Saturday, January 26, 2013


Even as I was in a frame of mind to completely immerse myself in the revelry of the Sinulog Festival in Cebu last week, social media was incorrigible.  No. It was persistent in its barrage of messages.

There were all these tweets about the interview.  

People wanted to know what I thought and felt about that now legendary four and a half minutes face-to-face encounter between veteran entertainment journalist Ricky Lo and allegedly Oscar Best Supporting Actress shoo-in named Anne Hathaway for her portrayal of the Mother of all miserable mothers in, what else, but Les Miserables.

At this point too late in the game, what else can I say that has not already been said?  

Jim Paredes (in his tweet) hit the nail right on the head: a difference of cultures.  One of my favorite people, the unflappable and unstoppable Jessica Zafra in her article in also had everything neatly packaged in a box with a ribbon: the few minutes when one experiences absolute cringing and embarrassment is also the sum total of so many factors that should not warrant any surprise whatsoever.  But we still are.

Well, not surprised.  Just ... uhm, nanliit.

It is not as if this were the first time Mr. Lo asked these kinds of questions to Hollywood A-Listers.  He has done it before ... except that with Anne-turned-Fantine, the results were more dismal.

Social media was meaner maybe because there is empowerment to wield all sorts of sharp objects and hurl them at Mr. Lo as if those five minutes with a Hollywood actress could cause national or international havoc. It was if that those five momentous minutes would result to the hastening of global warming or create a complete reversal of all the trends that show great economic promise for the republic. 

After all, despite how much we loved (or hated) Toby Hopper's cinematic interpretation of a popular musical, let's admit the fact that --- uh, it was just a movie.  And this not-too-pleasant clip was just part of a press junket where everyone gets a freebie and the lead actors are subjected to torturous rounds of pocket interviews.  

In short, it was really no big deal.

Well, yes, it was some big deal ... for the more sensitive among us, it was a face palm moment.  

Some people felt that whatever success Janine Tuganon brought to the country by giving that all-too-crisp-and-intelligent reply to the Q and A portion of the recent Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, suddenly went down the drain when Mr. Lo asked Anne to send some greetings to Lea Salonga and the people of Las Islas Filipinas. 

Upon hearing Ms. Hathaway's retort to that request, one of my more eloquent and verbose friends simply blurted, "A-waaaaaaaaaaaard!" (Then we started discussing how lovely her restyled hair post-on-camera-scalping matched her lace dress --- arguing it if were Dolce and Gabbanna.)

When that specific question was asked ("Having lived a life of luxury and privilege, etc. etc. ... did you ever become poor and hungry?" ) and the smiling Ms. Hathaway knitted her brows, stared at Mr. Lo for a grand total of 1.5 seconds then dissed, "I think that's too personal", my friend screamed, "O-kraaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!" as he ran around the living room looking for any sharp object to slash his wrist.

Pero naman ...

It was as if at the end of the interview, dear Ms. Hathaway would make a public announcement  or worse ... write a fatal Facebook shoutout to the effect that: (a) Filipinos ask such silly slumbook questions and (b) she wants to talk about herself as an artiste in her interviews and not about Lea Salonga.

It was not as if this dismal encounter is reason enough for national embarrassment.  The whole incident was as significant as a bad hair day. Or the kind of unpredictable experience one would have accompanying a major bout of menstrual cramps.

Maybe what made matters far worse for Mr. Lo was when the locals had a chance to view a similar press junket interview of Ms. Hathaway with Fil-Am Manny the Movie Man.   

Admitted, watching this interview was like seeing a completely different Anne Hathaway.  This was not the smiling acerbic biaaaaaaaaaatch that people perceived in the Lo face-to-face but an amiable, intelligent, self-effacing and even sweet (yes, my dear --- she was sweet)girl who volunteered more information than what was requested by the interviewer.

So we ask, "Bahketttt??"  Is it possible that all that dieting and hair-chopping has made the actress bipolar? 

Wait, wait: further research reveals that there is now a growing population called the Hathahaters who were dedicated to online bashing the actress for one reason or another.  

If she was really, really mean to Mr. Lo, then this new group is extraordinarily picky about Miss Hathaway to the point that they are bashing her for her acceptance speech in the Golden Globes saying that it had all the spontaneity of the directions on assembling a bookshelf from Ikea. Apparently, despite those saucer-sized eyes emphasized by thick mascara on her lashes, Ms. Hathaway was not one to vie for Miss Congeniality as far as the press is concerned.

Then again, that is another story.  

When somebody reaches a certain level of popularity, it cannot be helped that someone somewhere out there in the eternity of the universe will love to hate you and make a lifetime career out of bashing you in the internet.  Media people do not get paid exorbitantly without any backlash of sorts. Plus the fact that you are required to do press junkets should be reason enough for people to find reasons for nitpicking and hating you. Some people make careers out of hating others because they find it therapeutic. They believe it gives significance to their lives which really have all the importance for the purpose of statistics.  And celebrities are very well aware of that.

Well, Ms. Hathaway certainly loved Manny the Movie Man --- at least for his five minutes.  As a matter of fact, no one would be surprised if they even went out for coffee after that tete-a-tete.  Ms. Hathaway obviously enjoyed the chat --- and Manny the Movie Man was all over the place gushing, squeezing information from his interviewee with such casualness and aplomb.  

Manny the Movie Man was so good at getting Miss Anne in the mood that even the audience was all too engrossed to forget that he forgot to use a face oil blotter to remove that disturbing sheen  all throughout the video.  The same friend who cringed at the Lo interview just had to bitch by saying that Manny the Movie Man had more oil on his face than the state of Texas.  But so what?  He did what he was supposed to do ... and he did it well --- facial shine and all. What was important was that he got the work done ... and he ended his five minutes giggling with the interviewee even happier, flattered and ready for more.

Ironically, Manny the Movie Man asked the same question that sent Lo's interview off the orbit: this whole thing about Hathaway's weight loss to capture the anguish of the Fantine.  How was it that the actress so categorically brushed off the question with Mr. Lo but then went into an instructional mode with Manny the Movie Man saying that she would recommend the Catwoman Diet versus the Fantine Diet?  

How come no question was too personal for Ms. Hathaway when she was dealing with Manny the Movie Man whereas she was on high-defensive when it came to Mr. Lo?

In my Directing for Television class, I showed both videos to illustrate to my students how the whole message of television is not in what is being said but how the message comes across. More so, a greater percentage of the kind of reaction you get from watching a less than five minute video is not in what is being said --- but what you see, the silence that comes in between, the tone of voice of both interviewer and interviewee, the body language.

Oh, I and my class had a grand time analyzing the Lo and Manny-the-Movie Man interviews of Ms. Hathaway vis-a-vis to each other because the camera shots were the same, the lighting used was the same ---- but the conduct of the two interviews was just literally worlds apart.

The conclusion was easy: Jim Paredes was right from the very start. It was purely cultural.  Mr. Lo was asking questions for a celebrity selling a movie to a Filipino audience.  Manny-the-Movie-Man was interviewing an actress in a specific movie which she was apparently very proud of partaking.  Mr. Lo was bringing Ms. Hathaway to the Filipino masa ...something that she did not understand and found somewhat mundane and even offensive. But Manny-the-Movie-Man was milking the five minutes to squeeze every available data on Hathaway's professional and personal dimensions.

After all is said and done ... and a week after the brouhaha, we can all settle down and stop castigating Mr. Lo for what some accuse as a national embarrassment.  It was just the truth of that moment.  But there are lessons to be learned. And it is in deciphering these lessons that we can make something truly significant of what others feel as such as monumental blunder.

Postscript: Anne Hathaway was great in Les Miserables.  She was so good that I was able to forgive Tom Hooper for having Russell Crowe in the same film.

Was she being a biaaaaatch to our dear Mr. Lo? To quote the wise and worldly wisdom of my friend: "Kebs ba niya, ano?  If Anna Dizon is Anna Dizon, then Anne Hathaway IS Anne Hathaway, di ba?"  My friend even punctuated this with a very emphatic, "Hmp!" 

Being the interviewee does not mean you are out there to vie for Miss Friendship and pass around cans of assorted biscuits with your face emblazoned on the labels.  

Besides, if you have to sit down and take around thirty to forty of these five minute interviews, even Mother Teresa would have reached her freak-out moment, right.  In short, patience is a virtue only to a certain extent. Anything beyond that is at your own risk.

And besides, if she were such a biaaaaatch, then I would love to be Ms. Hathaway. I love the way she smiled and threw the knives. That is called elan, pizzazz, chutzpah, style. That is being vicious while flashing your pearly white teeth, intriguing everyone around you whether or not you are lacerating their throats ... or simply being cute.

I like that, ha?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I was in tears. Literally.

Seated with one of my best friends at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, otherwise known as the Little Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, watching the revival of a work that I had done with Ryan Cayabyab twenty-five years ago.

Twenty-five years ago.

That was what was quite hard to believe. It was twenty-five years ago.

It was more than twenty-five years ago when I received a call from Girlie Rodis asking me if I wanted to write the book and libretto of an original musical about the life of Katy de la Cruz.

It was more than twenty-five years ago when I met with Celeste Legaspi, Girlie Rodis and Ryan Cayabyab before I flew to the U.S. to spend some days with Katy de la Cruz, interview her, get to know her and gain some insight into who she was, the life she led, the people she worked with and the history of popular entertainment as we understood it --- through the eyes of somebody who lived it.

It was more than twenty-five years ago when I got another directive from Celeste and Girlie telling me to write a song which would eventually be the carrier single. It was supposed to be the signature piece to introduce the musical entitled Katy! to the popular audience of the late '80s.  

I was still in the process of outlining the book, I have not written the lyrics of any song for the piece but I was told that we needed a song that should represent all of what Katy de la Cruz' story should embody.  It was a song that was a tribute not only to Katy's priceless contribution to Filipino popular entertainment --- but also a song to honor all those who share their entire lives for the enjoyment of the audiences.

I remember that late afternoon in my South SyQuia apartment when I sat down and wrote the words of that song. The piece turned out to be the most popular song of all of Katy's musical materials. 

I wanted a song that would speak not only about the lives of people who gave their hearts and souls in bringing laughter and entertainment to the ever-changing audiences.  I wanted a song about time --- its cruelty, its immortality --- and how works indeed outlive their creators. I wanted a love song  --- that did not sound like A Chorus Line's most famous "What I Did for Love" but reverberated more of the Filipino sentiment.

That afternoon I wrote the words of Minsan Ang Minahal ay Ako.

Yes, the song was written even before the musical took form.

But everything else that followed was like --- automatic writing.   As I told some who cared to ask, Katy wrote itself. I merely pounded on the keyboards of my ancient Remington typewriter --- because the words spilled out the way the story wanted to be told.

How am I describe how my friend Ryan Cayabyab and I share this affinity so much so that when I write lyrics for yet a melody that has to be woven --- somehow I already hear what the maestro will do with my metered stanzas?  How do I dissect such wonderment?  I do not know. I really do not know.  I attribute this to the fact that Ryan and I are of the same age (both born in the Year of the Horse) and that he is this genius who creates music out of syllables I pluck out of some great nowhere.

Oh, we have worked so many times together.

I tell people that there will come a time when I will be remembered not for the movies I wrote and directed but for writing the lyrics of what has become the Christmas standard, Kumukutikutitap. How is that for an entry in the local Trivial Pursuit? Ryan has given me the chance to write lyrics to so many beautiful songs that he has worked around to create great music. I feel so privileged.  I feel so ...completed.  Yet of all the works that he has done, I still consider Rama Hari's Nagbalik ka na, Mahal with words written by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera as the most beautiful song ever written in Pilipino.

(I mean, please?  What are my chances? That is the Bienvenido Lumbera penning such delicious, enchanting, bewitching words to a melody that I want to hear in whatever form of embrace I am found.)


I caught sight of Ryan Cayabyab with his wife, Emmy, seated down the row where I was positioned last night.  He looked happy as I was nervous.  And I couldn't figure out why.

The moment the overture was played for the capacity crowd who watched the press preview I knew why I felt this overpowering ambivalence.

I was so happy that after twenty-five years I was seeing the musical come alive again.  There were so many attempts in the past to bring back Katy! to the stage --- but somehow, somewhere along the way --- the projects did not materialize. And now this.

When the familiar bars of Ang Mundo ay Entablado started playing,I felt such a strange sensation. 

All of a sudden I remember every detail of the very premiere night at Rizal Theater of Katy! in 1989.  There was that breathlessness again --- and how I would marvel at Mitch Valdes because of her sheer stamina and determination to do a damn good job out of this career opportunity.  But, more than anything else, it was still the music.  It was the moment of surprise when you actually hear Ryan Cayabyab's music giving a completely different life to the words I had written down ...and typed out in my old Remington.

And there are so many more stories to tell.  I remember how there were plans to edit out the final song of Katy's father (named Juan de la Cruz) from the musical because the running time was deemed too long.  Bernardo Bernardo fought to keep the song --- and now it has become one of the benchmark moments of the play.  I remember the original cast members that included Pinky Marquez(as Hanna San), Gigi Posadas (as Mary Walter), Beverly Salviejo, Marco Sison (as Peping), the late Tenten Munoz (as the young Katy), Adrian Panganiban and Robert Sena.  Yes, Robert Sena --- who would eventually join forces with his wife Isay Alvarez to resurrect and remount Katy! for an entirely different generation to see.

I was speechless for most of the presentation while Cherry Coronel (who was also part of the original production) was seated nearby. We would look at each other --- and shake our heads smiling. So this is how it feels after twenty-five years. 

So this is how it hits you when you hear Dulce and Aicelle Santos sing Minsan ang Minahal Ay Ako echoing something you have heard half a life away ... or watching Tirso Cruz III reworking the role of Katy's father and giving it a life completely his own.  Or watching Gian Magdangal ... and most especially Aicelle Santos who has completely seized the moment to prove once and for all that she is a talent to be reckoned with.  Or even looking at Epy Quizon who looks so much like his father ---portraying the role of Dolphy.  

There were many reasons to be teary-eyed or choke-up watching, hearing and experiencing something you have written half a lifetime ago ... and to witness people embrace your work like it were new.  

That was when I realized that indeed the work will outlive the creators.  People may not even remember who wrote the songs, who made the music, or who starred in the original production but the work will assume a life of its own --- because that is the stuff that God designed for immortality.  The work has assumed a life of its own.

On the opening night of Katy! a quarter of a century ago, she flew in from the U.S. to grace the premiere. She was eighty-two years old at that time. Yet when the Grand Dame went onstage in her slinky strapless gown, addressing the audience and gifting them with her song Balut, we all knew the stuff that legends are made of.  Not even Girlie, Celeste, Ryan or I realized that indeed she was the Last of the Great Women of the Stage.  No history of Philippine popular entertainment can be validated without the name of Katy de la Cruz.

Now it took the courage, determination and fervor of Isay Alvarez to bring back the significance of Katy de la Cruz to the Filipino audience.  

It is ironic that the Filipino talent is recognized not only in Asia --- but all over the world ---as one of the best if not the best.  Musicality is second nature to us.  Our passion for music as well as the other arts come naturally, almost genetically.  

Twenty-five years ago, Celeste Legaspi and Girlie Rodis wanted to create some change --- perhaps a simple yet significant move.  That is, to warrant the attention and appreciation of the Filipino audiences to original Pinoy music --- in the form of the musical.  But twenty-five years later, not much has still changed. The best and most promising Filipino talents find better work in Hong Kong or Singapore ... or any nook and cranny on this planet to make a decent and fulfilling living out of what God has so especially given them.

Twenty-five years ago you still have to cross shored to be hailed by the world as Lea Salonga.  You have to be a YouTube sensation to warrant the attention of Ellen DeGeneres to be a Charice. You have to be singled out by foreign producers who are awed by the sheer degree, depth and extent of talent of the Filipino to be a Joanna Ampil. 

But the Filipinos are always the last to believe in the greatness of their fellow Filipinos.  Twenty-five years have elapsed and not much has changed.

Yet there will be the likes of Isay, Lea and so many others who will keep on fighting for their rightful places ... and for the Filipino to finally admit that as far as music is concerned, damn it, we are so good!  And it feels good to be a Filipino.

I have nothing but sheer admiration for Isay Alvarez and her troupe for going against all odds and proving that --- Filipino music will not die because we are not going to give up that easily.

Thank you so much, Guys.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


No, this is not going to be a blow-by-blow, shred-by-shred movie review of any if not all the entries of the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival 2012.

Now that the festival is officially over (and having published my take on the blatant commercialism that has ruled the selection then eventual success or failure of the entries), I can finally throw in my five centavos worth of opinion about the whole --- uhm, happening.

So let me begin.

1. This has ceased to be a film festival.  It has become a fiesta for movies.

I have said this before in an article I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  The Metro Manila Film Fest is only a festival by name.  It is actually a fiesta.  And there is a substantial difference between a festival and a fiesta.

Although both are celebrations, a festival has more lofty goals and ambitions.  Festivals are meant to pay tribute, to canonize if not bring to the fore a certain theme, goal or purpose.  A festival is a collection of the best and the brightest served like a mouth-watering smorgasbord to those who can appreciate what are listed in the menu.

But a fiesta is just that. It is what it is.  It is a feast where everyone can have fun, devour what he wants and have all sorts of gastrointestinal attacks at the end of the day --- and not feel any semblance of guilt whatsoever.  A fiesta is meant for merriment --- and nothing more.  It does not have to carry any social bearing whatsoever because its purpose is merely to generate enjoyment.

You see, Christmas time is perhaps the only time when the Pinoy moviegoer has cash distinctly dedicated to leisurely spending. Even with kids rich with aguinaldos they receive from their godparents and other benevolent relatives, it is understandable why the movie houses are literally bursting with overly-eager Yuletide revelers wanting to make the most out of the most hyped and anticipated day of the year.

So are we still surprised that we get these kinds of movies almost each and every year of the festival?

Can I be more blunt here?  Let me lead to my second point.

2. Let's cut the crap: it's all about the money.  (Translation: Tigil na ang mga ka-ek-ekan, ha? Pera-pera lang yan.)

The fact that the MetroManila Development Authority (MMDA) sets its goals based on the total gross earnings of all the eight pictures selected should say everything. This year, they set the goal somewhere in the neighborhood of P700M.  Wow!  They want to outdo each year's grosses if only to prove that the the festival mounted has proven itself more successful than the one in the most recent past.

You do not have to be a genius to read that the success of the festival is on its commercial viability and not its artistic achievements, right?  In other words --- pakapalan na ng mukha at magkamatayan na --- it is all about the top-grossing movies and not the best that the cinematic arts of the Republic of the Philippines can offer.

OK. More pagpapakatotoo.  You cannot achieve a P700M goal if you showed eight versions of Brilliante Mendoza's internationally acclaimed film Thy Womb. Sure, it may have warranted a five minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival at the end of the movie --- but out there in the land of Vice Ganda, an audience member shouted, "Ano ba yun? Harang!" at the end of the screening.

Another one asked, "Ano ang ending?" 

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, says everything.

And being such, producers will keep on doing more of the same thing over and over and over again as long as they keep making money out of their repeated endeavors.  Eh, bakit naman hindi?  Why kill a goose that lays golden eggs to replace them with what?  A hyperrealist painting of a gander?! Kebs ba nila, ano?

As I have said over and over again, moviemaking is an industry that is profit-driven and does not carry humanitarian or (much less) noble goals --- not unless nobility means counting cash and therefore giving the finger to everyone by saying, Who can argue with f---g success?

Even the most esoteric among us can only shake their heads and perhaps ask, "But what about our souls?"  And you know very well what the producers will answer: "Kebs ba naman sa soul-soul na yan!" 

Let it be known that there is no patron saint for movies in the hierarchy of the holy of the most holy in the Roman Catholic Church. Walang santong artista, walang santong direktor at higit sa lahat ... walang santong producer.

And if my hypothesis is correct, I cannot imagine any of the existing mainstream Filipino producers or studio heads aspiring to win the CNN Hero of the Year Award.

Again this leads us to another learning I have acquired but may have known all along.

3. What makes money is what entertains.  What entertains may not necessarily be deliberately idiotic or stupid, but what entertains ... entertains. Period.

We can keep on yakking and even gagging about the franchises that have been around since Herbert Bautista was a gangly post-teen actor fighting manananggals ...or when Tweetie de Leon was the original Faye to the ageless Enteng Kabisote ... but still.  What can make producers stop these various franchise if they still make money?

Is it really a crime to show installments of the same franchise after the administration of six Philippine presidents? Well, why not?  

There is a law banning illegal drugs, unlicensed firearms and human trafficking ... with proposals of curbing cyberbullying but definitely no legislator has even dared to propose any law on either houses banning movie franchises that have become part of Philippine Christmas traditions like selling rice cakes outside Churches or going caroling to raise funds to buy queso de bola for Noche Buena, right?

So again, let us spare ourselves of the hypocrisy. 

Even though we summon the angels from the heavens above or the demons down under the seas, we will still have the franchises going on and on and on as long they yield profit.  And, by law of man, reason and especially capitalist economics --- there is nothing wrong with that.  This is called Free Enterprise.

Let's deal with this --- although we can keep on dreaming about the Perfect World.  

And part of getting to that Nirvana is if and when the franchise entries wane in yielding profitability to that the producers finally admit that those happy days are over and it is time to tap into new formulas to be able to get back the big bucks.

The same goes for power combinations of stars with outstanding box office potential.

Of late, there is that elite roster of Pamaskong Handog stars who dominate the box office harbatan and therefore end up with prime projects or land atop of those slow-running floats down Roxas Boulevard a few days before Christmas, waving to fans and quipping those familiar lines, "Inaanyayahan po namin kayo na manood ng ..." The drawing power of above-the-title stars is of utmost importance whenever a project is launched throughout the year but more so during the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Just like the franchises and the formulas, you can expect the same stars over and over and over again --- until the die is cast.  Their presence will be assured as long as people buy tickets to projects with their names attached to them.  Never mind if the performer has an acting talent calibrated to the square root of zero --- as long as mabenta, puwes ibabalandra. Di ba?

What's so hard to understand about that?  What's so stupid about that? It's all about people selling ... and people buying people as well.

Since we are on the subject of people, then let us segue way to another important learning.

4. It is all about the buzz.  It is about being talked about ... it is about media space.

In a crowded season where everyone who can make money wants to make the most cash out of the moneyed roaming around wanting to get rid of their thirteenth month salary or the generosity of Kris Kringle, you have to be noticed.

Let me repeat that: media attention is everything. It is not only about all the drum beating or who the f--k won the Best Float, it is about grabbing the attention of a rich limited to market to go watch your entry.

Fact: A person spends at least P150 - P180 for a movie ticket.  That means a couple, who we shall arbitrarily name as Pepe and Pilar,  would already dole out P300 - P360 just to see a movie of their choice.  Add another P200 for transport money and, say, another P300 - P500 for snacks or a dinner.  In other words, Pepe and Pilar would spend as much as P1060 and as little as P800 for a single movie adventure during the season.

At that amount, how many movies can the couple watch within the two week window of the MMFF where no foreign films are booked for showing?  Of course, there are the diehards --- the cineastes or even the self-flagellants who feel a masochistic tinge in watching all the entries --- but these are more exceptions than the rule.  They are, so to speak, not the normal every-Juans.

The everyday eager beaver moviegoer can only endure three film screenings in a single day --- not unless he or she is undergoing a personal crisis therefore warranting a total withdrawal from the real world.  Watching more than three entries of the MMFF in a single day is tantamount to being a step behind attempted suicide.  Maybe after watching three films, he or she would have opted for suicide instead ... but then by that time he or she is already thinking of something else rather than ending one's life.

Given the limitations of economics, Pepe with or without Pilar may watch as many as five to as few as a single film in the entire festival.  So it cannot be helped that some films will make money while others won't.

Let's get to the really ugly facts now.

5. What really matters in this festival is who makes the most money and not what is the really Best Picture.

Right from the start the press releases are about who made it as the Top Grosser.  Which of the eight films reaped the greatest amount of ticket sales on the first day? Who followed as second ...? Or third?  How far is the distance in figures between the leader of the pack with the next in line?

Then with morbid and even malicious snickering, the punch line ends with which film will land at the bottom of the heap.

Even before the festival officially started, bets were up on which of the films will make the most money and not which of the selected entries represent the best in Filipino filmmaking.  

Maybe even before we go as far as that, what is equally curious is what transpires right at the very beginning.  Note that producers do not even submit finished entries but screenplays to the Selection Committee of the MMDA for consideration.  The members of the said committee do not see finished films but the blueprints of what the producers intend to offer.

Added to that, a list of stars attached to the project is required plus the director and the production to insure quality control ... but, more so, the commercial viability of the project.  Right from its inception, the films selected are based on what would readily sell in the two weeks where the audience is moneyed and all hungry for any form of entertainment.

Thus, it is not surprising that franchises take preference over new movies.  Because these projects have yielded profitable results, the same producers will keep coming back because they  have the handsome track record to comply with all the requirements of the MMDA as well as delivering the impressive digits. 

On the part of the government, they are assured that these producers will have movies to show on the appointed deadlines because the studios have earned their own handsome keep in the past years. And what is the best time for the local companies to make money than the highest of the peak seasons of the year without any foreign competition?

Remember all those weeks when nothing is showing in the local movie houses except The Avengers, Harry Potter and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2?  Well, now is the time for sweet revenge --- since all these movies --- even the ones most anticipated by the movie-driven crowd (Les Miserables, Zero Thirty Dark, The Life of Pi) will have to wait until mid-January in order to be shown on the local screens.

Let it also be on the record that the only reason why Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb got into the Magic 8 was because Unitel Films' Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang backed out and by this time Mendoza's film has had international screenings (with the accolades mentioned earlier) in various respectable film festivals. Otherwise, Mendoza's work would not have stood against the Enteng or the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise --- and the newly established comedy concoctions from Star Cinema and its studio partner, Viva Film, under Wenn Deramas.

Thy Womb --- in the context of the so-called festival --- is a fluke.  It was meant to give a tag of prestige to the two week commercial orgy.  The eventual box office results proved this to be so.

Another clarification: ER Ejercito's El Presidente was there not only because of Mark Meilly (who megged Baler in the same festival just recently and gave Anne Curtis her Best Actress Award) but because of ER Ejercito.  With all due respect to the intentions in even producing such a film (glossing over the equally important questions of authenticity, historical accuracy and even accusations of perfidy and mangling of facts about Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna), not even the epic proportion and expenditure that went into the making of this movie stood a chance against the juggernaut of the major studios and their publicity machineries.

This should easily explain the next last point:

6.  It's going to be like this all over again next year, Folks. 

We will have: (a) the same producers   (b) the same franchise entries --- more or less  (c) the same actors and actresses   (d) the same parade of floats   (e) the same box office race-to-the-finish and (f) the same of more of the same and even more.  So don't even expect any major changes.

The MetroManila Film Festival is no longer the same celebration of Filipino films that gave local cinema enthusiasts, historians, archivists --- or scholars films like Celso Ad Castillo's Burlesk Queen, Eddie Romero's Ganito Kami Noon, Papaano Kayo Ngayon?, Marilou Diaz Abaya's Brutal and Jose Rizal, Mike de Leon's Itim and Kisapmata and so many more.

Those days are over.

The moment the organizers included commercial success as a criterion for selecting the Best Film of the Festival, not only the baby but even the mother was thrown out of the window with the bath water.  The whole focus and purpose of the festival have been re-defined and changed.  

O, sige! Prangkahan nang talaga, ha? It has become a karera ng paramihan ng kinikita. It is nothing different from a major horse race at the San Lazaro Hippodrome or a derby at your favorite cockpit in Culi-Culi, Pasay City.

That is why there is so much caterwauling been done about the padding of box office results overflowing from all sorts of sources in the internet.  There is no doubt about who topped this year's karera ng pabonggahan since the Presidential Baby Sister is not going to keep quiet about the success her project achieved in the most contested race of the year.

But who indeed is #2?  Did Enteng really slide to #3?  Oh, no ... so who made money ... and who didn't?  So why is there all this so-called padding?  Why is it so important that Sisterakas should displace Pribeyt Benjamin as the biggest grossing Filipino movie of all time?  

Go figure.

But this should easily slide into the next learning.

7. This festival is all about the positioning of producers and stars in the hierarchy of the entertainment universe in this country.

That is why the battle is bloody ... dirty and creating havoc not only in the ticket booths but in social media.

Since the film festival has become an extension of the network wars between the Kapamilyas and the Kapusos, the diehards could not help but plunge straight into the action and the argumentation, bashing each other out in debates and allegations as to truly rules supreme in the arena of Philippine media.

The Kapamilyas have three entries: Sisterakas (with Viva films), One More Try and the Star Cinema released entry by Quantum Films, The Strangers. (Also note that all the stars of The Strangers, directed by indie megman Lawrence Fajardo, are exclusively Kapamilya talents.)

The Kapusos have Si Agimat, Si Enteng Kabisote at si Ako (co-produced with APT Films, Octo Arts Films, Imus Films) as well as Sosy Problems

That leaves only three other entries which are not directly linked to the two major networks: these are Regal Multimedia's Shake, Rattle and Roll XIV, Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb and ER Ejercito's El Presidente.

Looking at the final ranking of all the movie entries should reveal the advantages if not the necessity of being linked with a tv network if you want any return of investment whatsoever.  But then again, if you are knowledgeable about the industry, will you still be surprised?

In this country, television and films have become one and the same.  The two media have merged to have one platform feeding the other --- so it is not surprising that the aesthetics of living room entertainment has been brought to the big screen.  More curious is how television has become the most effective (or believed by some to be the one and only) means of marketing and advertising your film.  

At the cost of hundreds of thousands of pesos for tv spot or placement on prime time, how can a small-time start-up producer afford such marketing and sales expenses? Simple: merge with a major network as your tv partner --- at the cost of your commercial and cable tv rights (for all eternity as in forever and ever) as well as your video rights as well. 

It's a take it or leave it situation.  And if you don't take it, chances are, you are going to bring home gravel instead of gold.

Since we are on the subject of profitability, then let us save the best for last.

Let us shatter some myths about the Metro Manila Film Fest.

8. Not all the movies that make it to the two-week festival make money.  Chances are only the top three take home good money while the remaining five either break even or end up with the fate of most local films released on regular playdates., the entertainment portal of local entertainment news, released a flash report quoting a filmfest insider confirming what other producers have been saying all along.  In this year's filmfest, only two films are assured of making money.  These are Sisterakas and One More Try.  

Even Enteng Kabisote (according to the insider) still needs to make more money in order to break even because of the cost of the three stars who were part of the movie.  But maybe this does not take into consideration that two of the stars --- Bong Revilla and Vic Sotto --- are also producers of the movie.

But the truth still remains.  Only very few of the entries really bring home the bacon.  Most have to settle for drippings.  And why? Because, as in the festivals of the past, only the top three or four (depending on the cost of production) will make the producers' purses fatter.

This is also the reason why certain producers are categorically pissed off by all the bloated figures thrown around the internet as press release.  Brilliante Mendoza was the first to vehemently react to figures stating that Thy Womb has already earned P24M whereas in reality (and Direk knows the figures straight from the producers' mouths) the Nora Aunor starrer did not even hit the P3M mark in the middle of its second week run because movie houses have pulled out their screenings to be replaced by either Sisterakas, Enteng or One More Try.

Another producer was also so angry at the internet release stating that one of the entries already earned P74M whereas the truth is that it had not even garnered a gross of P15M.  How would the producer explain this to investors when the such disinformation is being spread in the net?

Why do they even do it? That is really quite simple to answer. It makes the festival look extraordinarily successful to flash all these figures.  It gives the impression that moviehouses already caved in by the sheer number of Filipinos feverishly seeking seats to fill up the screenings.  But the truth is only a handful of the entries truly make it --- and this has been a known fact for years.

Then why do producers even come back knowing that it is indeed a kamikaze move to dare join this festival of giant producers salivating for the Christmas market?  Simple.  Because this is the only time of the year when one's investments stand greatest chances of hitting the jackpot.  The only problem for a newbie or a small time producer is that you are dealing with media giants --- and they ain't gonna do a soft shoe dance to avoid stepping on you. 

What is that saying about being on the way of elephants on a stampede mode?  That should be food for thought.

So after all these realizations, what have I concluded?  Well, here goes:

(1) I am not being jaded. I am just being realistic.  Money is being made out of this festival ... and the government, the producers together with the popcorn vendors will continue to milk the Christmas market for every centavo they can get.

(2) It is no longer a question of the quality of films ... but rather what sells.  It's like comparing a fastfood meal to a gourmet feast. After a while, you realize that audiences just want to have their stomachs stuffed to fill the hunger and that they couldn't care less with the nutritional value of what they are eating.  Come to think of it, they will go for what they think is safe, familiar and tried and tested rather than experiment because of the premium they give their P200 ticket. 

So there. They will not spend time pondering on the pain of Nora Aunor's barrenness as she looks for a second wife to bear the seed of her husband --- they would rather fall off their chairs laughing at Vice Ganda in his outrageous/outlandish outfits as he exchanges barbs and punch lines with Ai-ai de las Alas.

(3) Can we cut the crap about giving trophies to Best-This-and-Best-That?  

Hey, look ... there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money or having two weeks of fund raising for the government and the movie industry.  Remember that line from Field of Dreams? Build ... and they shall come.  And if they keep on coming, eh, di sige  na lang nang sige.

But let's not dress up in fancy clothes and troop to Meralco Theater to hand out trophies to the best of eight movies when right from the very start it was all about fattening the cows, right?  

This even has got nothing to do with allegations of plagiarism, movies shown which were incomplete because of lack of shooting days, directors wanting their names struck out of the entries because of this or that ... or even Wilma Doesnt winning Best Supporting Actress over Janice de Belen, Cherry Pie Picache, Gina Pareno and Lovi Poe. (Note: She was given the award, she did not ask for it. Ask the jurors, not the awardee, OK?)

and finally:

(4) There is nothing wrong with two weeks of purely commercial Filipino movies.  Let us just not make any pretenses about what it really is.

After all, a commercial movie need not necessarily be stupid, insulting to the intelligence of the audience or just plain and simple non-recyclable trash.  A good commercial movie can be entertaining (as movies are designed to be, in the first place) while at the same time serving more than just two hours of mind-numbing escapism. 

If Filipinos want to be entertained, then it is their right to do so ... but, please, please ... let's get real. These are movies, OK?  They are not films ... and this is a fiesta. A happy occasion. Not a showcase. And there is nothing wrong with it. We cannot go on blaming the producers for allegedly keeping the audiences stupid. Maybe they choose to be that way. Or maybe it is because they should be slowly made aware of other options ... like movies/films are different from television and that, like cinema ... Filipinos can be something more.

In the meantime if Filipinos choose to watch these movies, then let that be so. Better than condemning the greater number is to understand why they have become this way ... or if there is a need to change them from thinking in this sort of manner.

If there are those who feel insulted, violated and short-changed by this circus ... then wait. Just wait. There are film festivals like Cinema One Originals, Cine Manila and the much-anticipated Cinemalaya. Let's all wait for July, OK?  Let's all meet at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and other related venues where we can see the stuff we are craving to devour.

In the meantime, this year's MMFF has come to a close.

Those starved for foreign movies will all rush back to the cineplexes to catch the nearly three hours of Les Miserables, the poetry of Ang Lee's The Life of Pi and Katheryn Bigelow's most talked about Oscar Best Picture contender, Zero Dark Thirty.

Hanggang sa susunod na taon, mauulit at mauulit muli. Pustahan tayo? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013


No. I promised myself that there will be no more New Year's Resolutions.

You do not need a new year to make changes.  Any day will do ... as long as you choose and decide to do it.  There is nothing phenomenal about that. More often than not, we choose to wait for the end of a year and the start of another to create some semblance of resolve because we are procrastinating. New Year has become a cute delaying tactic.

So instead I decided to organize my mind and list what I have learned from the twelve months that was 2012.  

Now that I look back, I can safely say that it was one of the most challenging years of my life.   In my nearly six decades of human existence, never did I imagine that I would confront such dilemmas.  I was told about these things before ... I have heard others undergo these thrill rides in the journey called life. In other words, I was forewarned yet I still found myself unarmed.

But that is the usual way it goes. You cannot be prepared enough. And when it happens to you, the only thing you can do is ... to pick up the lessons, make sure you are wiser and a bit harder but not to the point of generating your own venom to be a toxin to your personal system.

So here goes.

1.  Growing older can really be a bitch.

OK, I can only take so much of regular rounds of South Beach Diet.  I usually take two rounds of Phase 1, then go to Phase 2 --- and at the end of six weeks, I would have lost about ten to twelve pounds.  

I work out four to six times a week for a minimum of one hour and a half --- do vicious cardio exercises, make it a point to join spinning classes and lift enough weights so that my chest has slowly evolved into this portable boulder that makes me look like a junior version of Lou Ferrigno.

I have turned semi-vegan, I only eat brown rice for weekend lunches and limit my weekdays to salads,fruits and a peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat cibatta for lunch.  

But then you also confront the sad fact that your metabolism is not the same as it was ... say twenty years ago. 

When you are in your 20s and 30s, you diet for three days and ... wham! You suddenly feel like you can impersonate Audrey Hepburn. But now ... you spend six weeks with minimum carbohydrate intake, endure coffee without sugar or with artificial sweeteners, stay away from dessert, chocolate bars and everything you think you live for ... and you lost about a fourth of what it used to be decades ago.


Yes, I keep that rigid discipline with what I eat but I also confess that I am also a victim of my own weaknesses. I am human after all, OK?  My human-ness includes an insatiable appetite for junk food (Cheetos, Doritos, Nachos or anything I can grab from the shelves of S & R) ... and a near-addiction to chocolates.  

So despite all the huffing and puffing I do each day, all it takes is a couple of Snickers bars or a single day of indulgence of classic Doritos dipped in salsa ... and wham!  Suddenly I look at myself at the mirror and I have returned into the humiliating state of looking like a water balloon. Or a jackfruit.

I could not comprehend why all my discipline, determination and absolute faith in Fitness First could still lead me to this condition. 

Aside from my obsession with working out, I also had this horrid fear that if I stopped this daily routine all together, I would end up having that unspeakable 38-going-to-39 waistline I had eight years ago when I was unconsciously channeling Jabba The Hutt.  

Then somebody told me the very --- well, not really sad --- irrefutable fact.  It has everything to do with age.

You can only have the physique of Enchong Dee, Gerald Anderson and Paolo Avelino only up to a certain age.  That means their age. But anyone hitting the mid to late 50s must accept the lurid fact that your core muscles are going to give in ... and that belly will stick out like that of an overgrown tadpole.

You can do as many abdominal crunches until your spine splits into three... or refrain from eating anything except tuna, sweet potatoes and steamed fish and still ... You will never obtain the six pack that you yearn to flaunt on the white sands of Boracay during the Easter break.  There is an age limit to that as well.

There are certain physical types that exist among homo sapiens and if you were not pre-destined to the string bean long and lean type, then accept the fact that you will eventually look like a water balloon even if you occupied an entire gym with the rest of your disillusioned ilk.

So what is the learning here?  

Does it mean I stop working out and start devouring any meal that came from oinks until I start resembling Porky himself?  Of course not.  

There are those who take care of their bodies because of vanity.

There are those who take care of their bodies because they have to take care of their bodies.  

Working out and having a healthy lifestyle are not meant to merely preserve or achieve certain a maximum waistline.

It has everything to do with making sure that regardless of your age, you are going to be strong and healthy.

And whether you like it or not --- whether your waistline is a svelte 28" or a noticeable 36", you cannot help but be beautiful if you are healthy.

Now that I gallivant in my 34" human existence, bloated from all the Christmas parties and goodies, I am still going to the gym, still determined to diet because of the excess layer of fat that just popped out of my middle --- but also surrendered to the fact that I can never have the body of Zanjoe or Piolo or even Vice Ganda.

But that's all right.  Everyone grows old and that is something that people either accept or completely shove outside their consciousness.  

This leads me to my second learning.

2. The world is obsessed with youth.  There is a certain cut-off age when it comes to social marketability.  And it has got everything to do with your tenure in earth years.

You are taken aback the first time somebody talks to you in the vernacular ... and they add po.

You realize that they start calling you Kuya or Ate.

Then you become Sir or M'am.

You are not quite sure how you will react when they start calling you Tatay or Nanay although you do not remember any point in your life when you pro-created biologically.

And you completely freak out when somebody calls you Tito or Tita ... or worse, Lolo or Lola ... and you are still wearing skinny jeans --- in your favorite shade of Marlboro Red.

Oh, come on: let's face it.  The world is obsessed with youth.  In this internet-connected-media-savvy world of social media, smart phones and reality shows, you are over-the-hill by the time you hit 30. There is no need to argue about that: Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner ... and for crying out loud, read my lips: all those hydrogen peroxide K-Pop boy and girl bands, One Direction and ... Justin Bieber with his on-and-off accessory called Selena Gomez. It is all about youth ... or being young or clinging onto the privileges that accompany the early decades of human existence.

But this preoccupation for youth has gone overboard.  Yes, considering the size of the below 30 years of age market on this planet, it is understandable why media bombards us with all this useless info about why it is an imperative to be young, stay young, act young ... or die young.

What is so easily forgotten or simply glossed over is the sadder fact that youth passes too quickly.

Kids nowadays are in such a frantic hurry to be old that they never fully enjoy what it is to have benefits of youth.  And what is worse is that the young feel that the old should just go away or drop dead because they are mere consumers of oxygen from the atmosphere.  And that is really, really sad.

You get to feel that when you get to be my age.  

Well, I still wear red straight cut or slim cut jeans but that doesn't mean that adds to whatever social marketability I want to advertise or even imagine.  I have learned to take the stinging slap of reality: when you hit a certain age, you are definitely out of the social market --- not unless you own a building at the Fort, a Lear Jet and approximately thirty per cent of the island of Boracay.  If you have those under your name, then you can be 120 years old and people will still think you are a threat to Derek Ramsay.

But then there is that level of acceptance.  And in the year 2013 I have learned to embrace the fact that there are people who are meant to be single.  I heard something very interesting from my cousin during our New Year's Day reunion: she does not call herself single or childless. She prefers to be considered as involvement-free and child-free.

I was thinking about the implications of such labels --- and I admit that --- well, I like it. For this does not suggest that being in such a status suggests something lacking ... because, more often than not, people like me are alone not out of circumstance ... but out of choice.

This leads to another point.  Each time the year starts I keep saying this to myself over and over again:

3. The best way to stay in the fight longer is to choose your battles.

There are problems that are there but have got nothing to do with you ... individually, circumstantially, personally.

There are problems that are there because they were bound to happen and there was nothing you could possibly do to stop it. (Or maybe even if you could, you wouldn't or didn't or ...whatever.)

There are problems that happen because you chose not to see it as a problem until it became a problem.

And there are problems too large for you to get really pissed about and to think that you could actually solve alone (not unless you have delusions that you are actually Dr. Bruce Banner).

No, this is not a call to inaction or useless passivity. Not even peaceful revolution.  It is a plea for discernment.

I have stopped making mountains out of molehills because I choose to enjoy.

I have stopped thinking of myself as an epic hero who shall eventually achieve immortality in the tradition of Achilles or even Jack Sparrow.

I have opted to focus on what I can do ... more so, what I really want to do. 

Does that sound friggin' selfish?  Perhaps. But then let that be so. I have earned my brownie points to afford to be blatant selfish as long as I know I am not stepping on someone's face to feed my egocentricity. It is all a matter of being real --- that is, to do things because you want to do so and not because you want to impress a percentage of the population into thinking how great you are. Or why you should be named as one of the People of the Year. 


And finally. And most important.

4. You are the company that you should choose to keep.

Life is not measured by the number of thousands of Friends attached to your profile in Friendster or how many followers you have in Twitter.

Life is not guaranteed by the people who surround you today because you may just want to ask yourself --- how many of these people are still going to stick around tomorrow if you have ceased to be what they think you are in the here and now?  Tough cookie, right?

Just the other night, I decided to make a headcount.  Through the years I have lived through in life, I decided to list down how many friends I can call real and how many people I know are just ... well, people that I know.  I was somewhat shocked/saddened/contemplative with the fact that the list did not even reach ten. 

Does that mean --- that I only have ten people who I can call as my real friends considering just how many specimens of humanity I bump into day in and day out in every day of my life?

And that was when I realized that even if I did not have ten names on my list, I was still very, very lucky.  Why is that? Because even having one name jotted down in that roster is more than enough blessing.  Just one name. And my list came close to ten.

So living this relationship-free, child-free life isn't so bad after all.

When I see the postings of my old high school and college chums, I realize that I have reached that age when my peers are grandparents.  I see how they have all changed ... with families, responsibilities --- and, yes, children to earmark the passage of time and the adventure in the years. 

I did not have any of that. I did not raise any kid who fitted so well in my arms, then grew into a youngster then a young adult until he became a father on his own who would hand me my grandchild.  I had none of that. I couldn't mark my years that way --- which is probably why I still know the lyrics of the refrain of Katy Perry's Teenage Dream and I still wear slim cut red jeans.

But that does not mean that I am not happy.  That does not mean that I cannot be happier.

That does not mean that I can only define my happiness in the ways that others tend to find equations for their fulfillment and joy.

I have decided to do that. To choose happiness in my own terms at with no extra cost. That is why I am certain that after a most interesting and challenging years that has come to pass, this new one ..will be life-affirming ... and definitely beautiful.

2013 cannot help but be beautiful.I can bet on that.