Friday, November 1

Ghosts of All Souls' Day's Past

All Souls' Day, or Todos Los Santos, is a big deal here in the Philippines. In the US and other countries, it's all about Halloween. Here, it's more akin to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, though perhaps less festive. On November 1 and 2, Filipinos troop to the cemeteries to visit their family members and loved ones who have passed on, to remember them. Of course, that's the principle behind the tradition. On the other hand, it's also an opportunity for having a bit of a holiday, going to the provinces for some RnR, or just pigging out with lots of junk food.
I remember when I was a kid, Todos Los Santos was a journey for my family. At the time, our cemetery was far away (to me then, it was like it was in another time zone), so going there was a major effort. I remember the night before we leave my mom and the household help would prepare large containers full of food. We'd stock on junk food and prepare all our provisions with the meticulous fervor of a polar expedition. I'd be woken up early in the morning. The family station wagon would have the food as well as lots of folding tables and chairs. On top there were several large, long wooden poles and the heavy canvas tent which would serve as our home for the next day or so. Then, we'd scrunch up inside and be off.
Once at Loyola Cemetery in Marikina, we'd spend a bit of time getting through the traffic. Luckily, our spot wasn't too far from the exit. We'd set up our tent and tables and then... we'd hang out. Food was eaten, chats were chatted, and we'd play board games like Snakes and Ladders or Tour of Luzon. Often we'd also play cards (my favorite was Pekwa... don't ask... I've forgotten how to play it after all this time). If I got bored I'd walk around and collect wax to make a big ball to mold and stare at.
When the day started to wane, we'd pack up and make our way home, which was another long ordeal in itself since the traffic is just as worse as during our arrival. But, invariably, we'd break through and be on our way.
These days though, it's no longer a big thing. Our present home is located conveniently near our cemetery, so we basically just walk there. Since Shakey's and other fast food joints have small kiosks there, food isn't a problem. We don't stay long enough to need a tent, so we just leave flowers and candles, say some prayers and spend some time there... and that's that.
Ah. Memories. I have to say that strangely enough, All Souls' Day has lots of happy memories for me. A strange thing I think since it's all about remembering the dead. We Filipinos can find fun in the weirdest of things.
Happy All Souls' and All Saints' Day, everyone.
Care for some CHIPS?

Another local manga comic for Manila comic readers' tastes.

I finally got to read Chips (Chocolate Chips/Cinnamon Chips), another local manga-style comic. I have to say that the first time I saw it, I was very much impressed by the production values; thick paper stock, nice manga art that really brings to mind authentic Japanese manga (complete with the use of screentones) and a whopping 64 pages. That's quite a good deal for the eighty pesos you will shell out for a copy. However, I have to say that I really resisted reading it for a LONG time ever since I first saw the sample copy given to Mike (Comic Quest). Why? Because I felt that it wasn't for me. I really saw it as a girls' manga. I like my manga and anime loaded with adventure, fighting, humor and some sexiness dashed in for good measure... Chips looked all cotton candy and fluff. Well, now I finally read it and... I was right. Sigh. Anyway, that doesn't mean it would be necessarily bad, so I read through the two stories to give it a proper review.
There are two stories (one for each flavor of Chips, I guess... still am mystified by the title...). Cascades is a high school comedy about (apparently) an international student named Jennifer and how she mixes in with her Filipino (but manga-looking) classmates. We get introduced rapid-fire to several cliche characters, including a ditz, an bishojo guy (beautiful man), some bullies, some wallpaper guys, a tough cool guy, a Wolverine-clone teacher and more.
Honestly, I couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. The paneling is atrociously confusing, and the dialogue from one frame doesn't match others. I've seen wacky comedy in both anime and manga, and I think this is what the Chips crew was attempting with Cascades, but the execution is confusing, not funny and just leaves me saying, "What the-!" after reading it. Or maybe I should say, decipher it?
The second story, Seraphim Wing, benefits by being more focused (read: Two main characters). It's all about a girl named Melissa who works as an attendant in a video store. For some reason, she gets mixed up with a stranger who eventually helps her when she's attacked by some thugs. It turns out that the stranger's name is Lezarius, and he's really an angel. What's the story here? We're going to have to wait for issue 2...
Chips has nice art, as I mentioned before, but it's relatively simple and basic; nowhere near the more impressive art of Culture Crash but within the same range of recent release Ground Zero. It helps that the art really brings to mind manga, but more ambitious art and panels (and more comprehensible paneling) would do wonders.
But then again, perhaps Chips is going more for the sweet story and loveable characters approach rather than trying to blow away readers with incredible action sequences and kick-ass characters. This will be made a lot easier though by getting their storytelling up and working; One cannot live on just having Super Deformed characters and sweatdrops forever.
I may be kinda harsh, but it's all in the hope of steering these obviously enthusiastic and hardworking artists, writers and producers in the right direction to making an enjoyable (at the very least a comprehensible) comic.
This is just their first issue, so I hope they improve on their weak points with their next releases.

Thursday, October 31

Soul Searching

It's the time for pumpkins, costumes, midnight parties and... ghost stories! I have to say that I love spooky, creepy yarns. I remember for years and years I always made it a point to watch the All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day special of the local news/magazine show, Magandang Gabi, Bayan (Good Night Nation for you english-only readers). They always feature supernatural-themed stories for that particular show. I remember that they always have a cheesy 're-enactment' video, which is kinda funny because it has extras in white clothes acting as white ladies or ghosts and spirits scaring some poor guy or gal. Still, if you think about it, the stories are kind of creepy. Many of the stories come from and are set in the provinces, where the supernatural still holds sway over the beliefs of people. There was one tale where a couple, while walking home, suddenly saw a ghost of a woman standing some distance away. They were of course scared shitless, but tried their best to just keep walking. When they ventured a look to see if the spectre had vanished, their terror increased as they saw that the apparition was following them! When they eventually got home and shut the door, the woman started having fits, and it took a blessing from a priest to solve the apparent possession that occured. Be careful of whom or what you lead home...
Aside from the various ghost stories and encounters, there are also the tales of fairies and dwarves, whom believes say live in magnificent kingdoms in another dimension. In some barrios, some people disappear and are said to have been taken away to live with some dwarf king. Most however, just end up going crazy as if possessed, and have to be exorcised by a local witch doctor.
For a while, there was a rash of children getting 'possessed' in schools, fainting and then having weird spells. I personally think however that it's all a sham for a story. One particularly funny segment had a guy possessed by a tikbalang, or horse-spirit... he spoke of course like a horse, neighing and grunting as his role. Again, the medicine men had to exorcise him.
Yeah, I suspect the show's all just baloney, but I still love watching. Hey, I want to believe. It's crazy, but I think people love to get scared. Within reason, of course.
Perhaps for me especially it's because I'm not 'sensitive'. I know people who are supposed to have a 'third eye', or specially-tuned perceptions which allow them to 'see' the supernatural. Me? I'm as dead to the undead and supernatural as a stone. I remember seeing nothing at all in the middle of an apparent 'haunting' or supernatural incident back in college.
We were shooting a short film late at night in the middle of a field in the middle of the University of the Philippines campus, where salvage/murder victims were supposed to have been dumped during the Marcos days. Our equipment inexplicably conked out consistently, a car window shattered without explanation, and our 'sensitive' classmates felt presences following us around... me... I was staring all around, trying to see a sheet, a pair of glowing eyes...anything! Nada. Oh, well. I suppose that's a good thing.
Anyway, I don't really have to see ghosts to get creeped out. Got an active imagination, so that's pretty much all I need. I'm the person who couldn't remain alone for days after reading a book about Possession and Evil Spirits . If I could actually see weird things, I'd be out of my gourd. Well, more than usual.
Well, actually, the point of this entire post and what I'm really trying to say is that I would have wanted to tell a scary story I experienced for a Halloween post on the blog, but I can't since I've never experienced anything supernatural. Never even worked at any ad agency that was in a haunted building. Sigh. Oh well.

Hey wait a second... I've been to some pretty scary restaurants...


Tuesday, October 29

The Serial Buyer has struck again...

Just after lunch I walked around Glorietta mall, and the buying bug hit. When I got back to the office, I suddenly found a plastic bag full of stuff in my hand. Darn! How did that get there...?
Anyway, I sifted through the layers of plastic bags and found several magazines: TIME, Newsweek, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Playstation Magazine and... Oh, my... the 2003 FHM Calendar featuring Maui Taylor, Aubrey Miles and Diane Zubiri. Have to control these urges. It may be wonderful now, but who knows what else I could end up bringing home... Damn, that's a nice calendar...
Carnivore Canteen and Food at the Movies, part one

Along Annapolis Street behind Greenhills Shopping Center there's one of our favorite haunts. It's a totally hidden little eatery by the name of Steak Joint. It's located at the ground floor of a building in the rear of an alley-like passage, right behind a Tapa King restaurant (which is a favorite of mine as well). Anyway, last night me and my friends Mike, Jason and Ralph went to have a quick dinner. Mike ordered his beef omelet and beef rib plates, Jason had a combo plate with a variety of liempo (pork) and barbecue and Ralph had two plates of tapa. Of course, I ordered my usual double tenderloin steak. The thing came PERFECT, well-done, smothered in gravy which had a bit of the juice mixing on top. Damn.
As we were all eating, my mind went to that scene in The Matrix where Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) is enjoying a steak in a restaurant with Agent Smith. LOVE that scene. Not because of the dramatic significance, mind you... just because it had someone eating, and it's great to watch as you are enjoying a snack or a meal.
So I kept thinking about some really appetitzing and inspiring eating/dining scenes in movies. I made a little list of them, too.
1) Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone- a recent one; the first grand meal in the hall welcoming the new batch of students at Hogwart's is simply fantastic. I wish I could conjure up a feast like that whenever I want...
2) Hook- the scene where they imagine a feast and thanks to Peter (Robin Williams), they actually DO create a feast out of thin air. Although I have to say the scenes where they were just imagining were more appetizing...
3) Defending Your Life- this Albert Brooks/Meryl Streep comedy about the afterlife postulates that in the transition place between life and the afterlife, there are various restaurants which serve the PERFECT food. And you can eat as much as you want without ever getting fat. DAMN, the food looked great... the omelette Albert Brooks eats near the start, the pasta Meryl Streep has, a godly shrimp platter... this movie shows food that is, literally, to die for.
4) Twister- my favorite scene is where the Tornado Chasers stop by at Helen Hunt's aunt, where they get served STEAKS with awesome-looking gravy and mashed potatoes. Yum...
5) The Fugitive- okay, this really doesn't show good food, but it does show good eating. It's the part where Harrison Ford is hiding out in a hospital and has to steal some old patient's food. There's that scene where he sops up some corn in some bread and just gorges it down. Hospital food sucks, but that scene made me hungry.
Heh. That's that for now. Anyway, eating at Steak Joint was great, but they don't have desserts in that bare essential eatery. Makes you wish there was a place next to it called Cake Joint, to get the meat taste off. Oh well. Later then.

Monday, October 28

A tough act to follow...

Over the weekend I learned that actor Richard Harris died from a lingering illness. The acclaimed performer died of Hodgkin's disease, which strikes at the body's lymph nodes. He died peacefully in the hospital at the age of 72.
His death leaves vacant the crucial part of the wise wizard and mentor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies (the studio has reportedly not yet recast the role). It got me thinking back to how Raul Julia died years ago, leaving the Addams Family movies without a father (though I have to say Tim Curry was a fine replacement, albeit with a different flair or flavor for the Gomez Addams role). These actors had strong imprints on the characters they brought life to... it would be a great burden on whoever replaces them to equal or even surpass the foundation they established. Or perhaps, even just to give justice to it.
I was thinking how Ian McKellan just IS Gandalf, and how Christopher Lee IS Saruman. I can't picture another actor in their robes... so I am glad they shot the LOTR films at the same time.
Richard Harrris is gone. Who can take up Dumbledore's hat now? The first names and faces that come to my mind include Richard Attenborough, though he's more Santa than sorcerer. Or maybe John Neville, the guy who played Baron Munchausen and the Well-Manicured Man in the X-Files series and movie. Well, we should see or hear news in the near future. Anyway, when I watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets later next month, I'll be sure to enjoy the last performance of a great actor.
A Beastly Good Movie

I was able to watch the French film Le Pacte Des Loupes, or Brotherhood of the Wolf, over the weekend. After sitting through this 3-hour or so film, I came away impressed and surprised. Enjoyable and sinfully good. Which means, lots of beautiful European women and bloody good action.
The movie is a period film set in France before the French Revolution. An elusive and deadly creature is terrorizing the province of Gevaudon, killing women and children without mercy. Two men arrive in the area to find the beast; Chevalier Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is the King's naturalist and taxedermist, and he's been sent to stuff and bring the beast back to Paris when it is caught and killed. His companion is Mani (Mark Dacascos), an Indian and Fronsac's blood brother.
Now say what you will about Mark Dacascos' former movies (Double Dragon was HORRIBLE. Crying Freeman was better but disappointing to a degree) but he is awesome in this film. He doesn't speak too much and just has to look brooding or silent throughout most of the movie, but when he moves he is hypnotic. Brotherhood has tons of fighting scenes which have slow-mo sequences which are reminiscent of The Matrix; totally cool and brutally enjoyable to see. While the two heroes may seem to be another 'Green Hornet and Kato' thing (with Mani doing all the fighting), Fronsac gets to impress viewers towards the latter part of the film (this IS a French film after all) in an unexpected twist. While Brotherhood shares a lot with movies like Ghost and the Darkness or Jaws, it also reminds me of that old Spielberg film Young Sherlock Holmes AKA Pyramid of Fear, with its conspiracies and strange cults, mysticism and a tragic turn towards the second half.
Again, did I mention that I love the fighting? This film has fancy kicks, lots of leaping and vaulting, evil gypsy fighting girls, lots of fancy sharp weapons... Yowza! The fighting game fan in me got pleased immensely when I saw the scene where a segmented sword (the SAME weapon used by Ivy AKA Isabella Valentine in the fighting game Soul Calibur) is used in an actual battle... amazing. The action in this movie rules, with almost Hong Kong-like energy.
Anyway, I was glad I was able to watch this movie via a DVD, with no cuts or censorship. As I said before, there's quite a lot of nudity and skin (all of which will probably be censored in the theatrical release). The violence is fast and while there's blood, it's never gory or excessive, in my opinion. Which is great since seeing visons like Monica Bellucci and more onscreen along with the kick-ass fighting makes the fact that the movie is over 3 hours long quite forgettable.
Hunt this beast of a movie down. Ferociously good. Watch it at home, on a big TV, with lots of junk food to wolf down.