30 June 2013


I Had No Hope of Ever Naming This Smackdown!!!
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Intermission, and Round 3A)

Despite my dedication to blogging about movies few others care to sit through twice, I occasionally show some love to the really critically acclaimed films as well. In this post, I'm reviewing not one, but two Oscar winners filmed in the Philippines.

But the real difference between today's pairing and that of last week is not quality, but setting. I reviewed Bloodfist and Enter the Ninja not just on the conventional merits, but also on their use of the Philippines as a backdrop. Today's two movies, however, may share the same landscapes and extras, but with the full understanding that these are meant to pass for the scenery and locals of different Southeast Asian countries.

Remember to read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can earn an extra entry in the Annual Giveaway!

Round 3B
The Bloodfist Four

29 June 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-Eight

Do I seem to have this blogging thing all together? If so, let me know and make me feel better.  

I recently checked the schedule on my Rafflecopter and realised that there's no way the Annual Giveaway can end as soon as tomorrow. Due to my own poor planning at the start of the month, I need another two weeks. =( I'm really sorry about that and want to apologise to everyone who was looking forward to hearing the announcement of the winner on Monday. 

At least Locus Focus seems to have been running smoothly. (Right?) We've been farming in Mindoro, praying in Quiapo, and drag racing on C-5. Today, we'll be reconstructing a crime in Makati! There won't be a DVD in the giveaway pool this year, but there's a good reason I'm closing with this movie setting . . . 

28 June 2013


Option 23: Trese: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan, illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

"Good evening, Capt. Guerrero. Thanks for calling me."

"Hello, Alexandra. I had a feeling you'd want to see this for yourself."

"Of course, it's not every day a white lady is found dead. Especially on this street . . . So, what do you know so far?"

"Looks like your total automobile accident. Until one of the neighbours identified the victim. Her name was Gina Santos."


"The neighbours said, as far as they can remember, she died back in the 1960s."

One old post of mine which has been getting a lot of new hits lately is The Language of Books. It includes a "Tenner" of books I thought everyone should be fluent in, and is based on the idea that literacy involves more than the decoding of phonetic symbols. You're not truly literate unless you could carry on an intelligent conversation with someone 1,000 years from the past and 1,000 years from the future. This is a feat which has less to do with technical mastery of dead or evolved languages than with an ability to understand universal values even when they are communicated in unfamiliar symbols.

Accordingly, while it would be cool to know exactly why the setting "Balete Drive" and the character "white lady" should make chills run down your spine, it's not a prerequisite for enjoying the first supernatural crime Thriller in the Trese case files.

In fact, I'd say all the elements in these four shorts are totally accessible to intelligent readers from anywhere in the world, with one offbeat exception . . .

26 June 2013


Twelve Things about Bloodfist II

12. Although the first Bloodfist movie made and lent its name to the Final Four of one of my legendary smackdowns (See Round 3A--and vote while you can!), I was in no hurry to watch the first of its sequels-in-name-only. I expected that it would have nothing that I really liked about its predecessor . . . and well, I was right. =P

But what I didn't guess was that Bloodfist II would have its own unique and sometimes superior charms!

11. These two films actually have a lot of stray elements in common: Don "The Dragon" Wilson . . . supporting actors Joe Mari Avellana, Kris Aguilar and Ned Hourani (Blink and you won't recognise him!) . . . the Philippines as a setting . . . the gladiatorial kickboxing trope . . . and of course, the tiled alley in Binondo that producer Roger Corman makes all his characters do a chase scene in. It's hard to say that there is no continuity when cast and crew obviously had a reunion party at an old Chinatown haunt before they started shooting.

10. It's easier to say that there is no plot. While the bare skeleton of a story is there, it's also true that a lot of things just happen. It's a serious storytelling flaw, yes, but it becomes forgivable as soon as the real jewels in this lackluster setting get their chance to sparkle.

9. But before we get to those, let's take the scenic route ourselves, starting from the beginning. By "beginning," I mean the first Bloodfist movie . . .

23 June 2013


I Guess I'm Never Going to Name This Smackdown!!!
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2 and the Intermission)

There's no mini face-off this week because although there is at least one other pairing I could put before you, I'd rather ask you to do something else. If you've voted in one of my smackdowns before, then you already know what it is. ;-) Keep reading to the end for the inevitable interactive element, and of course, the Annual Giveaway Rafflecopter! (UPDATE: The Rafflecopter is okay now!)

As always, thanks to some law of numbers the mathematicians haven't found yet, the Final Four bring the heart and soul and blood and guts to the entire tournament bracket. I had a lot of fun watching the first two movies which make up the Bloodfist Four and hope that the following reviews reflect that. =)

Round 3A
The Bloodfist Four

22 June 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-Seven!

So where are we in the Philippines today? Let's start near the beginning of the Annual Giveaway to get a clearer view of our route . . . We started with a haunting rural setting that calls to mind both the Fall and the earliest history of the Philippines, then moved on to a messy religious setting in the capital which typifies the country's strange mix of fervent Catholicism and pagan folk memory. Today, we're still in the big city, but on more newly developed ground. We have moved from pre-colonial history to the the present day, and it only took us . . . three weeks!

21 June 2013


Reading Diary: Gagamba: The Spider Man by F. Sionil Jose

So they are all dead, and he is alive and it is perhaps God's immutable will that decreed it so . . .

Tell us again, Spider Man, how it was that Sunday afternoon when their well-ordered world ended. At least, their stomachs were full, their minds at ease. Perhaps there were men of virtue who died in grace with them. There is something so equal and democratic about dying, certainly not living though all men may live in sin--the poor who seek salvation in prayer or in a sheaf of sweepstakes tickets are sometimes left with nothing but the benediction of a new day . . .

. . . Tell us just the same, Spider Man, if there is an explanation at all, why Camarin was destroyed when other demon-infested Ermita houses were not, and why, most of all, when you looked back, you were not turned into a pillar of salt!

I can't recall which character in Gagamba observes that Filipinos have shockingly short memories. The two best guesses are the activist-turned-journalist who is incredulous at how quickly the cronies of the recently toppled dictator have managed to slip back into power . . . and the Japanese businessman who can't believe how warmly he is embraced by a people who witnessed the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Army in which he was once an officer. Either way, the point stands: if Filipinos never turn into pillars of salt, it's likely because Filipinos never turn back again.

Although I had originally planned to add Gagamba to the Annual Giveaway pool, I changed my mind after this week's reread. (Remember that last time that happened?) It's a good novel, but not a great one. If you want a great Jose novel, I'm already offering Po-on (Option 4) . . . and Ermita (Option 14). And if what I have to say about Gagamba really intrigues you--heck, especially if what I am about to write intrigues you--you should still go for Ermita. The latter happens to be the fully grown and glorious molave to the brave sapling that is Gagamba.

But I read Gagamba for the first time before Ermita was written, and I want to record, Reading Diary style, what it has come to mean to me.

19 June 2013


Option 22: Skyworld, Volume One by Mervin Ignacio, illustrated by Ian Sta. Maria
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

It only takes one story left untold to make men forget all the things they could be. And your people have many. Your oldest legends speak of an ancient tribe that traveled to these shores thousands of years ago, passing through land bridges long since swallowed by the sea.

They were known as the Sons of Heaven. Fearsome warriors gifted with strength beyond mortal men, ruled by a code that was not of this earth. Many believe they had descended from the Sky Gods themselves. In their possession was an amulet, which was the source of all their power. Any warrior that wore it would have the strength of a hundred men. Spears and swords would not pierce his skin. And any army he led into battle could not be defeated . . .

. . . According to prophecy, a warrior of noble birth would one day rise and use the amulet to unite the warring tribes. He would slay an enemy unlike any the world had ever seen. And under his rule, a kingdom of a thousand islands would be born . . .

This isn't the type of story I normally read, although it's all too common these days. The retelling of ancient mythology in order to make room for modern Mary Sues (or Gary Stus!), whose births were, of course, foretold in mysterious legends, is just too easy. And I normally write off most writers whose creativity seems to be the literary equivalent of cosplay. But now I'm going to cut Mervin Ignacio and Ian Sta. Maria a break because what they've done in Skyworld is actually quite good.

Or do I just think so because the myths and legends with which they weave their graphic novel are also threads running through my own fantasy life?

16 June 2013


Smackdown Intermission
(Revisit Round 1 and Round 2)

You knew I was going to do this, right? =P It has been harder than expected to find copies of all the movies that have made the Final Four, so I kind of have to. (In related news, I can't believe how many people who should know better think that Enter the Ninja and Enter the Dragon are the same movie.)

To tide you over, how about another mini face-off, this time between two of the prettiest faces in 1980s Hollywood?

15 June 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-Six!

June 2012 wasn't too hot for Locus Focus, but this year is totally making up for that. Last year, I was scrambling around for decent settings to feature. This year, my only trouble was deciding the proper order in which to feature them.

Last week, I wrote about that "typically Filipino setting" of the nipa hut and homestead. This week, I remain traditional . . . but with a twist!

Remember that you can write your own Locus Focus post and link it up any time before the Annual Giveaway ends, for extra points!

14 June 2013


Option 21: Leaf and Shadow by Cyan Abad-Jugo
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

Late that evening, Louie dreamed. The Balete Tree had come to life, looking like a gnarled old man, but ten times as tall, and dark of skin, blood-red of smile. He sucked on a huge tobacco and smothered the air with its thick smell. Smoke rose into the leaves that were his hair, and as Louie watched the smoke, he found himself staring into a pair of gleaming eyes. Several shadowy arms sprouted from the trunk, all entangled and run through with veins. They reached for him, wrapped around him, plucked off the slice of cake he held in his hands.

"I told you not to tell those tales," Lola scolded Old Manang the next day. "There is no such thing as a kapre, and there is certainly none living in that tree right now."

--from "The Kapre's Mark"

This year's June Giveaway doesn't have a theme, but if it did, "Green and Growing Things" would sum up what we have so far. We've visited some barrios and watched a homestead take root: reading that has kept us grounded. But Philippine folklore grows out of the very same ground, and it was inevitable that we'd come to see something fantastic peering at us from behind the fauna.

It is this weaving together of "leaf and shadow" which I like most about Cyan Abad-Jugo's four short stories.

13 June 2013


Character Connection 42

Another June Giveaway tradition of mine is to do a Character Connection post for at least one of the new books going into the giveaway pool. The following was challenging to write because it's from one of the shortest, simplest stories in the lot. In fact, until I did a bit of editing, there were actually more words in the excerpt from the story than in the rest of the post!

12 June 2013


Giving Away a Poem

Sponge Letter W ampersand & Pastry Cutter Letter Q
Golf Dice Number 2 Magnetic number 8

We may believe in singing for our supper, but not in writing poems for our reading. Although this month's Word & Question game lets entrants earn more entries in my annual Giveaway, all of the players are playing for the love of poetry rather than an extra ten points. Which is totally fine! =)

11 June 2013


Option 20: A Season of Grace by N.V.M. Gonzalez
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

Man and woman were walking one morning in the sun down a trail that cut across the bed of the empty river Alag.

The woman carried a baby, using a hammock slung over her shoulder. The cloth was the same piece of catcha which last night had served as her little one's blanket. The baby whimpered inside the hammock-pack: the woman couldn't seem to make him quiet. The man said:

"Why don't you fix it, Sabel, so that it will not hurt?" He wanted to add: "Is it heavy like a yoke?" But he realised that she looked pretty enough with that hammock-pack; it was quite an ornament.

There is something about the young married couple Doro and Sabel Agnas which call to mind Adam and Eve after the Fall. For Doro, too, has been cursed to earn his bread by toil and sweat; Isabel, cursed to bear the pains of childbirth. This is true for all of us, of course, but it is more evident in some lives than in others--and extremely evident here. Nothing short of an earth-shattering miracle will change the fact that their lives will be almost unbearably hard.

I actually had my copy of A Season of Grace for two years before I could bear to read it to the end. The first time I tried, Doro and Sabel seemed so miserable and so helpless--against both nature and some human scum neighbours--that I feared the novel would turn into an epic pity-fest. I probably still wouldn't have read this book had I not just finished Juan M. Flavier's Doctor to the Barrios (Option 19 in the Giveaway!) and drawn the strength of hope from it. I used to see the plight of thousands of Philippine farmers as a purgatory they would never escape; now I see that although it bears some resemblance to a prison, it is easier to bust out of than I thought.

Unless, of course, some of us turn jailer on each other . . .

09 June 2013


I Still Don't Know What to Call This Smackdown!!!
(Revisit Round 1)

Thanks a lot to everyone who commented in last week's smackdown post--especially if your comment was also a valid ballot! =) Today, we whittle The Apocalypse Now Sixteen to half their number and keep going. But first, the results . . .

Apocalypse Now vs. Platoon --> Winner: Apocalypse Now

Back to Bataan vs. The Real Glory --> Winner: The Real Glory

Back Door to Hell vs. The Walls of Hell --> Winner: Back Door to Hell

American Ninja vs. Enter the Ninja --> Winner: Enter the Ninja

American Kickboxer 2 vs. Bloodfist --> Winner: Bloodfist

Blood Thirst vs. The Last Cannibal World --> Winner: Blood Thirst

Brokedown Palace vs. The Year of Living Dangerously --> Winner: The Year of Living Dangerously

The Bourne Legacy vs. I Come with the Rain --> Winner: The Bourne Legacy

If you've voted in a Shredded Cheddar smackdown before, then you know that Round 2 is done a little differently. I take editorial control back--because I can--and determine the Final Four by myself . . . but I provide another pair for a mini face-off (and an extra entry in the Giveaway) at the bottom of this post!

Round 2
The Enter the Ninja Eight

08 June 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-Five!

New to Locus Focus? Click Here!

Since we started doing Locus Focus, June has been "Philippine Settings" month. This is my own theme, but anyone who wants to link up a post this month (for the Giveaway entries or for other reasons) may pick any setting that strikes his fancy.

Let me start us off with a typically Filipino setting brought to lush life in a novel about the realities of rural living.

07 June 2013


Option 19: Doctor to the Barrios by Juan M. Flavier
(See the Giveaways page for more information)

. . . "That farmer may look dumb, but he's the smartest guy in the country," my companion from the city commented.

That is a frequent comment about the Filipino farmer. Another is, "You say the farmer is honest, but he cheats whenever he can." Said a scientist, "He may be ignorant, but he is not stupid." Another remarked, "He looks hardy, but he is actually soft inside." And still someone else said, "Yes, he knows many things, but quite a lot of his knowledge is based on superstition and fallacy."

Exactly what is a farmer? To me, he is just another human being. A man with his fears and hopes, his virtues and vices, his hates and his heart. He is just the combination of these in a barrio setting . . .

Before this month, I really liked Dr. Juan Flavier, whom I had known as a hardworking Secretary of Health and later a dedicated senator. Having finally read his book Doctor to the Barrios: Experiences with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, I now also admire him. A record of the work he did long before he began his career with the government, it shows that he is someone who really "gets it" when it comes to the Philippines.

He also happens to be a fantastic storyteller and a master of the modern parable--a good thing for the many farmers he has worked with over the years. As he points out in one chapter, "It is not easy to talk to farmers. A straight message does not come across immediately. To convey an idea, it is necessary to relate a story with a moral." Whether his endearing style is the fruit of his experiences with them or the seed of his success is beside the point: when he started working in rural reconstruction, he was simply the right man at the right time.

This is also the style in which he wrote Doctor to the Barrios, a memoir with the credentials of a "real" history book.

05 June 2013


Poems for Points

Spears WORD MAKING & ANAGRAMS Letter W ampersand & Sponge Letter Q
Foam brick number 2 Round Playing Card 8 Ball

Since it is the month of my Annual Giveaway, I am bringing Word & Question back so that we can all play for points as well as for poems. Writing poetry is its own reward, of course, but if you can get a free book out of it, too, then why don't you? ;-)

Here is our schedule:

8 June -- Deadline for prompts
9 June -- Check your inbox for your new prompts!
12 June -- Start linking up your poems
26 June -- Deadline for poems

I really should throw a poetry book into the giveaway pool, aye? I'll have to see if I can find a collection by a local poet that I really love and feel competent to review . . .

02 June 2013


I Have No Idea What to Call This Smackdown!!!

June is not just giveaway month; it's also smackdown month! At least that's what it currently looks like. While I'd love to host tournament brackets more regularly, I can't always think of good themes. This month almost went by without one, but the cheesy part of my brain refused to give up without a fight. Hence this post and those which will inevitably follow. It rarely gets much cheesier than Hollywood orientalism where this former "unincorporated territory" of the United States is concerned.

You remember how this works, right? First, you'll help me pick which movie from each pair will move on to the next round. From there, I will decide which lucky films will make the Final Four, and then review them for your further entertainment. (I swear it will be entertaining!) The power to decide the ultimate winner will revert back to you. There may or may not be wildcards. (I really haven't decided yet. This is a tricky theme.)

* For those who have entered the June Giveaway, remember that voting in each round of the smackdown will help you earn extra entries! =)

** For those who haven't seen some of the movies, vote anyway! Honestly, I haven't seen most of the movies! But having done my research, I think these sixteen picks represent the "Philippine-shot Hollywood movie" fairly well. And I look forward to watching or re-watching those which will make the Final Four. =) 

Round 1
The Apocalypse Now Sixteen

Apocalypse Now vs. Platoon

Let's start with two contenders which were classy enough for the Academy Awards. It used to be that every other movie filmed in the Philippines expected the country to do some acting of its own--and with the right directors, she should have won her own Oscars for her performances as the war-torn Vietnam. (Then again, perhaps Thailand did Vietnam better . . .) Would you say that the local landscapes were more convincing as the backdrop to Martin Sheen's descent into darkness or the backdrop to Charlie Sheen's disillusionment with war?