Television: Encantadia

"Encantadia"

Eleven years ago, when I was still in college, local network GMA-7 embarked on an ambitious journey to create a fantastical world where magic and monsters exist. And although my initial intention in watching the first episode were less than honorable, I was instantly hooked.

Encantadia was nothing like anything else on television–in the Philippines or abroad. Sure, we had the Lord of the Rings, but that was a cinematic event. On television, Game of Thrones was still six years away, the Shannara Chronicles had ten years more to go. One of the earliest completely fantastical television shows, Legends of the Seeker, began in 2008. And all of those are television programs that aired once a week with a lot of time to prep and produce each episode. Encantadia was a soap opera that aired five days a week.

I’m not saying that to build up an apology for what the program was–mostly, because if you’ve seen the original series, there really isn’t anything to apologize about. Encantadia rolled with the punches and dealt with limitations and restrictions through twists that made the show all the more interesting to watch.

A new generation of viewers were born in the era of Encantadia then. Smart viewers. Viewers who liked to be challenged. Viewers who then dreamed of seeing more programs like Encantadia.

I was one of those viewers. Fast forward to ten years later, and I’m now part of the team that’s shaping the “requel” of the series that got me interested in Philippine television again.

Now, before you ask– “Requel” was a term coined to distance the new Encantadia from the string of remakes being done by the local television networks. From MariMar, to Panday, to Pangako Sa ‘Yo, the series of old soap operas being remade for new viewers was leaving a sour taste in the mouth of their target markets. It’s either the remakes were too similar to the original, or they were too different.

That’s what Encantadia 2016 is striving to avoid.

By re-telling the original story with new twists and new information, new viewers will be able to follow what happened before without boring the viewers who have seen the original run (or has since streamed the original series on iFlix). We’re reshaping the narrative so things that happened originally are told in new and surprising ways. That way, we get to keep the old fans on their toes–while tipping our hat to the fact that they know where things are going.

But all of these retelling serves only one purpose: it’s to get all viewers (old and new) abreast to the ending of the original series. It’s to familiarize everyone again with the characters that were loved before. It’s to set up a new chapter alongside the old ones.

Because a “requel” isn’t just a retelling. It’s a sequel too. And I am telling you: the fan in me? The one that dreamed to write his own fantasy series because of the original Encantadia? He’s very giddy at the plans that are being set up and planted in the first part of Encantadia 2016.

I am promising you: this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Encantadia airs weeknights after 24 Oras, on GMA Network in the Philippines.

Book: Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)

"Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)"

Akala ni Janus, pangkaraniwang laro lang ang TALA Online.

Sunod-sunod ang pagbabago sa buhay niya matapos ang kahindik-hindik na pangyayari sa RPG tournament na sinalihan niya.

Pero nang matuklasan niya ang tunay na kaugnayan ng larong ito sa alamat ng Tiyanak ng Tabon, wala na siyang magawa kundi ipagpatuloy ang paglalaro!

[English Translation: Janus thought TALA Online was just an ordinary game. But after the horrifying events of an RPG tournament he joined, his life was never the same again. Now privy to the truth behind the game and its connection to the Demon Spawn of Tabon, he has no choice but to continue playing!]

That’s not a perfect translation, but neither is Janus Silang’s first foray into the world of comics.

On the plus side, the graphic novel iteration of Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon does cut out a lot of unnecessary exposition, and the really lengthy first act of the novel isn’t dragged out in comics form. On the not so good side? This version also cuts out a lot of the stuff from the source material that I feel were important.

Let’s be clear, I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to produce this comic book. I don’t know what decisions were made, and why they thought it was a good idea to condense a very exposition-heavy book into one very short graphic novel. So I’m judging this based solely on what I have in hand… Which is a really bad interpretation of the first Janus Silang novel.

I mean, just look at the inconsistency of the art. You have the wonderfully detailed world of TALA Online–and then you have the very bland pages of Janus’s life. I get symbolism, I do. But when things in Janus’s life started becoming crazy, shouldn’t that reflect as well on the art?

Never mind the fact that Janus doesn’t look like a teenager. Nor the fact that all the children look the same. (Heck, aside from a select few, almost all the characters look the same as well.) The biggest problem of the book is this:

It’s not friendly to those who are not familiar to the Janus Silang novels. None of the characters feel real. Your main protagonist lost all personality and doesn’t even develop. And the exposition suddenly cuts out and you’re supposed to glean information from art that, let’s be honest, doesn’t really convey its message very well. Had I not read the original material, I would have been lost as to what was happening, who were the good guys, and why the protagonist was so easy to persuade about things.

I feel like Anino Comics and Adarna House dropped the ball on this one. They shouldn’t have hurried this release because the source novel isn’t even old yet. They shouldn’t have limited the entirety of the first novel in just one comic book. And given the chance to reach a new audience with a different medium, they should have adapted the story to fit the new form of the story.

Is it too late to ask Adarna House to take back this graphic novel version and have them redo it? Properly, this time?

Movie: Haunted Mansion

"Haunted Mansion"

Ella is a girl who can see dead people–a fact that does not go unnoticed by the ghosts of a retreat house where Ella and her classmates have to spend a weekend reflecting on their lives. When her schoolmates try to discover if the horror stories about the retreat house are true, they unwittingly awaken an evil being bent on keeping an old family scandal a secret. And it us to Ella to stop the evil from killing her schoolmates one by one.

First, I want to get something straight: I’m a fan of Jun Lana’s independently-produced films. They’re smart, heart-tugging, and inspiring for a storyteller like me. Which brings me to the reason why I need a disclaimer in the first place: I don’t understand how a brilliant mind like Jun Lana (in directing and writing) can produce something like Haunted Mansion.

Of course, I know that this is a Regal film. I know I shouldn’t expect something earth-shattering. But Regal Films is the production outfit that produces the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise! At the very least, they should know how to do horror right. But, alas–

I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s start with the main reason why I don’t think Haunted Mansion is a good horror movie: the story is too complicated. Every single thing has to have an explanation. Why is this ghost doing this? Why is that ghost going there? The flashbacks, the segues, the expositions–instead of feeling like natural progressions for the story, they feel like sandbags that weigh the movie down. And the characters don’t even work for these information–they’re all handed to them by peripheral characters!

And then there’s the disconnect with the main character. Ella is supposed to be the person that the viewers will root for–but her muddled characterization makes it hard to even understand what she wants. She has issues with the way her father died. She can see dead people. She has a crush on a popular guy. Her best friend just told her that he likes her– So many things are happening, and the only important thing here should be her father issues. Which I feel was sidelined by the love triangle that feels forced anyway.

It doesn’t help that Ella’s actress, Janella Salvador, only shines when she’s fighting back against her oppressors. Well, the fighting back scenes and the ones she share with Jerome Ponce. It’s obvious that the actress has a preference as to which love interest she wants to end up with.

Then there’s the casting of Ingrid dela Paz as the rival. I don’t know if this was a given, but they should have picked someone else to play the popular girl who has it in for the underdog. Mostly because Janella is prettier than her and has better fashion sense. Also, she’s nice. Anyone who has gone through high school knows that those three things will instantly make you more popular than the bitch no one wants to cross. They should have gotten someone who was prettier. Or, at the very least, not used the very tired trope of the popular mean girl.

Now, if they were bound by the casting of Ingrid, the film’s wardrobe department should have intervened. What was so difficult about making Janella more dowdy, and putting Ingrid in more fashion-forward clothing? The characters keep saying that Janella’s character is a weirdo no one wants to hang out with, but nothing about her bearing and clothing reflects that.

A horror film works when it is grounded in reality. When it feels like it can actually happen. Seeing as the casting already made the film unrealistic, you would hope that at the very least, the logic behind the haunting would be sound. But, no.

The great evil of the house is supposedly a ghost but they suddenly becomes corporeal. And then, just to add the implausibility of it all, they are revealed to be a practitioner of the dark arts. Nothing leading to that reveal will prepare you for it, and it feels like it was only included to make it logical for said evil to be as powerful as they are.

Oh, and let’s not forget the opening scene that has no connection at all to the rest of the film: a kid and his mother finds themselves stranded by the retreat house, only to be killed by dark forces. And it is never mentioned in the film again!

Don’t even get me started on the out-of-the-blue scare that was supposed to establish Ella’s ability to see dead people. Because it’s such a perfect set-up to actually head into the scares, but is wasted when the movie goes back to setting up the unnecessary love triangle.

Nothing in this movie makes sense.

Haunted Mansion offers nothing more than cheap scares and shock factor. If you’re looking for something with more substance… Look elsewhere.

Movie: Buy Now, Die Later

"Buy Now, Die Later"

BUY NOW, DIE LATER is a compendium of five interconnected stories, each one representing one of the five senses. The stories featuring ODIE, ATO, CHLOE, PIPPA and MAITA will remind us that every bargain comes with a price.

I really wanted to like this film. Especially because out of the three films I’ve seen so far off this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries, this has been the best. But being better than My Bebe Love or Haunted Mansion isn’t really something to be proud of.

Buy Now, Die Later suffers from putting style over substance. The film is, for the most part, beautifully lit and shot. There was obvious thought put into lighting the scenes, in the camera’s movements, and in blocking the scenes. But the same thought wasn’t given into casting two of the main leads, because I completely do not understand why the producers of this film thought Alex Gonzaga and Vhong Navarro were right for the roles they played here.

Let’s start with Vhong. The actor’s swagger did not fit the underdog character he was meant to portray here. Based completely off the events and the dialogue, you’re supposed to feel that the character is meant to be looking to escape the shadow cast by a too famous father. Unfortunately, Vhong’s portrayal only made him out to be a fame-hungry bottom-feeder who wants the easiest way to get into the spotlight. Which would’ve been a fine character on its own, if it weren’t for the fact that this doesn’t fit his character’s actions and dialogue in the second half of the film.

And then there’s Alex. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on her part to emulate the speaking and movement of certain local celebrities, but it was a little too over the top for me. It certainly didn’t help that she would jump from one emotion to the next without any nuance, making her character feel like she’s suffering from a psychological disorder.

Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the cast, Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad most notably. You can see that these two made an effort to make their characters breathe and be real. I actually feel especially sorry for TJ Trinidad because the director or the producer subjected him to wearing an awful mask that was completely unnecessary. It’s like they didn’t trust that he could bring the malevolence needed to make his character work, when his character was actually already scary enough–until the mask appeared and made his character look like a joke.

Story-wise, I must commend the film for trying a different kind of story-telling from what the masses are used to. Especially during the Metro Manila Film Festival season. But I think they bit off more than they can chew with this one. Especially when it comes to logic and continuity. The biggest flaw in the story-telling comes near the end of the story when Lotlot’s character is seduced by the promise of youth–during the time when she’s worried about her daughter’s safety. It should make sense, but the dialogue given her does not–and neither do the scenes that follow after she succumbs to the devil’s bargain.

Then there’s the foreshadowing of how the devil’s items work; they used three characters to underline the fact that the magic of the items don’t affect those who have been cursed. Except one of the three characters hasn’t even been cursed yet. That’s a problem someone in editing, or the writer himself, should have been on the look out for.

And speaking of editing– I don’t know who was in charge of trimming down the movie, but the latter half of Buy Now, Die Later suffered from a lot of cuts that didn’t make sense–leaving characters finishing lines of dialogue that viewers never saw start in the first place.

Don’t even get me started on the garish music video that jolts viewers into the second story.

So would I recommend this movie to anyone? I want to say yes, if only for Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad–but Buy Now, Die Later is really only entertaining two-fifths of the time, so I would say no. If you want to support Quantum Films so they could make more films, watch Walang Forever instead.

Movie: My Bebe Love

"My Bebe Love"

Vic Sotto plays the role of Vito who finds himself at odds and in a bitter professional rivalry with Cora, played by Ai-Ai delas Alas. The two are both in the business of mounting special events. The conflict happens when their respective wards – Anna (played by Maine) daughter of Vito, gets romantically entangled with Cora’s beloved nephew Dondi (played by Alden). As expected, the “parents” actively reject the budding romantic involvement between the star-crossed lovers.

It’s that time of the year again when theaters in the Philippines are showing only entries for the Metro Manila Film Festival. And as is the case every year, my mom had the family watching a Vic Sotto movie. Which means that I watched My Bebe Love.

I didn’t hate it.

I mean, I didn’t love it either, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the other Vic Sotto-starrers I’ve been subjected to. But it wasn’t as good as the Vic Sotto films that got it right either. (I have very low expectations set when it comes to films starring Vic Sotto. Ever since the very first Enteng Kabisote film.)

The thing with My Bebe Love is–it doesn’t seem to know who the central characters are. And I sort of blame the AlDub phenomenon. (I’m not going to explain what the AlDub phenomenon is, but you can read about it on Wikipedia. That’s right. It has a Wikipedia page.)

Now, watching My Bebe Love, it was obvious that the story being set up is supposed to center on conservative Vito clashing and then falling in love with the liberal Cora. They’re the ones with the premise and promise right at the beginning. Their respective charges, Anna and Dondi, are only supposed to move their plots along. It’s a very basic story set-up.

I don’t know during what part of the production period the AlDub phenomenon happened, but you can clearly see that when this movie was being filmed, some Vito-Cora development was thrown out the window in favor of giving more screen time for the better-loved supporting players. And it ruins the love story that the film was supposed to be about: that of Vito’s and Cora’s.

The thing is, this could have not been the case.

I know the producers of My Bebe Love were banking on the popularity of the AlDub love team to make this movie bigger than it was projected to be. But how hard was it to make their participation not feel shoe-horned in?

The set up is there. The stakes are there. But instead of using the additional scenes featuring the supporting characters to give their story more substance, they were underutilized and made to do what they’ve been doing every day in their Kalyeserye on television. And it makes their plot, the subplot, disjointed. Because, obviously, their characters had plot points they needed to hit. But instead of just progressing with those and letting those plot points define their character arcs, they were given scenes that didn’t serve anything more than a fleeting sense of romance and giddiness.

And they’re not the only ones to suffer. Suddenly, the main plot of the film is also missing two of its most vital parts: it’s supporting plot, and the time to progress their story forward. At one point, it felt like they were the ones supporting the subplot.

I feel bad for all the actors involved in this film. There was potential for My Bebe Love to be something more (and something different) from what the Vic Sotto films usually turn out to be), but it was wasted on poor story structuring and character progression.

Book: Only a Kiss

"Only a Kiss"

When she was nine-years-old, Katie knew she wanted Chris to give her her first kiss. It wasn’t because she was in love with him (no way, he was her best friend! Besides, she was in love with his fourteen-year-old brother), it was because she could make him do anything she wanted.

Besides, it didn’t really mean anything. It was only a kiss after all.

But then things started to change. They grew up. They parted ways and went to different high schools. And other girls and boys–well, just one particular boy–came into the picture, throwing their lives upside down.

Told from the alternating points of view of Katie and Chris, this love story between two best friends will tug at your heartstrings and leave you thinking how the simplest things can mean so much.

Technically, Only a Kiss is a well-written book. Objectively, I have nothing bad to say about the story. Subjectively… I really didn’t like the characters. Especially as we get to know more about them. Especially as they grow up.

I have always advocated for realistic characters, so I don’t understand why neither Katie nor Chris is resonating with me. They’re real. They breathe. And author Ines Bautista-Yao writes them so well that I wouldn’t be surprised to meet these two in real life. But I still, for the life of me, couldn’t bring myself to like them.

Is it because I couldn’t relate to them?

Katie and Chris are real, yes. But they’re also perfect people. Too perfect, in fact. Katie is good at bossing people around, and she gets things done without ruffling feathers. Chris is good at sports, great with the ladies, and an awesome artist too. And I know people like this. People who are too good to be true–and yet are real people. And I am not them.

Yes, Katie and Chris make mistakes. But unlike me, their problems all revolve around love. Which, I guess, is because the book I’m reading is a romance novel. But, at the same time, it’s making me feel inadequate.

How can I like characters who make me feel insecure?

Why couldn’t Chris be the opposite of his older brother who Katie liked for so long? Why does he have to be perfect? And why, if he’s already perfect, does it take Katie so long to realize she has feelings for her best friend?

Why is Andrew, that one particular boy, so perfect too? With his nice demeanor, and his altruistic outlook in life, and his love for Katie?

And Katie… Where do I start with Katie? She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s good at what she does, she’s an amazing girlfriend, a thoughtful friend, a pragmatic person–

They’re all so perfect, yet so real–and so boring.

The central conflict of Only a Kiss is the love triangle between Chris, Katie, and Andrew. But there is no real love triangle. It’s pretty clear from the get go who Katie will end up with–because while both boys are perfect, and nice, and is someone you can root for–neither one actually does anything grand that would make you root for one or the other.

As a reader, I didn’t have any stakes as to what’s going to happen. Reading Only a Kiss is like reading a the blog of a rich, nice girl. It’s something you do because you like the person, and you want to support that person, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’d rather be doing something else.

Of course, as I always say, this could just be me. There will always be other people who like the books I don’t like. Don’t form an opinion based on just this reaction. Read what other people have written about Only a Kiss:
Amy Reece
Ron Reads
Her Book Thoughts

Or form your own opinion. Since I promote local books, I would rather promote this well-written (if bland) novel, than most of the published Wattpad stories that have no business being published.

Oh, and one last thing: Only a Kiss has one of the best book covers I’ve seen in local publications. Good job, people of Chamber Shell Publishing.

Theater: Manhid

"Manhid"

What price is our freedom? MANHID is set in an alternate present day Philippines where the EDSA revolution failed; this musical features heroes and villains with superpowers, and a people sick with Kamanhiran (Apathy).

I want to heap accolades for Manhid. Mostly because it’s rock opera musical accompanied by ballet. Also because it creates superheroes out of characters from Filipino epics. And because of its history of being conceived by Aureaus Solito, with music from Eraserheads. The whole thing screams epic. And it is epic.

Unfortunately, so was its running time.

This is my biggest bone to pick with Ballet Philippines’ production of Manhid. It was trying to match the length of an epic, complete with side stories and interludes–turning it into a hodgepodge musical confused on whether it wants to speak out against injustice, or if it’s a juxtaposition of two love stories set against the backdrop of a revolution. In a time where short-form social media is king, you would’ve thought the creative forces of Manhid would’ve taken one look at the script and realized that at more than two-hours long, the musical was just too long. And too long not because characters are being developed, and are being loved. It was too long because each now plot twist needed explanation. Each new plot twist needed a backing musical number that tells instead of shows what the story wants to say.

Manhid is a gem–but one that needs to be polished. Just because this is how it was written more than two decades ago doesn’t mean you have to hold the true to the book. Stories like that of Manhid is supposed to reflect the times. And while most of the musical is still relevant today, important devices are visibly outdated now. Like, for example, lead character Bantugan’s job as a writer for a local tabloid. Decked out in a white sleeveless zip-up with headphones and a wrist-mounted computer, Bantugan’s entire personality screams techno-savvy individual. So why is he working as a reporter for a tabloid? No, I’m not looking down on tabloids, but they’ve been passe for some years now. Broadsheets are the new tabloids, and their online presence is way more visible now than ever before. Broadsheets online are the new mass-friendly tabloids with their clickbait headlines. If Ballet Philippines could update Bantugan’s look, why couldn’t they have updated his devices too? You’re not changing the musical, just the way the audience can relate to the characters.

Which, to be quite honest, was a hard thing to do. One, because there were too many characters. Two, because we get thrust into the story of Manhid with barely a brief of what world we’re about to enter. We get a spoken word introduction, and suddenly our lead characters are singing and dancing on stage and we have no idea what’s going on. It wasn’t until halfway through the second song before I realized that factions were being formed, that good guys were being hunted down by bad guys. And I only realized this because lead character Lam-Ang tells supporting character Dilim that the government attacked the club she was working at because they wanted to get to her.

Had the world been established better in the opening number, we wouldn’t have needed the clunky dialogue between Lam-Ang and Dilim. We would’ve just squirmed in our seats as we awaited their fate. As the villains closed in to the heroes. Instead, we scratched our heads at the action unfolding in front of us. The ministry of humanity was enjoying a show when a woman suddenly shows up to disrupt the peace. A fight ensues. And then the woman takes the lead singer of the show. If the dialogue didn’t say that Lam-Ang was saving Dilim, you can spin this off as an insurgent attack on the safety of the government.

And that could’ve been played with. But, obviously, the creative forces wanted people to relate to the insurgents. They want us to feel. Not to be numb. Hence the show’s main title and theme. But how can you care about heroes you know nothing about? Superman started with a destroyed planet. Spider-man had a dead Uncle Ben. Zsazsa Zaturnnah had a love interest whose safety was being threatened by colorful dominatrix aliens. We care about their fight because we know what they’re fighting for. In Manhid, we learn about our lead character’s fight as the first act wraps up. And that is the only time we see actual motivation from our heroes. When, during a musical number on how there came to be super-powered human beings, they fall in love with each other.

I don’t know how important the love story is to the main story arc. I know it’s important for one of the characters, for Allunsina, who you can say is the audience surrogate. But in the grand scheme of things, the love story of Bantugan and Lam-Ang felt shoe-horned. It felt like the creative forces just wanted to give heft to something that just wasn’t working out.

But, to be fair, as the first act wraps up, so does my complaints. Acts two and three had better pacing, and it also had a better grip on showing instead of telling. It also has a better love story between hero Urduja and the villain Radya Indarapata. It was still incredibly long, but time starts to fly faster because the story is now succeeding in absorbing the audience. I mean, there were still times when a break on stage becomes jarring, but overall, the last two thirds of the musical was more phenomenal than its beginning.

Ballet Philippines found a stellar cast to bring to life the characters of Manhid. I’m not completely sold on Lam-Ang, but I have to blame the material more than the actress. Bantugan’s vocals kept getting overpowered by the band, but he was serviceable. Apolaki’s forced conyo accent was funny, and I hope that that was intentional. And Dilim’s voice? Wow. The actors that shone the brightest though was Urduja’s, with vulnerability lacing her every word, even as she shows how strong her powers are; Radya Indarapata’s gray moral compass was conveyed majestically, and was most heartbreaking in his final moments; and Mamalahim-ma. There’s nothing I can say about Mamalahim-ma that will do justice to the power she brings on stage–which is an irony since she’s the only lead actor without an actual power.

And then there’s Allunsina. Played by Gold Villar with a fun abandon, Allunsina captures attention immediately even during the less-than-wonderful first act. I don’t know if some of her lines were just ad-lib, but everything out of her mouth feels natural, feels true to her character, and even at her most scathing, she was the most relatable and lovable in the cast of characters. Probably because her character felt the most true.

Allunsina is the star of Manhid.

Now, I could continue to go on and go on about Manhid, but the bottom line is this: it’s a great musical. It is. It just didn’t live up to the hype, and to my expectations.

But I have to commend Ballet Philippines (and Tanghalang Pilipino) for taking a risk in bringing back this rock opera musical. I hope next time they do, they don’t just update the costume, I wish they’d update the material too.