Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Heneral Luna

Heneral Luna had been on my to-watch list ever since I saw the billboard, mainly because it has that epic-movie vibe. As soon as its theatrical run started in early September, it started getting solid reviews. Even more than the marketing and advertising, positive word-of-mouth helped drive more and more people to the cinemas to see  it. When my nephews told me that their school required them to watch it, I decided to take them. And I have to say, it absolutely lived up to the hype.

photo from the

The film tells the tale of Hen. Antonio Luna, regarded as one of the most brilliant and tactical Filipino generals who fought against the Americans during the Philippine-American War. I must admit I am ashamed that I didn't know this much historical detail about Antonio Luna. I didn't know that he was assassinated by his own countrymen (or maybe I knew this back in grade school but I have since forgotten). I also didn't realize that President Emilio Aguinaldo is believed to have been involved in Luna's assassination although there is no confirmed proof of this and Aguinaldo remained steadfast in his claims that he was not involved at all. Watching Heneral Luna has ignited a strong desire for me to study Philippine history again and visit the National Museum of the Philippines.

The movie opens with a statement that while it is based on history and on facts, several liberties were taken to be able to share a greater truth to the audience. Indeed, what makes this film very compelling is the fact that while the setting in the late 1800s, the issues and the scenarios presented are very current and relevant. It showcases how the progress of the country is impeded by Filipinos battling against each other, and often, the parties involved in these conflicts have vested interests and personal agendas that do not serve the betterment of the nation. This is actually not limited to the Philippines - practically every other nation in the world has its fair share of this - but somehow these conflicts hurt the growth and development of the Philippines a lot more.

This could be because of another "truth" that Heneral Luna presents: that most Filipinos are willing to make huge sacrifices for their families and other people close to them but not for the nation. In some cases, the selflessness does go beyond family ties but not beyond provincial or regional loyalties. This was showcased when General Tomás Mascardo declares that he will only follow orders from a fellow Kabitenyo. When people look out only for themselves or their immediate surroundings, the choices they make can easily become slanted towards their personal gain and impede the nation's growth. The fact that the Philippines is one of the most corrupt countries in the world could be a result of this. Hopefully, enough of the youth who see the film understood this and take it to heart when they leave the theaters.

While there are many other important lessons that this film tries to impart to its audiences, I will share just one more: every Filipino needs to take action to make the Philippines a better place to live in. When (fictional) journalist Joven Hernando gets caught in an ambush attack, he takes up arms and fights the Americans even if he has no military training. While we don't need to pick up a weapon and march into an actual war now, there are many things that every Filipino citizen can and should do to make a difference. Following traffic regulations (don't jaywalk, don't counterflow unless allowed, don't beat the red light, whether you are driving or just crossing the road on foot) is probably the easiest thing people can do that can make a difference.

What makes Heneral Luna a little (or even a lot?) different from many other local historical films is that it was written to cater to the younger generation, which I believe is its target audience. A lot of the dialogue feels a bit current so that millennials can relate to it a bit more. Because the theme is very heavy, a lot of humor was injected throughout the film, especially in the first half, which helps cut the tension, making the film easier to digest and keeping viewers entertained and interested. Many people have said that audiences in the theaters clapped loudly as credits rolled and the same was true when I watched it. I suggest that you go see it while you still can as it is definitely worth seeing.

My appreciation of Philippine history and culture has grown as I have gotten older so I am very pleased that a well-made film about one of the most heroic historical figures has gotten such incredible support from the public. I am very happy that Heneral Luna has now raked in more than PHP200 million at the box office and I hope it continues to earn even more.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The difficulty of winning the elusive Grand Slam

The Grand Slam in tennis is achieved when a player wins all four major tournaments - Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open - all in the same year. This feat is so difficult that only five players in the entire history of the sport have achieved it: Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Even other legends who are considered some of the best ever, such as Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Rafa Nadal, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert did not or have not achieved this elusive feat.

While Rod Laver was the only player to win a Grand Slam twice, Steffi Graf is so far the only one to do so at the time when the majors were played on different surfaces. Until the early 70s, Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the US Open were all played on grass. Now, the Australian Open and the US Open are played on hard courts (Australia has Rebound Ace, US Open has DecoTurf) while Wimbledon is still played on grass and the French Open is played on red clay. Since 1988, no one has come close to achieving the elusive Grand Slam. That is, until this year.

photo from

For the first time in 27 years, Serena Williams won the first three Grand Slam events of the year and it looked like no one could stop her on her way to a fourth. At the US Open, she won the first five round to reach the semifinals, and by then the outcome seemed inevitable. Everyone was now waiting to see history be rewritten.

However, that semifinal between Serena and Roberta Vinci showed just why it is extraordinarily difficulty for even the best ever to achieve this feat. Throughout the year, you could sense Serena was feeling the pressure of doing what only 5 other people had before. Two matches away from the loftiest achievement in tennis, the pressure and her opponent finally got to her, with Vinci beating her 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The interesting thing is that Serena has twice won 4-in-a-row: in 2014-2015 and back in 2002-2003. She coined this the Serena Slam, which is essentially a non-calendar Grand Slam that was also achieved by Steffi Graf (1993-1994) and Martina Navratilova (1983-1984). This proves that skill and domination over the competition can help you win four in a row but the pressure of a calendar Grand Slam, which grows exponentially the closer you get to the finish line, is something that few people are able to overcome. Martina Navratilova also got to the semifinal of the Australian Open in 1984 after winning the first three (the Australian Open was played in December back then) before losing to Helena Sukova, a player she was expected to beat. Serena's semifinal loss to Vinci is uncannily similar. While many people have argued that four-in-a-row is just as difficult to win as a calendar Grand Slam, this US Open result proves them wrong.

When asked what she felt after winning the US Open in 1988, Steffi said she felt relief. I guess seeing other players who are often touted the best-ever wobble at the final hurdle just shows the unimaginable pressure placed on them when trying to complete the Grand Slam. That Steffi also won the Olympic Gold in Seoul shortly after her Grand Slam - making her the only player to have won the "Golden Slam" - really does make Steffi's 1988 achievement unlike any other.

Steffi Graf wins the Olympic Gold in 1988 (photo courtesy of

I don't see anyone close to taking over the reins from Serena Williams at the pinnacle of women's tennis at this point, and with 2016 being an Olympic year, she will have a shot of equaling Steffi Graf's 1988 Golden Slam achievement. She certainly has the talent to do it. But if 2015 is any indication, it will not be easy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

My nephew's birthday

My nephew celebrated his birthday recently and we were thinking of a good place to have dinner. Since he had to get new athletic shoes for school, we figured a mall would be the best place to go. so that we could have dinner then shop for shoes. We ended up going to Shangri-La mall and having dinner at Duck & Buvette. Ever since I had dinner there with my mom and my nephew a few months ago, I had been wanting to take my entire family there so this birthday celebration was as good a time as any.

The traffic was a bit bad so it took a while for us to get to the mall. I had eaten in Duck & Buvette a couple of times before and I had always been seated immediately but that night, we were about 8th in the waiting list. We decided to do a few things in the mall first and after about half an hour, if we were still far from being seated, we would eat somewhere else. Thankfully, when we got back to the restaurant, we were already next in line and a table became immediately available so we all got seated. Cool!

As expected, everyone enjoyed the food here. While most of us ordered relatively conventional items such as Angus Briskets and Veal Shanks, my brother ordered a couple of interesting items: Braised Frog Legs and Mustard Rabbit. My nephew and my grandmother both got the Confit of Pork Belly and I think this really is one of the best pork belly dishes I've tasted. I've only gotten to taste a bit of this dish so the next time I dine here, I am ordering it so I can enjoy it more fully. We also ordered two Liege waffles. I got to try one of them - the tartine one - and it was really, really good! I also ordered a Cocoa Nibs and Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich, and while it was a bit expensive, it was really good. It's a bit of a shame I didn't take any photos of the food LOL but we were really hungry. Maybe the next time I eat here, I will take photos and dedicate a blog post to this restaurant.

It was around 8:30 PM when we were done with dinner and there was very little time left to get shoes. My family headed to Rustan's but the only pair of shoes that my nephew was interested didn't have an available size that would fit him. What I found a bit unfortunate was how early the shops start closing. We had about 10 minutes left before the mall would officially close but I guess their clocks were advanced. Nike and Planet Sports on the 2nd floor were already closed so we couldn't go in anymore. So unfortunately, my nephew's shoe shopping would have to wait. Nevertheless, it was still a great day spent with my family.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Singin' in the Rain in Manila

If you haven't seen Singing' in the Rain at the Theatre at Solaire yet, I strongly urge you to do so (especially now that tickets are all at 50%  off; read more about this below). I saw this musical stage adaptation of the 1952 film classic last night and I was thoroughly entertained!

The production is amazing, with beautiful sets and bright costumes that transport the audience back to the 1920s which is when the musical is set. The timing of the cast as they all move around the stage is so on point - you could tell how well-rehearsed and professional everyone was as they all hit their spots all the time. The cast in this Manila run is headlined by Grant Almirall as Don Lockwood, Bethany Dickson as Kathy Selden, and Steve van Wyk as Cosmo Brown and they are all exceptionally talented.  I do have to say that possibly my favorite was Taryn-Lee Hudson who plays Lina Lamont. She was an incredibly funny scene stealer and there were many sequences that had everyone in the audience laughing out loud.

What makes this musical unique is that it rains on stage! I don't know how the set up the stage but at the end of each act, there is a production number that involves a performance under the rain. It's amazing how the actors manage to sing and dance while being drenched by water. If I had a chance to watch it again (unfortunately I don't), I would probably get a ticket at the "splash zone" or the area close to the stage where people get wet. (Don't worry, everyone seated in this area is given a poncho.) Here's a performance that combines the ends of Acts 1 and 2.

video uploaded in youtube by Brit Brit

It was unfortunate that only about a third (or less) of the theater was filled when I watched last night. If you haven't yet, I encourage you to see it. All tickets are now at 50% off, meaning the cheapest tickets are P750 and the most expensive are P3000. When there are a lot of empty seats, people at the back are allowed to mmove to a closer seat (which is what happened when I watched). As I mentioned before, the acoustics in the Theatre at Solaire are fantastic so even if you sit far from the stage, you can hear everything quite well.There's a shuttle service from MOA (and a few other locations in Metro Manila) to Solaire for those who are taking public transportation. If you are bringing a car, there is more than ample parking space and the parking is free. Considering how great the performers are, how solid this production is and how this musical may be the only opportunity you have to see pouring rain on stage, P750 to P3000 is definitely very good value for your money. Singin' in the Rain still has four shows left in its Manila run - 8pm on Friday, 3pm and 8pm on Saturday, and 3pm on Sunday - so please head to Ticketworld to get your tickets now. You won't be disappointed.