Sunday, June 30, 2013

My review of Man of Steel

With the release of Man of Steel, I think it is very clear to my mind about the fundamental differences between DC Comics and Marvel Comics super-heroes.

DC Heroes are like modern-day Gods while Marvel’s heroes are like every day joes who fight alongside the ordinary man. Is that good or bad?

Not at all. There’s something about how they adapted Alex Ross’ stirring paintings of these heroes hovering in the sky that’s both majestic and terrifying. Then again, remember the old JLA satellite was in orbit miles and miles above the earth.

Having said that modern-day comics book movies owe a lot to retcons and to Michael Bay. For those who do not read comic books, “retcons” means “retroactive continuity” or the updating of previously established stories or simply put, rewriting history. This is done so that comic books are kept fresh for modern audiences.

Obviously, that is why you have reboots. Now since these reboots are set today, they are darker in tone. Hence, the Michael Bay (see Armageddon, Transformers etc) larger than life scenes of destruction and the use of US military hardware.

Man of Steel is also obviously influenced by the first Richard Donner-Superman film, Alex Ross’ portrayal of Big Blue, the recent stories by Grant Morrison, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

What I liked about this reboot?
1)    The casting. Henry Cavill is Superman. Finally, there’s an heir to Christopher Reeve who can carry the torch. Amy Adams has the right charm for Lois Lane without being tomboyish. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfect as the Kents. I can even dig Laurence Fishburne as Perry White! For real. But what’s with the change --- first we see Nick Fury turn from Caucasian to African American. Now it’s Perry White! Nevertheless, great casting.

2)    I can understand mining Superman’s Kryptonian origins into something richer. It’s now a lot more plausible to have more Kryptonians out there. In the original origin (now that sounds weird, right), Kal-El was the original and only survivor of the explosion of Krypton. But as years went by, he wasn’t the only one. Soon enough, there were a lot of Kryptonians all over the place. Having space expansion makes more sense.

I have to admit that when I think of Jor-El, I think of Marlon Brando’s screen version in the first Christopher Reeve film. Is that now in danger of being toppled by Russell Crowe’s version? Not sure but Crowe does a good Jor-El.

3)    General Zod. Totally badass zealot. One of my recollections of the first Superman film was some government guy exclaiming, “Oh, my God.” To which the general replies, “Not God. Zod.”

In this film, this line is epic: “I was bred for this. I was trained all my life to be a warrior! Where did you train? A farm?” Awesome.

4)    The fight scenes. Spectacular. Love ‘em.

What I didn’t like about the reboot?
1)    The US Military, the people of Kansas and Lois Lane know that Clark Kent is Superman? Surely you jest. Might as well put Ma Kent in the Fortress of Solitude. Didn’t Pa Kent tell him to be careful with his secret identity? Funny. And then he joins the Daily Planet where still you think you can fool people with the eye glasses for a disguise?

The guys who wrote the screenplay would have read the DC limited series Identity Crisis. This isn’t kosher by any stretch of the imagination.

2)    Smallville. The scenes from Smallville in the first Christopher Reeve film are still more riveting and painful (especially when Clark leaves to find his destiny).

3)    The fight scenes. Clark wasn’t trained to be a warrior. Where did he learn how to fight? How did he know how to snap Zod’s neck?

4)    Just like the Batman movies, the carnage in Man of Steel is terrifying. After the first Batman film, I would have moved out of Gotham. I mean the Batman trilogy is great but the ineptness of the police in taking on these criminals? I would have moved to Kansas!

After the attack of the Kryptonians and Metropolis is nearly and totally destroyed, every armed force in the world would want to prepare for more space invasions.

It’s a darn good film. I know with sci-fi and superhero films, you have to suspend you disbelief. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be airtight.

In spite of that, I enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s worth seeing again and getting the DVD/Blu-Ray discs for my collection. Furthermore, it revitalizes Superman not only for the comic book community but also for the general public. Is it better than Iron Man of The Avengers? Or even The Dark Knight? No, it’s not. But it’s real close. And that is the least that you can ask for in a terrific summer movie.

-- Rick Olivares

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Doing more with Bianca Gonzalez & Phil Younghusband

Doing more with Bianca Gonzalez & Phil Younghusband
by rick olivares

“How do you find the time for this?”

Television and media personality Bianca Gonzalez gets asked that question “maybe every other day” she says with a smile even if she got up at 3:30am and it’s about 3:30 in the afternoon.

“I know it’s terrible,” she confesses. “I have a morning show then I am off to shoots, interviews… Every day’s different. Like after this I am running off to interview Kiefer Ravena. There’s newspaper and magazine work. Meetings. Dinner with friends or with JC (Intal, her boyfriend). If I am lucky my day ends at 7 or 8pm. If it does I can go to bed at 10pm.”

So she has at least four and a half hours left in her workday for Thursday (June 27) after the press launch for the new Rexona campaign of “Do More”.

In the meantime, she’s fielding her twelfth and last interview for the day (that’s me). We talk abut the campaign that challenges people to be open to possibilities, to keep busy, to seek adventure, and to go the extra mile and to push one’s limits.

“When I first saw the campaign I was instantly sold,” reveals Gonzalez who despite being interviewed for like the twelfth time still is as joyous as when she accommodated the media. “It may be cool but being more than pa-trendy or cool or wanting to be in, this speaks to me. Dati ang konti ng multi-hyphenates na blogger-model, student-athletes and so on. Now everyone does something more. It’s not difficult if you love it. And of course, if you’re focused.”

Gonzalez isn’t the only one endorsing Rexona. There’s also football superstar Phil Younghusband, another workaholic. “Do More’ is about following your dreams and your passions. One thing I am lucky enough to do is my job is my passion. Everything I do whether coaching or playing gives me happiness. It doesn’t feel like work. I try to do a bit more to make myself better,” shares Phil.

But even the veteran football international is quick to accede that Gonzalez is on another level.

“I can’t even do half of what she does,” Younghusband says in amazement about Bianca who hosts Umagang Kay Ganda and Pinoy Big Brother among others. She is an editor-at-large for Meg magazine and is a columnist for the Philippine Star. She’s also a UNICEF Philippines Child Supporter and that in itself has it share of responsibilities. “In between there are endless shoots, interviews, and meetings,” she throws in while offering a smile.

Phil shakes his head.

But Gonzalez too learns a thing or two from the Fil-Briton who normally has 14-hour workdays. “Siguro like what Phil said, ‘If you enjoy every single thing you do because you love it - even if you aren’t that good at it – then it doesn’t feel as tiring. It’s a happy pagod in a way.”

Both were instantly sold on the new Rexona campaign because they felt it was something they could identify with. “

“I like it because it pushes everyone to be more something. Especially with the social media. Even an ordinary person can be a cyber celebrity. Sayang naman your life if you are not doing a lot of things.”

Younghusband’s day is no different. There are the two football roles of player for Loyola and as coach for the Chelsea Soccer School. In between he has all these interviews, shoots, and events to attend to.

“If I can sneak in a nap in between I am fine. But what keeps things in perspective is having great people around you to help.”

Being around positive people helps Younghusband go about his duties. The burden of being unable to lead Loyola to the promised land that is a UFL title is there. There’s also playing for the national team that is increasingly becoming the hunted by cautious and wary regionals rivals.

“It’s difficult but you have to just get up because tomorrow is another day.”

And at times, tomorrow cannot come soon enough. In a few weeks’ time, Phil and older brother James will have a reunion of sorts with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in Thailand (for the Chelsea Soccer School). “I’m excited. I wasn’t able to say goodbye properly when we left. But now, it’s a reunion with one of the game’s best managers. And I’m excited.”

For the 30-year old Gonzalez, it’s also finding and treating oneself to life’s little rewards. “You have to look forward to life’s rewards. For me it’s a trip out of town. I love traveling. It doesn’t have to be out of the country. Like yesterday, it was a long and tiring day. There was a McDonald’s in the lobby of the building where I was. I got myself a burger and a drink and tama na yun. You just enjoy it. I did.”

I conclude the interview. And Gonzalez by her lonesome sits and enjoys a late lunch. For Younghusband, he has to sit in for a meeting for the upcoming Clear Dream Match II.

The day is far from done.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hong Kong Diary June 14

Hong Kong Diary June 14

Hong Kong (June 14) -- It has been a year since I took any of my kids out of the country and this one couldn't be any more fortuitous for personal reasons. When I go out of the country say with Loyola or for the One FC I am on work mode whether I make any side trips or not. Here in the former British Crown Colony, I'm tuning out any work so none of you bother me because I am not going to reply. 

The flight in wasn't the best, a couple of kids were bawling make it very unpleasant and irritating. Then we encountered turbulence three times including one where the plane dropped for a couple of feet throwing any drinks all over the place. So that made glad to be back on terra firma and in Hong Kong, my old stomping grounds. I really do love this place. Prepared me for the hustle and bustle of New York City (but that is altogether marching along to different beat). 

I really wanted to book in an expensive hotel. It isn't every day where I get to stay in one but practicality ruled. When abroad, you don't really stay much inside your hotel room as you're often out. So... I paid for a room - a small one mind you -- at the old Mirador Mansions (a stone's throw away from where I once lived here). The price is cheap and that allows me a little more financial flexibility. And the location is perfect as I am right in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. We didn't take the train or a cab going to the city either. A regular city bus (A21) that costs HK $33 each. So it's a money saver.

It has been raining for days now and Friday isn't any different. I'm forced to buy an umbrella just to get around between buildings. And that puts Ocean Park for Saturday in question. Yes, the forecast is for more rain. It's not fun watching outdoor events with rain pouring all over you and you have to hold an umbrella (and you're wet anyways so...).

We checked out tickets prices for the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins concert this August (yes, I am watching). Then went to some of the usual haunts - HMV and Hong Kong Records and Page One. In case you don't know, I am a huge music fan and have a massive CD collection. I also am an avid reader who collects books I like as well.

The pull list for me: Marley (the soundtrack from the Bob Marley movie that is at 60% off), Ra Ra Riot's Beta Love, Sevendust's Black Out the Sun, as well as Killswitch Engage's The End of Heartache and Daft Punk's Discovery (to replace the copies I lost during Ondoy). It's the summer sale so prices are down. As for DVD's, I picked up rather luckily (as I have waited for this for months now) Being Liverpool  (the first documentary and in depth look at an English Premier League team. Kinda pricey but there it is) and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. I got the Nick and Norah at Hong Kong Records. Always compare prices coz it is much cheaper at HK Records!

We also dropped by the exhibition of world-famous Japanese manga film director and animator Hayao Miyazaki at the Donguri Republic store at Harbour City. Miyazaki directed some of my fave maga films like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, and Spirited Away. As lovers of art, we also hope to drop by the Hong Kong Museum of Art this Saturday. But it sure was fun going to the Miyazaki exhibit where there were a lot of people checking out what was on display.

For the HK Museum, they've got on display pottery of the Tea Ware competition (this takes me back to my Practical Arts classes during my elementary days) and the Google Art Project.

Bought some clothes at Giordano at the Miramar Shopping Centre. We also checked out the sports stores in the TST area and right now, the NBA is on heavy promotion. They've got on sale here the "Los Bulls" and "Los Lakers"NBA jerseys and shirts (the Latin versions of the jerseys). Kinda pricey. But the one I would buy if it were available is the "Los Suns".

Lastly, we had dinner with old friend, Mike Yu at BLT Burger. In case you don't know, BLT Burger is a hamburger restaurant that opened its first branch along Sixth Avenue in New York City. It also has a store in Las Vegas and in Hong Kong where it opened last year (there's also a second outlet at Causeway Bay). He picked up his copy of the book I worked on FIVE (the Ateneo Five-peat in the UAAP) and of course, we caught up with what's new in our own lives. In my last visit in HK, I stayed at Mike's place. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Newsweek's final print issue or the ballad of the times (no pun intended for Time magazine)

The ballad of the times.
Newsweek’s final print issue and its digital voyage.
by rick olivares

Let me paraphrase Cameron Crowe (from his intro of the Pearl Jam Twenty book), who is one of the few people to have a profound effect on my life and career.

I collect stuff. I have my notebooks from my high school days. Receipts from purchases from more than a decade ago. I have every single letter I have ever received in my life. Even those love letters that sound so sappy now. I have comic books, books whose number can fill a library, magazines, certificates, awards, magnets, old vinyl long playing records, flyers, posters, buttons, pins, and old ID cards. I even my old uniform when I briefly worked in McDonald’s when I was in college. Even my old porn stuff are still there. I have every single ancient artifact in my life placed in balikbayan boxes or plastic bags. Some are inside my closets and quite a growing number have spilled over to my bedroom floor because I have run out of space.

One day, I hope to have a home big enough to house my own office where I can put on display everything so I do not have to turn my house inside out every time I look for something.

And that long introduction brings me to the final print issue of Newsweek magazine.

When I learned that Newsweek was publishing its final print issue, I had to pick it up. It is more than a collector’s issue. It represents the end as well as the beginning of a new era. They are the first major publication to practically end its print run and solely concentrate on online news reporting and the flexibility it gives.

It says a lot about how technology has changed many of the old ways. Print is going the way of the dodo bird (although many of my esteemed colleagues from that industry will protest that to save their jobs).

As a youngster living in the Far East with not much access to the New York Times, Newsweek (and Time magazine) was the best way for me to get a recap on the week’s news with it’s Asian edition. While my parents’ subscribed to Time -- that I also read -- I somehow preferred to read Newsweek. No, it wasn’t some Coke versus Pepsi thing. I simply liked how Newsweek broke down in great and thorough detail the news.

Case in point – the Falklands War.

I was only in second year high school when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. The invasion sparked a sharp response from Great Britain that sent a naval task force to retake the distant colony. I saved my allowance just to buy Newsweek that when I first browsed, I thought provided great reportage on the war. They had maps, statistics, numbers, figures, troop numbers, info on warships and regiments, the works. Time may have used better photographs but Newsweek’s reporting was much more thorough. I skipped a few meals in order to buy the magazine but it was money well spent.

The style of comprehensive reporting had a huge influence on the way I prepared my reports or even did my research. And that still applies today.

As for the opinion pieces, I read them and digested them. They taught me how to mull over an issue, examine it from different angles before forming an opinion.

They were groundbreaking in their reports from their prescient report on the Japanese Imperial Army one week before Pearl Harbor was bombed to the American civil rights movement to that thought-provoking “What Vietnam did to us” piece.

Incidentally, I still have those issues of Newsweek on the Falklands War as I have every single magazine I have purchased through the years. Wrapped in plastic bags and stored in boxes to better battle the ravages of time (no pun intended). A collector I am, didn’t I say?

Of course, there were other influences – Life magazine taught me to look and think visually, Sports Illustrated made me look at sports writing from another and deeper perspective, Marvel Comics made me understand characterization better, the New York Times imparted upon me the power of several ounces of newsprint, and lastly, Reader’s Digest gave me points to ponder and improved my word power.

So it is obvious that I have always been a voracious reader.

Several years ago, while in correspondence with the New York Times’ George Vescey (whose work I always read), he told me that the time of the printed newspaper was coming to a close. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Times’ went completely digital within the next decade.

Newsweek beat them to the transition. It’s not out scooping another as reporters are wont to do. It does on the other hand, say something about the state of their finances as well as their change to better suit the ever changing tastes of a modern audience. News reporting has gone beyond the mere article to photojournalism to video to podcasting. Their merger with The Daily Beast, quality news outfit committed to great reportage, as headed by the talented Ms. Tina Brown will surely help and spur them into this new millennium.

Will I miss the printed magazine? Maybe because the tangible magazine that I could hold in my hands was filed for easy reference not to mention “a collector’s item”. The online version? As it has been my practice over the last several years, if there’s an online article I like, I simply save it in a folder where everything is properly labeled once more for easy reference.

Newsweek wasn’t just about news, it was a chronicle about the changing times. And now they have been caught up in those same winds.

I eagerly await the first ever exclusive online version.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reviewing Mark Meily's 'El Presidente'

El Presidente rises (and falls)

by rick olivares

This is a case of art imitating life.

Emilio Aguinaldo could very well be the father of the republic yet the film, like its subject, rises and doesn’t reach the summit.

I went to see El Presidente on the last day of the old year filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I have always been a fan of period pieces so I wasn’t going to miss this.

I have to admit that I do not really watch local films but being a history buff myself and one with a fascination for the revolutionary wars, I had to see this film so that’s the part about my excitement.

The trepidation part is because I hoped that they would get it right and not fall into what I think are the pitfalls of Philippine cinema – a tendency for the actors to overact and to do so much.

After watching the film, I can say that my fears were well founded as El Presidente has its hits but also has its misses.

The movie begins with Emilio Aguinaldo’s capture by the American forces in Palanan, Isabela. And from there the film unfolds in a series of flashbacks.

The film started out with the feel of Edward Zick’s ‘Glory’ the depiction of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment during the US Civil War (love the color grading to give it the feel of a historical documentary film). Like ‘Glory’, ‘El Presidente’ features sweeping battlefield scenes and great attention to detail. However, ‘El Presidente’ would have been better served had it gone the route of ‘Glory’ where there was a less tendency to over-aggrandize the action.

I dislike the standoff part during Aguinaldo’s capture where he and one of the Macabebe scouts point a gun at one another ala some Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie. It’s a period piece let’s not have nods towards modern day action films or Hollywood-ized versions of Thermopylae.

There’s a part where Aguinaldo, sword in hand, cuts down several soldiers as if he were Leonidas in Frank Miller’s and Zack Snyder’s 300. And then there’s the Chan/Li action standoff. Uh. No. It doesn’t work.

In the film, Aguinaldo’s messenger Cecilio Segismundo was caught on a mission to send out a letter for reinforcements. Segismundo brings along his son who is ill and in an act of desperation, steals medicines from an American encampment and is caught. Let me digress for a moment, would any army general (Aguinaldo) send out his messenger with his son knowing there are American soldiers and spies everywhere?

Back to the film, this is where the story diverges. Aguinaldo, in his memoirs, claim that Segismundo was tortured and thus gave up his whereabouts.

The Americans claim otherwise and Segismundo gave them up willingly as he was war weary. Prior to Funston’s daring raid Segismundo surrendered to him in Nueva Ecija. Personally, I tend to believe the latter as Segismundo took part in the raid that captured Aguinaldo. Even former officer, Tal Placido, who knew Aguinaldo personally was a part of the raiding party. For me that meant that they had turned. They only had five American soldiers with them and all – including Funston – were officers. There were over 70 Macabebe scouts in the party and I do not believe for one minute that they were not doing this of their own volition as could have very well just sent Funston and his fellow officers to their deaths or turned them over to Aguinaldo. They turned plain and simple maybe believing the they were just delaying the inevitable – the fall of Aguinaldo’s shadowy cabinet and government in hiding.

The capture of Aguinaldo did not involve much action. After receiving Placido and other Macabebe officers, there was some shooting outside. There was nothing about some officer not being able to speak Spanish or some sort. Aguinaldo thought it was more of a salute until he had the guns pointed at him. Two of his guards were killed with one officer severely injured. As for Aguinaldo, upon the prodding of Felipe Buencamino, he surrendered.

I felt bad watching the creative license taken where Aguinaldo shot and killed a few of the raiding party.

As for the deaths of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna, I’ll skip the part where they’re supposed to have engaged in certain atrocities the movie claims. On the other hand, the film ‘exonerates’ Aguinaldo of the culpability in their murders showing that it was his generals who prodded him to sign the order of their execution or whatever.

Remember, one reason why Aguinaldo was elected president was because of his string of victories in Cavite while Bonifacio’s troops oft lost. Now what I find lacking in the film is how it was not mentioned that with the loss of Luna, the Philippine Army disintegrated as Aguinaldo himself lost a series of battles before he decided to wage guerilla warfare. Even the Americans acknowledged that Luna was the lone genius in the Philippine Army.

It is the same with Gregorio del Pilar’s death up in lonely Tirad Pass. His loss hurt Aguinaldo and was a blow to the morale of the remaining Philippine units. This is not even portrayed or even mentioned.

The flight of Aguinaldo in the film should have taken on a more urgent tone. He was dogged by the Americans every step of the way hence the rear guard action by Del Pilar’s troops. Aguinaldo’s flight was a big thing for both the Filipinos and Americans. It was even widely reported in the American press about El Presidente’s capture.

I guess that’s the problem with trying to do so much in so little a time. Even with a long film it will still work.

Aguinaldo’s life can be divided into three parts --- the war against Spain, the war against the Americans and his retired life. The film, in my opinion, should have just featured the first two with the last part being mentioned on text ala the end of ‘Glory’ following the tragic end of the 54th.

And so there were parts that were totally unnecessary such as the Inang Bayan scenes (that could have worked but looked silly in the end as Aguinaldo lay in his death bed) as well as inclusion of Nora Aunor in the film as his second wife who really does nothing for the film but lovey dovey eyes for Aguinaldo. It comes across as using star power to attract moviegoers to this film.

The same too with Cesar Montano who I like as an actor but he is miscast as Bonifacio. Montano looks far too good looking and eloquent for Bonifacio who wasn’t exactly educated.

Baron Geisler reprises his role in ‘Baler’, another Meily period piece where he gives the epic stand of a Spanish garrison inside the church the James Cameron Titanic treatment (a real event against the backdrop of a love story), as a Spanish officer albeit a more brutal one. There is no difference. You can insert Geisler’s on-the-edge Capt. Enrique de las Morenas in ‘Baler’ with his brutal officer’s role in ‘El Presidente’. Will we see a third? Maybe Geisler would have done well to watch sociopathic Jason Isaacs in the role of Col. Tavington in the wretched period piece ‘The Patriot’ (starring Mel Gibson). But then again, had Geisler done so, he might have stolen the spotlight from Jeorge ‘ER’ Estregan’s portrayal of Aguinaldo that are at times stirring and convincing.

The nascent Philippine Army during the Cavite uprising was woefully ill equipped and Aguinaldo’s leadership and derring-do was crucial at this time as they held off the Spanish Army. Estregan does this well with his regal presence in the film.

And oh, I love the battle scenes. Short though they were.

‘El Presidente’ maybe should have started with the restoration of the actual date of Philippine independence rather than his capture by Funston because in the last 15 minutes or so, the film begins to drag as we go through a collage of his life from his retirement to his failed run at the Philippine presidency to his eventual last hours.

Maybe even it should have started out from the Philippine Centennial with all the events that were done at his home in Kawit, Cavite.

I know that Mark Meily tried to be as accurate as possible with his depiction of Aguinaldo and the events surrounding him. And thus, I salute his attempts to rekindle an interest in Philippine history that is rich and a largely unexplored goldmine because of this fascination with unrequited love stories in Philippine cinema. But the faults kept me from thoroughly enjoying the film. Of course, I understand creative license.

Nevertheless this is a step up from the usual Pinoy cinema fare. I salute the film as it does make bold statements and the production is good even with its misses. Maybe the third (period piece in what is looking like a colonial history trilogy by Meily) time will be the charm.