposed to be such an even-keel polite and upstanding ambassador of the sport, would start a word war with the new kid on the block. He doesn't have anything to prove, so he should care less as to who some people think is the favorite to win a tournament. I guess maybe he's so used to being worshiped and feared by everyone in tennis that when someone declared that they don't fear playing against him, he considers it disrespectful. Apparently, Murray is also at a loss to understand why Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were put out by his status as Australian Open favourite (read more about this here).

Am just glad that Rafa has remained more logical than his contemporaries and defended Andy Murray and his "AO favorite" status, saying "When you win Cincinnati, when you win Madrid, when you win Doha playing against Federer, playing against Roddick, you are ready to win a grand slam". (Read Rafa's defense of Murray here.) Well said.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Losing ground

With two draws in their last two premiership matches, including one very painful one to Everton in Anfield!!! - Liverpool have now dropped to second in the premiership. Man U is now top of the league. Historically, they have always done extremely well after Christmas and Liverpool haven't so I am a bit worried but I am hoping Liverpool can regain their composure and finish do really well the rest of the season.

They have a chance to redeem themselves against Everton next week during their 4th round clash in the FA Cup this Sunday. I'm really hoping for some good news. Good luck Liverpool!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A fun-filled and meaningful holiday season

So it’s been a couple of weeks since the Christmas season concluded, and as is the case with most people, things get really hectic during this period. The same is true for me, what with all the parties and get-togethers and stuff. But the fact that the government declared a whole host of public holidays meant that I got to spend a lot of time with my family during this time. I also got to spend a very meaningful day in a home for the aged.

My friend Ginger invited me to this Christmas party she was organizing for ANAWIM, a home for the aged in Rizal. She knew I was into socio-civic activities because we talked before about Bukas Sarili and she made a donation to PGH during one of my previous marathons for a cause so she thought I might be interested to join. I had nothing planned that day so I decided I would go. Ginger hired some Dance Instructors to dance with the folks there. It was quite unfortunate that some of them had bad hips or bad knees and could no longer dance but everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. We also had volunteers do some impromptu singing (yes, I was one of them). Food was served to everyone and once the program was over, we spent some time talking to the folks while Ginger and her relatives worked on printing the photos they took during the event (they brought a photo printer with them! I was impressed!) – that way we could leave actual (and not digital) photos with them to remind them of the wonderful day we had. It was awesome!

A couple of days later, I took my family to Tagaytay. We spent a night in Taal Vista – it was my first time to stay there and it was a really nice hotel with a great view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. We had lunch in Josephine’s before checking in to the hotel and immediately upon checking in, my nephews ask me to take them to the pool. I told them it was really cold but they insisted. They seemed to enjoy being in the really cold water but once they got out 20 minutes later, they were shivering like crazy. We turned in quite early that night and got up early the next day so that we could go to Taal Volcano. My grandparents just stayed at the Yacht Club to wait for us as we made our way to the volcano. We all went on horseback (and what was very interesting was that my nephew CJ had a 12 year old kid as his guide – can you imagine to pre-teen kids riding a horse all by themselves?) on our way up to the crater.

I had never seen in before and it was beautiful! Definitely worth a trip.

The boat ride back was actually a lot of fun as well because the lake was very choppy and we got splashed quite a bit LOL. We make a quick stop in Good Shepherd to buy ube and strawberry jam and stuff before making our way back to Manila.

And to wrap up the Christmas season, we celebrated CJ’s birthday with lunch in Mom and Tina’s before spending the rest of the afternoon in Ark Avilon Zoo and Fun Ranch in Tiendesitas. My brother had taken my nephews there before but I had never been. The great thing about this zoo is that it is interactive – kids can feed several of the animals there like rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, goats, and fish. They also have some animals like Orang utans, snakes, and cockatoos that you can have a photo op with.

It was late afternoon when we got to Fun Ranch so my nephews just got on a couple of rides – the boats and the bump cars before we head home. We did make one quick stop in Eastwood to get CJ the Bakugan that he dropped into the drain a week before.

I was knackered by the time the holiday season was over actually – in fact, I must have averaged less sleep during those two weeks than I do during work days LOL. But I’m not complaining. It was definitely a great Christmas season.

"Star Wars" - An A Capella Tribute to John Williams

My friend Pia sent me a link to this video and it blew me away. Check it out. I think you will be equally impressed:

video uploaded in youtube by user 9JohnJace13

The video was created and performed by Corey Vidal. Not only is the video impressive in how the harmonies were created but Corey actually sings really well (and has a very wide range!). Another interesting thing about this video is that the tribute to Star Wars here are the lyrics and storyline of the song. He doesn't sing to the tune of the Star Wars theme at any time. Instead, he sings to the tune of movie themes which John Williams also composed (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T., and Jaws).

It was nominated for a CBS people's choice award for favorite youtube video (it didn't win though) and if you watch it, I think you will agree that it deserved the nomination.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wrapping up the wedding season

So, wedding season for 2008-2009 is almost over (okay, that comment makes me sound like Owen Wilson or Vince Vaughn from the Wedding Crashers LOL). I’ve been to three more weddings in the last month. I have one more wedding to attend (well, more like a wedding reception since Tricia and CJ have wed civilly already and they are just preparing a reception so they can celebrate as a couple with all their friends) but here's a quick recap of the ones that I attended in the last few weeks.

My friend Stelz got married to her husband Norman in San Agustin Church last December, a couple of days before Christmas. She had asked me and a couple of my ex-colleagues Mark and Rose to play some songs during the wedding ceremony (Mark played the guitar and Rose played the keyboards and did backing vocals as well). We performed “I offer my life” during the offertory, “Lead me, Lord” during communion, and four songs during the pictorial session: Kenny Lattimore’s “For you”, Martin Nievera’s “Never Say Goodbye”, Gary Valenciano’s version of “How did you know” and Edwin McCain’s “I’ll be”. I was also supposed to sing Gary V’s version of “I will be here” and Rose was supposed to sing “You” by the Carpenters but there wasn’t enough time. Here’s a video of me singing “I’ll Be”:

The reception was also held in Intramuros, just a block away from the church, and it was great because I got to see and catch up with a lot of other ex-colleagues, a lot of whom I haven’t seen in a long time.

And since good things come in threes, I headed back to San Agustin church a week and a half later to attend Maileen and Nick’s wedding. The church ceremony was at 2pm and there was a mini-reception in Barbara’s afterwards to keep people entertained before heading to the dinner reception in – get this – the Metropolitan Museum. It was the first time that I attended a wedding set in a museum and I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea. My friends and I got there at 5pm and spent our time walking through the museum and being in awe of the amazing art there. But of course it wasn’t just the venue that made it memorable. The speeches were great, the wine was really good (and free-flowing!), and I got to catch up once again with old friends, including Maileen whom I haven’t really seen a lot of recently. It was cool that I got to dance with her as well during the reception because we used to be dancing partners in college during our Indakan days.

Finally, I attended the wedding of Kuki and MJ a couple of days ago in Fernbrook. It was my first star-studded wedding (Kuki and MJ have a lot of very good friends in showbiz). I won’t go into detail on who was there since Kuki and MJ might not appreciate the name dropping haha. But suffice it to say that my duet partner Shasha and I were not pleased by the fact that we had to sing almost immediately after a couple of very seasoned performers who both sang really well LOL. We sang “All I ask of you” from the Phantom of the Opera. In any case, we seemed to have pulled it off decently well and not embarrass ourselves in the presence of all those showbiz people haha. But at the end of the day, MJ and Kuki were happy with our song and that is really the most important thing.

This also means that I have now sung in 26 different weddings and wedding anniversaries. For a non-professional wedding singer, I’d say that’s a whole lot. I am now seriously considering talking to some wedding coordinators to see if they are in need of an extra wedding singer LOL. After all, with the current global financial crisis, I could do with the extra pocket money.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Game night

I think part of the idea for Game Night came from the fact that when Suzanne and Nenen came to Manila a month and a half ago, they distributed their Christmas gifts to us and most of us got Cranium games. When we had our Christmas party, we started talking about meeting up again in early January to have a game night, where we get to play the different games we got. That concept finally came to fruition yesterday when Pia, Che, Tim, and I paid a visit to Raffa and Joh's house.

We kicked the night off with "breakfast for dinner" - Joh and Raffa prepared a breakfast menu that consisted of pan de sal with kesong puti, bacon, daing na bangus, spam, chicken longganisa, and fried rice, and egg (I think I'm missing something). We had orange juice along with our dinner. And for dessert, we had chocolate chip pancakes and coffee. Not sure whose vision it was (Joh? Pia?) but in any case, it was an awesome dinner and we all ended up getting pretty stuffed.

Now that we had sufficient energy reserves to last us the entire night, we headed on to play the different games we had. We started off with a three-round American Idol game on Wii. Che and Tim had never played it before and Che really wanted to try it. It was a lot of fun and the judges comments provided a lot of entertainment, and in the end, Raffa took the title.

We moved on to Che's game - Whoonu. The objective of the game is to pick a card that you think describes the other players the most. I won't get into all the details of the game since I don't want to make this blog post too long LOL. Raffa won this game again, but I do have to say that my cards never seemed to be any good. (I know, excuses, excuses...)

We then moved on to Tim's game - Hoopla. I won't even attempt to explain how this game works as it is a lot more complex than Whoonu LOL but the objective here is that all players, as a team, have to make the other players guess the content of their cards using a variety of different techniques. You play against the time, and when you try to guess 32 cards in 15 minutes, it can get pretty intense. We actually lost the first time we played (we had 2 cards remaining when time ran out) but the next round we played we won.

Pia brought with her a "Princess Bride" game, which is kind of a strategic game. The goal is to get to the castle by using tactic cards to overcome your path cards. Joh, Tim, and I all ended up one move away from victory and it was essentially Pia's call on who would win - it would either be me or Joh as she had one block card which she could use on any other player. The winner of this game is, well, undefined, since Pia blocked Joh allowing me to win but Pia apparently got confused and didn't realize I was going to win as well (she thought I would just end up blocking Tim instead of stepping forward to the castle LOL). Doesn't really matter who the winner was though so I guess we can call it a Joh victory. :)

Our next game was mine - Humdinger. Probably the simplest game, you need to make your teammates guess the song written down on your card by humming it. We didn't know a lot of the songs, but it was pretty fun.

We closed out the night with Wii fit games, which ranged from skiing and snowboarding to football headers (I bust my gut laughing in this game!) to catching fish on an chunk of glacier. The most tiresome of all the games we tried though was the hula hoop game. I was actually sweating after my second attempt at it. If you play a few rounds of this game each day, I'm pretty sure you'd get a good cardio workout each time.

It was a really fun night for all of us. I'm guessing there will be a part 2 sometime soon.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Holding steady at the top

Halfway through the season and Liverpool still remain at the top of the English Premier League. This is great news! Apparently, the last time Liverpool were top of the league after Christmas (which was 1987), they went on to win the league. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the same thing happens this year. It won't be easy though. There's finally a bit of breathing room now between Liverpool and Chelsea - 3 points, if you can call that breathing room, but they used to be up by just a point. Man Utd are 7 points adrift in 3rd place, but they have two games in hand. If they win both those matches, they end up just one point. In any case, it should be a very interesting season.

And while we're on the subject of sports, Rafa Nadal just bludgeoned his way past Fabrice Santoro 6-0, 6-1 to get to the Round of 16 in the Exxonmobil Open in Doha, his first tournament of the year. This is an excellent start to the year for Nadal, and hopefully he can keep this kind of form the rest of the tournament and open 2009 with a title.

I also recently caught the 2008 New York marathon on cable and I was very pleased to see that Paula Radcliffe won her 3rd New York Marathon. I find it quite unfortunate that she is the world record holder in the women's marathon with a time of 2:15:25 (that is less than half the amount of time it took me to run my fastest marathon ever LOL) and yet hasn't won an Olympic gold. It would be great though if she finally breaks through and wins top honors in London 2012.

Monday, January 05, 2009

'Himala': Best Asia Pacific Film of All Time

Congratulations to Filipino film "Himala" for winning the CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia Pacific Film of all time!

video uploaded in youtube by user dlanor2k5

I didn't get to see this movie when it first came out in 1982 but as I learned more about the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema - which was pretty much the 70s and early 80s - I started to become more interested in this film. I tried searching for it on video - and during this search I managed to watch a lot of other great Pinoy films like 'Itim', 'Bulaklak sa City Jail', and 'Manila By Night / City After Dark' - but I couldn't really find a video of 'Himala'.

Then I lucked out when I was in college. The SM cinemas had some kind of film festival going on where they were showcasing some of the best Pinoy movies. Himala was to be played on the final Sunday of this film fest in SM Centerpoint so I journeyed to Sta. Mesa to catch the film.

Needless to say I was not disappointed. No, sorry, that is an understatement. To date, 'Himala' remains one of the best movies I have ever seen, and that includes all local and International films I've watched. 'Himala' covers a range of issues - from blind faith to the commercialism of religion to rape to prostitution. But it does so in a very matter-of-fact, this-is-how-it-is way. It doesn't really preach or force you to believe in a certain way of thinking, which I appreciate because then you are left to ponder and make up your own mind about these issues.

Technically, it can't really compare to a lot of the other high budget films that it beat out for the top prize like Akira Kurosawa's 'Shichinin no samurai' (Seven Samurai) and Ang Lee's 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. Case in point, the final stampede scene was filmed in only one take because they didn't have the budget to shoot it more than once (which is actually amazing because that final stampede scene is so powerful and gripping, it is one of the best final sequences in any movie). But the great thing about 'Himala' is that it presented several issues that relate directly to the human condition in the Philippines, and it presented it in an incredibly powerful and though-provoking way.

You can read more eloquent and well-worded descriptions of 'Himala' in the following links:

Filipino film 'Himala' wins CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award
Himala IMDB entry
Himala Wikipedia entry

And here's a video of the amazing final stampede scene:

(video uploaded in youtube by user dlanor2k5)

I remember having goosebumps stepping out of the cinema when I watched it and I still get chills now thinking about it. I am hoping that with the recent international success of this movie, it will be made available on DVD or even VCD.

Congratulations, 'Himala'!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy 2009!

Happy New Year!!

I haven't really been online a lot during the holiday season, what with the family reunions, parties, and last-minute shopping. Hopefully, once the dust from the hectic holiday season settles, I get to write about a lot of the great stuff that has happened recently.