Wednesday, June 15, 2022

HIATUS: AFTER 9 YEARS, THE BANGTAN BOYS TAKE A BREAK ---- AND THE ARMY IS HEARTBROKEN

 HIATUS.

At the end of the much anticipated 2022 Festa, that annual dinner when the boys of BTS sit around and share food and drinks with their fandom named ARMY --- the word HIATUS came as both a shock --- and yet not so much of a surprise.

The Easter eggs were all over the garden.  

Suga collaborated with PSY for an instant hit. Even before that Jin and Jimin were already hitting the charts with solo endeavors singing OST materials for various KDramas. Even before the boys met up with the POTUS at the Oval Office, Jungkook went ahead of his squad to meet up with Charlie Puth in New York City for a collaboration.  Then there was the news that JHope was performing as a solo artist in this year's Lollapalooza.  And V was doing a version of In the Soup with his Wooga Squad.  

These were not a mere series of coincidences.  They were all pointing to something.

But last 10 June 2022 when BTS made this year's comeback with their much anticipated triple CD album entitled Proof, the next series of events became clearer.

The album was an anthology of all the past hits of the band from the time of their launch until they achieved this unprecedented pinnacle of success --- to the point of being compared to the Beatles.  The anniversary album was like a summary of all the years that have gone by, a blueprint of their music mapping the maturity and evolution of the band and their creations.

The moment the carrier single Yet to Come was launched --- the speculations became clearer if not more defining for me.  Even the other two songs (Run BTS and For Youth) were not random materials set in to complete the new music in the compilation.  The lyrics of all three songs reverberated the same messages: memories, gratitude, anticipation, moving forward and goodbye.

That was why four nights later when the pre-recorded dinner was aired (apparently taped even before the boys left for the U.S. to fulfill their White House appointment), the announcement was not exactly meant to blindside the fandom.  They were pointing to this through their activities --- and the word hiatus transcribed in the subtitle from Suga's statement triggered the ARMY into an emotional meltdown.

It was made very clear that they were not disbanding.  They  chose to take a vacation from one another --- and, as Jimin stated, they needed to find themselves.

Well, true: remember that they have been together for nine years. 

Until recently they have been living in the same quarters --- from the cramped dormitory with double decker beds eating nothing but chicken breasts while they were trainees --- to the beautiful living quarters provided for them by HYBE, the management company that by their sheer marketability  turned into a multi-million dollar behemorth.  But they graduated from all that as well: each one of the boys acquired his own luxury residence --- in the most expensive and fashionable districts of Seoul, driving fancy cars, captured in YouTube videos with their lifestyle and fashion --- and, yes, endorsing LV apparels and becoming fashion plates emulating a life beyond aspiration. They became larger than life.

That, I believe, was and will always be the magic of BTS.  

Their narrative embodied all the tropes of a Cinderella story --- and we, the ARMY, applaud them not only for their music but everything that they had come to represent especially in the past two years and a half of the pandemic.  Not only with their songs but with their very being there  that they became a symbol of hope and positivity, a representation of what good was left in the world. At a time of confusion and destruction, they embodied affirmation and resolution.

These boys were not merely lucky.  They worked hard --- very hard --- for whatever it is that they have ... or how high the mountain top they climbed to break glass ceilings and achieve unimaginable success.  

The fandom thrived with the sheer power of their success because they represented hope in goodness, in humility --- and in talent. We saw what we wanted to see and defended the boys against those who did not perceive what we embraced.

But what Jimin said in that emotionally-driven dinner was also true: we do not know everything about them as they cannot share everything with us.  We do not know the demons they wrestle with --- and we can never understand the price they had to pay because they achieved this level of success. The pressure they live with day by day was also as unimaginable as the extent of their achievements. 

It is hard to get to the top --- but, boy, it is a hundred times harder to stay up there knowing that this is not going to last forever.

They needed space to reassess who they are at this point in time.  That much they deserve.

I somehow understood what Namjoon said when he talked about the confusion he felt about who he is ... and what kind of band BTS has become because of the music that they have been releasing lately.  Yes, from the time of Dynamite all the way to Butter and then Permission to Dance, their music has do drastically changed.  When you look back even to the impact of songs like On or Idol or Mic Drop or even Boy With Love, you realize that the boys have been driven to path of commercial success which could be overwhelming ... yet undefining.

Inasmuch as they want to go on, what was next for them?  What awaited for them as BTS ... at the expense as who they are as individual artists?

These are not your run-of-the-mill prefabricated boy bands who jump through hoops at the crack of a whip --- or whose artistry was measured by precision choreography. No: they are producers, composers, lyricists, painters, athletes ... artists.  From the very start of their career, they redefined themselves to be a notch above the rest ... and when you reach the top of the game, the real dangers arise in how long you can stay up there with what you have to give up to remain as successful if not more.

The ARMY is heartbroken because we will not see them perform as a group as much we want  because they will focus on their individual pursuits.

If this is their management's way of cushioning the blow of their impending 22-month military service obligations, then it is a great (yet painful) move.  As each pursue individual endeavors, a new test arises: can they survive as individual performers? Who among them will retain a level of success close to that when still worked together as the Magic Seven?

The ARMY will be there to support them --- and await how each and everyone of the Bangtan boys will unravel a new dimension of their particular talents.  JHope will release his album (not mixed tape) next month ... and as they all confessed last night, they have all been working on their individual projects for quite some time now. Let us look at it this way. The ARMY will be gifted not just with one but with seven separate reasons to celebrate as each of the boys rediscover themselves ... as much as we rediscover them.

When Namjoon cried last night, the ARMY wept with him. But such is life: nothing is permanent and change is good.  And tears are sometimes necessary.

As the ARMY celebrates the ninth year of BTS,  consider the hiatus not as a source of gloom or fear ... but an opportunity for wonderment.  After all, the ARMY's love for the boys is not just about the here and now --- but what they have come to represent to all of us at a time when we badly needed real life heroes to give us strength to carry on.

Borahae. Life goes on. And the boys will go on as well.




Tuesday, April 12, 2022

THE MOST PAINFUL GOODBYE

 I remember this kind of pain. 

It has been quite some time since I felt this ... pain.  It is different.  It is like a corkscrew has been aimed at your heart and bit by bit the instrument is twisted shattering pieces of the very core that is you.  You break down into sporadic tears, unconcerned that you are giving the world your ugly cry.  

But that is the only way you can relieve yourself.

You hope that will be the final cry --- the last attack of tears that distorts your face and sends a river down your nose.  Yet it is not. You do not know how long the pain will last ... or when, how or why it will diminish. It will eventually happen but you do not know at what point the heart finally gives in and says, "OK, time to move on."

This is the pain of losing someone you never realized how much you valued --- how much you loved.

There is this thing about the people who form your household.

There are the yayas who take care of your clothes, your food, insuring that your house is neat and would water the plants, take out the garbage at exactly the same time every day --- and would spend the rest of their free time glued on the tv set watching Koreanovelas. 

Then there is the driver who is literally with you the whole day.

The driver knows exactly where you go, who you are with, where you spend the most time, where you shop, what you eat and the conversations you have over the phone as you are going from Points A to B. 

It is the driver who knows where you bank, what medicines you buy, the condition of your car --- and even your state of mind.

I do not drive so my driver is my appendage.  He is literally my right hand because, after a while, there are no more instructions needed.  Everything is done on autopilot. It comes to a point when I ask, "What is good to eat tonight?" and he would suggest, "Sir, matagal ka nang hindi bumibili sa Rubs sa Roces" or "Sir, malapit tayo sa Campfire Burgers sa Limbaga."  Things like that.  

If you are lucky, you can be gifted by the heavens with a driver who is not only a driver but a caregiver.  He earns your trust to the extent that you send him to Mercury Drug with your prescription and Senior card to collect your monthly supply of maintenance meds. He reaches that point when you can send him to the bank to encash checks, withdraw petty cash without any doubt that he will do anything that will diminish the strength of the bond between you.

He more or less knows your secrets because he knows who you are seeing --- when "entanglements" begin and when they unravel themselves from such complicated relationship knots.  Drivers become personal assistants --- and even more than that.  They end up knowing more about you than your closest of confidants.

If you are lucky, then you will meet not only a good and efficient driver --- but someone who you know you can really trust and eventually become part of you and your family, your inner circle and even your work.

I was lucky to have been given Arnold de la Cruz twelve years ago.

When Arnold first came to me, he was a company driver.  He had a whole set of polo barongs which he would wear when we would go out. In the world I live in, drivers who look like members of the Presidential Security Guards are looked at with either surprise of awe.  Arnold was tall and lean and a health buff. I looked like I had a bodyguard with me with the two-way radio hidden on the back pocket of his trousers.  Eventually I told Arnold that this was not the best dress code to wear when I am in shootings, tapings and the likes.  He eventually got the drift: he also inherited all my clothes that did not end up in boxes for Caritas.  Pretty soon, my Arnold had become a t-shirt and jeans guy.

What made Arnold exceptional was his inability to stay still: he would always find ways and means of keeping himself busy even when I do not have appointments and decide to stay home.  Arnold brought his own welding equipment and built multi-level iron planters for my garden when I entered my manic plantito phase.  Arnold used to work for a landscaping company so there are mornings when I wake up and find him in the garden rearranging the potted plants or proposing projects to enhance the flora in my residence.

He was such a health buff that he built his own gym in our backyard.  I gave him my dumbells and other exercise machines and he would spend at least an hour each day pumping iron. Or he would go jogging around the village.  Arnold would always take pride in keeping himself healthy and strong, telling me that I should really cut down on red meat and choose and veggies instead.  When the pandemic stretched and I bought a spinning bike and an elliptic machine, Arnold would suggest what exercises I can do to further enhance my strength and muscles.

He is the only driver I know who is ecstatic each time there was a Big Bad Wolf booksale and I would dump exercise  and health books on his lap for his further reference.

Arnold also built his own gym as a business in Cavite. He was telling me of unfinished house and lots he purchased on amortization for his family, especially his children.  He took great pride in the fact that he owned his own  house and business. Whenever he took time off, he would go back to Cavite to make improvements to his properties while engaging in other forms of money making ventures like selling sacks of rice to our neighbors and acquiring assets for his kids.

Arnold's greatest pride is that his eldest daughter will graduate from college this June.  His other daughter is about to enter college while his two sons are in junior and senior high. Arnold always told me that everything he did was for kids --- and for his future.  He did not only live up to responsibilities. He embraced them with commitment.

It is this commitment that he manifests especially when we are in lock-in shootings out of town. When my trusted utility head who I fondly call Yaya Mila retired because of the pandemic, Arnold took the cudgels and made sure that all my needs are addressed.  He would be ahead to get my food, make sure that I have water on the set --- and on the final day of our shooting, barely an hour before the tragedy, he was holding an umbrella over me because of the scorching heat of the sun as we worked on the seashore of Dipoculao.

Arnold did more than that. He took care of everybody.  He spoke to everybody. He had a smile for everybody.

During our shoot last week, he made sure that my anaks on the set had their food, had their water and needs.  He did not only take care of me: he looked over my nephew Getty who was with me on the set, he was already friends with my assistant director Franz --- and my students and now co-workers, Gab and Arrenze.  He was buddies with my staff like BingBong or Abe and especially my most trusted people like Edwin, Gat and Charyl. He was friends with everybody but anybody because that smile on Arnold's face was never erased. He always had something good to say to everybody and about everything.

That was why I felt so lucky to have him with me for twelve years.  Just recently we were talking about how long we were together --- about his first experience on my movie set, about how he would stash away my shooting needs (my folding chairs and table, my utensils, my coffee mugs, my brown rice, my coffee grains, my extension cord, my hot pot) and they would always be there when I needed them.  We were talking about how excited he was because his eldest child will be graduating from college this coming June in Pampanga.

Arnold's plans were always for his sons and daughters.

Each night before I have my dinner, I would step outside my house --- just to get out of the confines of the work room --- and savor the air.  Arnold would be in the garage talking to someone all the time or watching YouTube videos on his phone. Arnold would always approach me and we had our ten minute chit-chat about anything and everything.  Did the van need new tires for the long trip to Aurora? Did we need to change oil? Is it time to sell the SUV because it is already six years old?  Arnold would advise me about all this.

Then I would go back to the house and have dinner.  Arnold would stay there in the garage for a while and continue whatever it is that he is doing.

Last Sunday, when we finished the final sequence of the movie we were shooting, I announced, "It's a wrap!"

This set frenzy to the entire staff and crew.  It is more of the same: selfies, picture taking with the actors, insanity on the set as we prepared for a wrap party later in the evening.  

The waves were crazy brought about by the fact that Dipaculao is known for these giant waves from the Pacific and there was a low pressure area (soon to be a typhoon) in the southern islands.  Even during our first day of shooting, there was a company call where we announced that no one is allowed to swim in the beach because of the dangerous undertow brought by the frenzied currents. Everyone was warned: NO SWIMMING IN THE DURATION OF THE SHOOT.

But after the wrap, people decided to test the waters by the shore. Nobody was allowed to venture any farther than the shoreline. Let the waves hit you there. When you go on waist level, you are in danger. When you go chest-deep, you are in real trouble.

I went back to my room to change and joined the others on the shoreline. I could not even go shin deep because the waves were so strong.

That was when I found that there was an undertow and it pulled four people into the farther from the shore even if they were not even in waist deep water. 

The more expert swimmers grabbed the shorter and less experienced staffer and pulled him to safety.  Arnold took pride in being a strong swimmer as he always told everyone that he was born and grew up in Guimaras, so he knew how to maneuver the waters. He was there with the others who were sucked into the chest deep part of the waters.

When we were doing a head count, we panicked.  Where was Arnold? 

Three people said they saw him emerge from the sea looking pale and exhausted.  I asked where did they see him since the three were right beside me but I was facing the other way. They ascertained that he was out of the water because they saw him. Yes, he was emerging from the water. He looked pale and tired, they said.

We rushed to the resort. I was calling his name hoping he would come out of one of the rooms to jolt me out of the panic that I was feeling at the moment. Nobody could find him.  Then someone said that all his belongings were still on the plastic chair on the beach where most of the staffers left their belongings before rushing to the sea.

I realized that Arnold was still out there in the sea. I stood and watched those angry waves bashing the shores.  By the time darkness settled in and the shoreline was full of emergency teams looking for my assistant, I did not know what to feel. Or what was running in my mind.

I stood there looking at the angry waves knowing that they have taken our Arnold from us.

                                                     * * * * * * * * * *

You will never know the value, the importance of any individual in your life --- until they are gone. That is when it hits you.  Anyone can be family not out of blood ties alone but by the bonds created through time. Greatness in a man need not be measured by sparkling accomplishments that require thunderous applause and recognition.

It is the little acts of humanity and kindness that are better remembered than calibrated and celebrated accomplishments.

Arnold de la Cruz was a simple man who always had a smile on his face, wanted to be of service to people and knew how to talk to anyone and everyone. He had big dreams not for himself but for his children: he wanted a life far better for his kids as he prepared for what he deemed as old age.  Those long conversations in my van when we travel were such precious sharing not of a boss and an employee but of two people learning from each other about the journey called life.

I am still trying to process and understand why in a matter of a few minutes, the waters ended the life of a good man. I am still trying to comprehend what lesson is being taught here ... and I am beginning to realize that what Arnold accomplished in his seemingly simple and unpublicized life was far greater than what others claim as theirs.  Everyone but anyone who he met, who he touched are now weeping with pain asserting the fact that he was a kind, gentle and good soul who cared and loved people.  How many humans can actually have that for their bragging rights in this day and age?

They finally retrieved the body of Arnold early this morning.  I was further devastated. I still wanted that crazy miracle to happen --- that Arnold sprouts out of nowhere and says it was all a misunderstanding and that he was alive and well.  The discovery of his body eight kilometers from where he drowned, six hundred meters from the shoreline attested that for two nights he was drifting with the insane current underneath those waters.  I cannot imagine that without crying.  This is not the way a good man should end his short life.

But who am I to question what fate has designed for him ... and for all of us?

What is important now is to ask why he was brought into our lives ... and what his days set as an example to the years that lie ahead. Indeed, maybe the heavens above take the good first ... because they need to be spared of more earthly confusion, temptation and suffering.  Maybe the fact that we are all devastated by a driver's death is the fulfillment of a mission which was the very reason why he was sent on earth. His job was done ... and how Arnold is driving back home to the Father.

Life will go on as it must. But there are certain losses that are irreplaceable. That is Arnold. I can only be thankful that I had him for twelve years --- and that all the people who I love have also been given a part of that grace that he unselfishly shared with everyone.

Goodbye, Nold.  Ingat ka. Mahal na mahal ka ni Sir Direk.












  







Saturday, February 19, 2022

WEST SIDE STORY: REIMAGINED

 This afternoon I finally had the guts --- no, the  need --- to go out and watch a movie on the big screen.

Although I had sat as a juror of a festival and had seen eight movies inside a small cinema, the audience was controlled as I remained quite assured that it was safe.  

Cinemas are confined places with recirculated air --- and somehow, the paranoia in me says that no amount of assurance of disinfection, proper ventilation and all other protocols and precautions can completely assure fully-vaccinated me that it is already safe to spend more than two hours in a room full of strangers.

There are some movies you can watch with relative contentment on your tv screens or even your computer monitor. But heavens, I will never ever watch a film on my IPhone or IPad.  If I am still the sort who goes to Fully Booked to buy a traditional tome with my favorite bookmarkers, then the very idea of watching a movie on a portable miniscule screen is nothing short of sacrilege for me. This is not to mention by unforgiving astigmatism to deprive me of such options.

So I finally decided that it was time to watch Steven Spielberg's reimagining of the 1961 classic West Side Story at the nearest theater in a mall nearby.

On a Saturday afternoon, I entered the movie house and I was exhilarated --- as I was depressed.

I was ecstatic because for the price of four hundred pesos (mahal na talaga ang manood ng sine) I had the entire movie house all to myself.  Literally.

This was like I purchased an entire block screening for a moderate sized cinema --- and I was literally all alone enjoying the screening.  I was somewhat afraid  that the management would cancel the showing because I was apparently the only one to purchase a ticket for that time slot on a Saturday afternoon.

As much as I was ecstatic because I was assured that there was no threat of any human specimen introducing Omicron to my temporary sanctuary,  I was also painfully saddened. 

I was saddened by the fact that it has come to this: the New Normal was not at all normal because nobody was returning to cinemas --- for reasons that I understood because I felt the same way just hours before. 

Fact: because of the forbidding price of cinema tickets and the lingering threat of the pandemic, people are still shying away from theaters.  It will take a lot of convincing for people to go back to how and what it was before.  And, uh, there is Netflix, Viu, Vivamax, WeTV, Upstream, HBOGo, Disney+, IWant, etc. etc.

What even saddened me more was that Steven Spielberg's reimagining of West Side Story was  nothing short of a master wielding his wand to a classic and redefining it as his own.  It pained me to think that something this good was not winning the audience it deserved because rarely do they make films like this anymore.  

Even in the U.S., West Side Story yielded an extremely disappointing box office response for reasons that ranged from the audience disinterest in musicals as a genre or the presumption that this specific musical was already dated and irrelevant to the audience of 2022. The millennials and the Gen Z's have never heard of the 1961 classic --- so the Boomers and perhaps some token Gen X'ers who would really be interested in seeing what Spielberg had done.

But I dare so much to disagree: In the Heights gathered a decent receipt --- and Spielberg's reinterpretation of the original material with the script by Tony Kushner tied up so many of the loose plot points of the 1961 original.  And somehow, although it is close to impossible not to compare the original movie directed by Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins, this version gave greater clarity to the narrative.  2022 gave a back story to Tony --- and a character to Bernardo as a boxer rather than just being a bored Puerto Rican with an ax to grind against Gringos.

The Kushner script made us understand the battle for territoriality between the fighting gangs --- the Sharks and the Jets.  

We are brought to a social issue which is as important today as it was in the half a century ago --- of  poor people being displaced in the gentrification of certain areas of the cities or the undercurrent of racial discrimination against immigrants by the threatened white supermacists.   The battle being fought for by the characters in the film are still here today especially with the recent developments in the United States where racial equality has become more of a campaign tag line (diminished to lip service) rather than it is part of a celebrated ideology.

And maybe that is what is so painful to see in this musical: it is almost an impossible feat to recreate and reinterpret so many classic songs and iconic production numbers. Yet Spielberg succeeds ...and exceeds.

Yes, Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the star crossed lovers of the 1961 production can never be erased nor removed from the collective memory of popular culture --- but Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort  (not dubbed but singing with their own voices) gave a totally different embodiment of Romeo and Juliet in the slimy sidestreets and tenement housing of New York City at that time.  Yes, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris will forever be the Anita and Bernardo of this musical --- but when Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez update these characters, a new life is breathed into their personas --- making them more human and making one understand the whys and hows of their passionate relationship.  Then there is Mike Faist as Riff who gave more depth and substance to the leader of the Jets than the original film, making us understand better the depth of friendship he shared with Tony --- and why a man desperately trying to change his ways will kill for a fallen friend.

OK, enough. I felt bad that I was all alone in a movie house watching this film.

I was all alone literally crying --- despite the fact that I have seen the 1961 original about ten times or more as viewing it on DVD has become a guilty pleasure.

I felt bad that it is not getting the audience it deserves --- as I hope every student and lover of cinema can find the time (and courage) to watch it on the big screen because Spielberg just gave us another master class in quality commercial filmmaking.  If only for the camerawork of Janusz Kaminski, the choreography of Justin Peck and the vision of the filmmaker in reinterpreting a classic --- then grab your face masks and go to the cinema to watch this celebration of film art.

When Rita Moreno, the original Anita returns to the musical as a new character Valentina, sings the signature song of the musical Somewhere --- live and not pre-recorder, my heart broke into a million pieces.

This is why I love movies. This is why I want to make movies. Even if I cried all alone in the movie house.






'


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

HELLO, 2022: SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW TO THE HEALTH PROTOCOL VIOLATORS?

 It is an understatement to say that 2022 did not exactly start on the right foot.

Even 2021 bid us bye-bye, we were brought back to Alarm Level 3 --- which bluntly meant that the spread of the virus was starting again.

Four days into the new year, the news was anything but encouraging.

More and more people were getting sick --- not only with the annual season of influenza but most likely the dreaded variant called Omicron.  

Four days into the new year, there was a new panic.  

Drugstores have ran out of paracetamol as a wild rush has taken place, grabbing every tablet and capsule of Bioflu, Decolgen, Biogesic and what have you to remedy if not protect the body from the assault of the flu and a shield to the virus.

Face-to-face classes have been suspended until the 15th of the month and as per rule, the number of people allowed inside restaurants, barber shops, parlors, cinemas and other enclosed service and recreational areas have been reduced to 30%. That also meant the shrinking of the economic recovery.

Four days into the new year, the Yuletide crowd that filled up the malls and groceries (which adequately provided opportunities for the quicker widespread of the new variant) was suddenly gone. 

Because we thought things were going back to normal, we were too excited --- or too tired of being constricted and kept away from each other that we all made a mad rush to the nearest commercial mammon to tell ourselves that happy days are here again.

Well, they are not ... maybe not in the near or immediate future. We're just entering a new cycle.

On the fourth day of 2022, hospitals were again pressing the alarm bells because of the excessive number of patients rushing into the ER, all revealing symptoms of COVID.  

Warning shots had been fired compelling those who  refused vaccination to stay home, stay put, don't move --- as they would not be allowed to go out in public, enter malls or even interact outside their bubble because they were most vulnerable to any if not all the variants.

While there was still uproar about our Poblacion Girl, more information was revealed that went over and beyond her misbehavior.

Again, it would be grossly unfair to pinpoint our partying balikbayan as to sole reason for this surge. 

If she faked the quarantine protocol through some arrangement with some shady characters in a certified hotel, then it could be done by anyone as well ... as long as you either had the connections or whatever it took to get you off the hook ... or both. A little influence would always bring you a long way.

What was more alarming was how many people have done it, how many people are doing it ... how many get away with it. And how others just looked away and pretended that it was not happening.  Not until our poster girl for the virus decided to party.

Apparently this was not a new modus operandi because snippets of stories are being heard of others pretending to be quarantined in a specific venue but are either at home or moving in and out of their appointed confinement with least resistance or even encouragement. There were even angered accounts of returning airline passengers going straight to their private cars at the arrival gate to take them home ... and not picked up by vans to be brought to quarantine establishments. Talaga lang, ha?

Realistically speaking, Poblacion Girl could not have done it without her enablers, right? Others are doing it because it has become an option and apparently an open secret that it could be done.

If there was anyone who should receive the greatest blow from the government, then it should be these people --- these enablers who make money out of jeopardizing not only the health of their fellow countrymen but also facilitating the maiming of the economy.  

Oh, yes, there will always be entitled, for-all-I-care sort of the moneyed who could not give a f--k about the rest of world outside their air-conditioned universe.  But there are those who feast on the thoughtlessness and maybe arrogance of the privileged: these are the leeches, the parasites who make a living at whatever cost even if they have to fester on the inhumanity of others in order to take home their loot.

It is also the system that needs to be re-evaluated to make sure that these malpractices are not in place or perpetuated --- because there is a higher authority safeguarding the proper and rigid execution of the protocols.  Since there is absentee quarantine means that ... uhm, somebody is not watching over these venues more closely and with greater consistency, more rigid scrutiny. Hmmmm.

Press releases have been brought out that those violating health protocols will have to deal with the iron hand of the law.

Investigations are being made.  Apologies are being sent out --- but these do not change anything.  

The surge is here --- and five thousand new cases have been reported today by the DOH --- and a study estimates that by the of January, we can hit forty thousand new cases per day. Diyos ko, huwag po! Huwag po!

There are those who think nothing will come out of all these pronouncements and investigations --- except press releases. Just a lot of drums being banged.

Why?  Because people have been numbed by the past where other bigwigs violated the strict protocol requirements  and got away with it as if they can just tiptoe away from the scene of the crime and hope that the public will soon forget about their misdeeds. 

People have become so blase into thinking that all these creatures caught redhanded with CTV cameras will soon fade into oblivion because the public may not necessarily forgive them but will most certainly forget how their entitlement has cost us risks to our very lives. 

People would gloss over the fact that there are  very strong connections who did not only allow these loopholes to happen but actually punctured the system to make money out of what they they thought was being maabilidad, mautak, wa-es.

Bluntly put, unless there is closure to these events --- unless there is corresponding punishment to those who deserve the  consequences, then this will yet be another exercise in futility.  

It shall yet be another manifestation of Malakas and Nagmamaganda overruling Katuwiran and Katarungan.

This is a litmus test of credibility, authority and effectivity for those given the responsibility and matching power.

We hear the barks, so can we please see you guys bite?

In the meantime, we are all holding our breaths (literally) and praying that we can get over this
new surge.

It is like we are living through the myth of Sisyphus.  We struggle to get that rock up the hill and flatten the curve ... only to have someone push the boulder right on our faces so we go back to Square One all over again.

To quote a friend in Facebook, "Nakakapagod na itong pagiging resilient, ha?"

Welcome 2022.





Friday, December 31, 2021

DEAR POBLACION GIRL: AN OPEN LETTER

 01 January 2022

Dear Poblacion Girl:

We would have wanted a happier new year but hours before 2021 ended, the government announced that we are back to Level 3 alert because of the dangerous spike of the number of COVID19 cases in the country in a single day.

It is apparent now. The Omicron variant has come to town like a going-away present of the passing year.  Just when we thought that we were slowly (and hopefully surely) easing back to a kind of comfortable normal, here comes another possible surge.  And it is not going to be just another surge, Girl ... this is the most volatile and dangerous because the variant now plaguing the world boasts of the greatest transmissibility.

You know what? I feel bad for you.  Really.  Why? Because you have become the face of Omicron.  What was merely an imaginary micro ball of protein spikes has found a face, a name.  And it is all because you wanted to party and skip your quarantine. Because you had connections.

I feel bad because you are being blamed for the resurgence of cases --- as well as being branded as the Mothership of Omicron.  You have practically been crowned Miss Omicron Philippines 2021  --- which is funny but unfair.  It is impossible that these massive infections could have come from you and you alone.  I mean, if you can pay off your quaantine requirements because you have connections I can imagine that others are doing it as well.

After gallavanting in the U.S. for a vacation, it would not have really been living hell to be locked up in a comfortable hotel room making sure that you did not bring home the virus together with your other imported goodies, right?  But you know what, Girl? I understand.

If you were right there in the heart of rocking Makati, it must have sheer torture to know that your squad was just a few blocks away gulping down their Jack Daniels and Absoluts singing Jingle Bells. It must have been intolerable to think that they are having fun together while you were confined in so many square meters of industrial carpeted room service operated prison.

If only you realized the possible consequences of your actions and stopped thinking of some temporary pleasure just because you had connections, then maybe all these would not have happened.  According to accounts, you have succeeded in infecting a substantial number of your friends ( you can have a recount after all have recovered to see how many of them would still want having you around) as well as the staff of the bar where you decided to boogie.

You can also start using your College of Business mathematics to estimate the exponential number of infections generated by your simple act of misbehavior.

These friends went to their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family reunions, presumably asymptomatic thereby opening the possibility of infection of all their family members as well as friends.  For about four days these people have gone around not knowing that they may be spreading the virus --- endangering those with co-morbidities or senior members. And, yes, Girl ... even the children because Omicron is vicious with unvaccinated kids.

I am trying to understand what you did because you thought it was just another kakiyan to party with your friends. I am trying to find any validation of the sheer irresponsibility of your act, its somewhat vulgar implications because you told your peers that you got out of quarantine because you had connections. Proud ka pa, Girl?

Now look at what you are being blamed for --- even though it is unfair to point the finger only at you. Marami kayong ganyan pero ikaw ang umangkin ng korona at sash to represent that entire barangay of people who can get away with what they want including the violation of very important protocols just because you had connections.

In fairness to the Department of Health and the Department of Tourism, great effort has been placed to contain the Omicron from entering our shores.  But it is the connected people like you, Girl ... and these more guilty individuals and institutions who enable people like you who should be answerable to the laws of the land.

Because of the possibility of a surge, everything falls two steps back again.

Plans for hybrid classes may be postponed ... again because of the highest transmissibility of the variant. Restaurants, recreation venues and cinemas are cut back to 30% occupancy and the NCR --- which has already been a safe bubble because of the high degree of vaccination --- has deteriorated into another potential danger zone.

Just when the economy is slowly picking up ... this had to happen all over again.

All because you just had to party that night. Just because you had connections. All because there are others like you who do not take the protocols seriously ... and only think of yourselves and the momentary pleasures that provoke reckless decisions.  All because there are other persons, businesses and institutions that allow such recklessness, corruption and irresponsibility to take place with a corresponding amount of money or delicious favors.

Regardless of how hard the government tries --- or how much work our health workers yield, it is people like you who just ... uh, screw up everything because you don't give a f--k.

I feel bad for you because this stigma will stick to your name for the rest of your life. You will always be the face of a virus.

I feel bad for your parents because they too must carry the burden of being accountable for some decisions you made which they were not aware nor could be held responsible.

I feel bad for your friends (some of who are the children of my students in the University long ago) because they will carry the guilt of exposing their friends and family members to the virus just because they happen to be your friends.

I feel bad because I wish you had ... in your heart of hearts ... embodied the values that the University wanted to impart to all its students and graduates:  the importance of social responsibility and thinking beyond one's impulsive needs to care for the welfare of others.

I feel bad for you, Girl. But you --- together with your enablers --- must face the consequences of the law of this land.

Happy New Year.

JoeyR






THE YEAR THAT CAME TO PASS

 In two hours it will be 2022.

I feel that two years of my life have been stolen.  Two years in various degrees of quarantine and lockdown so much so that it has practically become a way of life.  Humans adapt to circumstances and events, givens and variables --- and before you know, you have changed not only in the way you dress, the way you interact with people but more so the way you think and live your life.

I hoped that 2021 will be better than 2020.  Nope, it was worse.  Just when you thought it was going to get better, you find yourself like a hamster running around in a wheel. Just when your paranoia is slowly diminishing, somebody drops a bomb that makes you feel more afraid than ever. And what is worse is that you are getting used to it.

So what has the two years done to me?  Let me count the ways.  Let me jot down all these ideas and realizations as we bid goodbye to 2021 with hopes that 2022 will be kinder ... and more productive.

(1) I have been in so many zoom meetings that I now think of people as talking heads in boxes.  I have just come to realize that for most of the days, I talk to people while seated behind my computer dressed decently only from waist up. Now you think of human interaction as a gallery view or speaker view and you really miss out sitting around a table with real human beings seated across you.

(2) Online stores have replaced the joys of retail therapy. Nowadays Add to Cart is the new panacea. There were days in the distant Old Normal when you decide to stay home to avoid spending  money on unnecessary goods that you will later regret after unpacking from the shopping bag.  Now even sitting behind a computer is dangerous: I surmise that Lazada, Shoppee, Skein, Zalora and NewChic has claimed a substantial part of my Work From Home earnings.  To think online purchases used to be limited to Amazon.Com buys ... but has now become the way to shop.

(3) Online Banking and GCash have spared me the excuse to go out and get cash. Well, this is both good ... and bad.  Online banking spares you of the traffic, the face mask, the (relic called) face shield and all the other anti-virus armor you carry to conduct the simplest business.  But then access to online banking and GCash can also be an unrelenting part of the temptation to go online shopping and enjoy the hidden treasures of Facebook Market. The fact that you only need a passcode to pay up for things you want to buy makes the temptation to purchase almost addictive.

(4) How could we have lived without Grab, Lala and Mr Speedy? Yes, it is cheaper to spend two hundred pesos than to brave Manila traffic and waste money on gasoline.  I would rather depend on the kindness and efficiency of Kuya Biker to deliver goods from me and to me but then again dealing with these men can be an entire blog all by itself.  Pagpasensiyahan mo na when Kuya calls you up and asks for directions on how to get to your house.  That can be quite a problem when you live in Alabang and Kuya is coming all the way from Santa Maria, Bulacan carrying a pot of hybrid gumamela to satisfy your plantito self which leads me to ...

(5) House arrest can make you discover things about yourself which you never imagined before March 2020.   I remember asking God in January 2020 to give me just one to two weeks of respite --- the kind that will not require you to get out of the house while you thaw from brain freeze and seek the comfortable silence in solitude. God answers prayers indeed but he can go a bit too much.  I asked for fourteen days ... not two years.  And being locked up in my house, I discovered the joys of caladiums, monsteras, mayanas, elephant ears, hibiscus and succulents. I would also spend endless hours taking online short courses in Domestika that involve drawing and design --- which I gave up years ago when I opted to pound keyboards rather than draw with pastels and aquarelles. I mean ... would I have done these if I were still living that frenetic pre-March 2020 life?

(6) I realize that there will be an entire batch of graduating students who I have never seen in person.  Let it be said once and for all that online classes are a bitch. Students take time to get into it --- some downright hate it --- and teachers are not exactly doing cartwheels preparing modules or spending hours talking to a monitor while making sure that the kids have not gone comatose on the other side.  But it is sad, really ... oh, so sad ... because I believe that 40% of the joy of teaching and learning involves the interaction of humans sharing ideas in a common real time experience and not a virtual reality.  And, yes, there is this batch of COMARTS majors who will step into the real world after their virtual graduation ... who I have spent terms teaching and interacting but who have never seen me in the flesh.  That I believe is so sad if not tragic.

(7) You may be locked up at home but you have broadened your world.  One thing that this pandemic brought me is a wider range of vision and perception of human existence.  Damn irony there.  The more you are confined, the more chances you have to savour a much bigger and diverse world.  Yes, I succumbed to the magic of hallyu, suddenly consuming everything Korean and learning to appreciate not only their culture but how they are now conquering the world.  I have started reading fiction from contemporary Asian writers --- mostly Japanese and Korean ---which I would never have devoured with as much gusto before.  And yes all these streaming platforms have literally opened the floodgates for movies and video pieces that would have fallen off my radar if I were too busy.  So you thank Netflix, Viu, HBOMax, AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Gaia, DiscoveryPlus , Upstream, KTX and Vivamax because the menus offered on your table are not enough to consume for a lifetime.

So did I actually lose two years of my life because of the pandemic?  Yes and no.

Yes, I have lost two years of my old life but then no.  No, because by accepting that the Old Normal is no more and that the New Normal is NORMAL I was able to go beyond making do ... and reinventing myself for making the most.

2022 is promising ... or could have been more promising if not for Omicron and Poblacion Girl who represented everything wrong about the people and not the virus.  I had hoped that by the opening of the new year things would have eased out and we could have gone closer to what we knew as life before.  Apparently not.  But whatever.  2021 is done and 2022 will, should and must be better. 

It is all a matter of the way you look at it.

Happy New Year.








Monday, December 27, 2021

MMFF 2021: THREE TO WATCH

 I have seen all the eight entries of this year's MetroManila Filmfest as (again) I sat as one of the jurors together with National Artist Virgilio Almario, editor and post-production head Manet Dayrit, musical director Nonong Buencamino, the iconic Ricky Lee, actress Cherry Pie Picache, Rachel Arenas, MMFF Spokesperson,  Noel Ferrer and Senator Christopher Go (represented by CHED Chairman Popoy De Vera.)

For two Fridays the jurors sat through four films per session.  However I cannot publish this until after the Awards Night on the 27th of December since the group mentioned above has not yet sat around a table to deliberate on the winners.  At this point (as I write this), I am not allowed to discuss whatever choices I have picked but while the films are fresh in my mind, let me jot this down.

There are three must-watch films.  They are not your usual pang-Festival films which mean a lot of kilig-kilig, tawa-tawa and frou-frou. That statement was not meant to be demeaning: admittedly the MMFF is a commercial fiesta --- and the most successful films (box office wise) are not the ones most likely to excite the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino or your favorite mataray film critic armed with a thesaurus.

There are disappointments in the offerings this year --- but then again, a jury of so many people do not and cannot dictate what the people should or would want.  There are films as there are movies --- and they do not cancel each other.  Some people want to be intellectually stimulated while others want pure entertainment.  They both pay for the same price of the movie ticket --- so they both have the same rights to demand what they want from their two hour escape from reality.

What I have to offer is my opinion --- because I feel that these works deserve a much larger audience than what the other more commercial ones can possibly generate. Sayang if these films do not get the affirmation from the Christmas crowd simply because they have chosen to make statements rather than service popular taste.

A Hard Day (directed by Law Fajardo) is a well-crafted film that packs suspense, boasts of excellent cinematography, editing, sound, music and design added to the exceptional performance of its lead actor, Dingdong Dantes.

The movie is tight, the narrative is clear cut and the performances delivered by the supports enhance rather than diminish the quality of the output.  It did not bastardize nor compromise the original 2014 South Korean film that it remade directed by Kim Seong-Hun and starring Lee Sun Gyun.

If there is anything to be held against this movie, then it is its very asset. It is, after all, a remake of another movie --- and just how much of the Filipino version can be attributed as original and not merely templated.  But that sort of argument is moot and academic: it is a remake, right? And this an excellently crafted one that deserves credit.

Kun Maupay It Panahon ( Whether the Weather is Fine, directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad) is a feat of a first feature film by an editor-turned-director.

Warning: this is not your Pamasko movie.  The entire narrative is based on the personal experience of the director when he returned to his hometown in Tacloban right after the devastation brought by the super typhoon Yolanda.

In what looked like a dystopian universe, the Tacloban recreated here is a marvel of design by Whammy Alcazaren brought to even more chilling levels by the camera work of Singaporean cinematographer Teck Siang Lim.  The movie is a painful slow burn, tracing the remnants of the lives of a young man, Miguel (Daniel Padilla) and his mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio) as well as his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol).  

The entire film is in Waray, the language of Tacloban --- and moves to the level of surrealism as the survival instincts of the victims reshape their very nature and humanity.  The ladies in the film deliver heartbreaking performances but it is Daniel Padilla who you wish will be given far better, meatier, challenging and edgy roles that would test his mettle as an actor.  Padilla is so good and could even be better if studios make him graduate from matinee idol to real artist in the challenges they give him in projects.  

The popular audience may not see this as the kind of film they want to experience in the Jingle Bells season but it still demands attention and consideration for its sheer scope, ambition and statement.

Jun Robles Lana has a way of surprising his audiences with his film outputs.

Whereas his campy/dramatic Die Beautiful married both commercial and critical success, his evolution as a filmmaker brought him to Khalel 15 and now one of his best works, Big Night.

Again, this is not your Pamasko movie to go hand in hand with your hamon de bola or even Eddam cheese. What Lana offers is a cinematic picaresque tracing the overnight adventures of a small time beautician named Dharna (with an H) wonderfully --- nay, exceptionally portrayed by Christian Bables.  This movie, despite its seeming simplicity, is loaded with such statements that you end up thinking about the film after the screening and wanting to discuss its aspects with people who have shared your experience.

The journey of Dharna is a glimpse into the microcosm of Philippine society in the here and now, present progressive, woven together by the absurdity of Pinoy politics and governance. What is impressive about Lana's work is that it never went in your face nor made the apparent obvious because the material made you think then reflect on the mess that we live in.

Over and above the excellent cinematography, music, sound and editing, it is the performances of the chorus of a supporting cast that makes this film one of the best of the year.  Eugene Domingo, Janice de Belen, John Arcilla and Nico Antonio bring together a beautiful symphony of naturalistic renditions of their role further emphasizing the social statements given by the film.

So is it worth the risk of going to a cinema to watch a film? 

These are three very good reasons to do so.  If only to affirm the bravery and effort of the filmmakers who put these three films together, then please do so.

Somehow A Hard Day, Kun Maupay and Big Night justify why there are still very valid reasons why the MetroManila Film Festival should keep on going.