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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

entry arrow10:31 AM | Races to Finish, Mountains to Demolish, Days to Persevere

One time, not so long ago, Saturday morning felt fallow and unremarkable. This happens. Everyone’s lives have days that feel like lead. It had been raining the entire evening before this unremarkable Saturday, and when the daylight finally broke, there was still no let up in the miserable cold and wetness, which soon extended to what would eventually become a whole day affair.

Normally, this would not have been a problem for me: I am built for wet days. For some reason, my personality perks up on stormy days and my body tends to rebel against the return of the sun. When it feels the promise of sunshine in the air, my body breaks down into a variety of malaise that sometimes I am convinced I am allergic to solar brightness and must therefore be a vampire.

So I woke up feeling very tired, and found that I couldn’t move a muscle. This is a dramatic exaggeration, of course. What I felt was not physical paralysis; it felt very much like a spiritual, even an existential, immobility. I was not sure whether it was the familiar black dog of my constant bouts with depression—but there was no dark fog hugging my brain, and it didn’t feel like despair. It just felt like a numbness that consumed and the only recourse was to succumb to the hug of the bed and sleep it off.

I had just survived a most trying year in 2014, I told myself, and one day of numbness like the Saturday I was experiencing was nothing. I had entered 2015 with a resolve I had not seen myself undertake in years—consumed with the belief that one’s happiness can actually become a matter of shrewd negotiations with willpower and undertaking a routine of good things that becomes habit. Good begets good. I learned this well in the murky bottom that was 2014.

So I’ve learned to do certain things guaranteed to make the going feel worthwhile. Striving to stay fit, for example, became a matter-of-course. Staying positive became a must, even with the direst of days. I’ve learned to do a daily extraction of good things written down on slips of paper and deposited in a glass vase—to remind me at the end of the year that while the bad are most remembered for the emotional dent they deliver, the good—softer in their impact—must not be so easily forgotten.

And what of the previous year? Have I easily forgotten the best moments of it? In popular culture alone, there was Julianne Moore moving me with her depiction of despair against early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. There was the surprising ending of The Legend of Korra, where the couple that rides off into the brilliant radiance of a spiritual portal are of the variety that rarely gets depicted in children’s television. (All right, Korra ended up with Asami—much to the delighted squeal of many who have shipped them for eternity.) There was the strange melee of How to Get Away with Murder.

In a more local context, there was the unbelievable beauty of the photographs in exhibition for the South Pacific Photowalk. There was the raw power of J Marie Maxino’s Pechakucha talk on being queer. And speaking of queer, there was iSpec’s approval as an official organization in the university I work for—the first LGBT and straight alliance ever allowed in this part of the world. That’s progress. There’s Hersley-Ven Casero’s new collection of firefly paintings. There’s Romeo Ariniego’s collection of art—many of them by Filipino masters—that he has donated to his alma mater.

There was the explosive climate change march in Dumaguete. And there was the initial offerings in Razceljan Salvarita’s upcycling products. There was Jack Wigley’s revealing talk in the summer of writers. And there was the release of Belltower Project Dos album—which brought Dumaguete music to a higher rung, creating a community and consolidating a sound. There was Dok Timbancaya’s big Founders Day EDM party—a series of parties, in fact—that was a celebration of how youthful and dynamic this city can be, if it really wanted to. And then there was that enormous feeling of vindication that I felt when I sold the last ticket for Lav Diaz’s Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, which had a special screening—spectacularly sold-out—at Robinson’s Movieworld, proving once and for a while there was an engaged audience for these kinds of films in this city.

I’d forgotten these, and many other good things, from 2014, convinced only of the consuming darkness of that year. In proper and more inclusive retrospective, it wasn’t that bad.

And so it was that, near the tail-end of that miserable Saturday, I knew I had to salvage it somehow. Because shit does happen—and the ultimate measure of our humanity is our response to it. Like with this guy I’ve read about named Micke Ekvall. For him, shit did happen, literally. He was running a marathon when he suddenly developed a case of the stomach cramps in the middle of it. Post-race, Micke Ekvall, who finished that 2008 race in 21st place, was asked if he ever considered stopping to clean off. “No, I’d lose time,” he said. “If you quit once, it’s easy to do it again and again and again. It becomes a habit.”

There’s no quitting.

Let shit happen.

Finish anyway.

Here’s the story of another man like Ekvall. His name was Dashrath Manjhi, whose wife died because they were unable to get medical care from the nearest hospital, which was 50 km away from their village in India. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Dashrath Manjhi proceeded to singlehandedly cut down a path through a small mountain that blocked the way and made travel long and difficult.

In 1959, he sold his goats to purchase a chisel, a rope, and a hammer. No one helped him, but every day he moved pieces of that mountain for what must have seemed like an impossible and foolish dream.

In 1981, he finally stepped into the other side of that mountain. It took 22 years. But now only 10 km separate his town and the hospital. I didn’t have an excuse not to demolish my own metaphorical mountains, including murky Saturdays in the doldrums. And so, with some finality, I got up. And felt so much better.

What’s your excuse?

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

entry arrow4:25 PM | The Man Who Faced a Mountain But Came Through a Pathway

Because his wife died unable to get medical care from the nearest hospital 50 km away from his village in India, Dashrath Manjhi proceeded to singlehandedly cut down a path through a small mountain that blocked the way and made travel long and difficult. In 1959, he sold his goats to purchase a chisel, a rope, and a hammer. No one helped him, but every day he moved pieces of that mountain for what must have seemed like an impossible and foolish dream. In 1981, he finally stepped into the other side of that mountain. It took 22 years. But now only 10 km separate his town and the hospital.

I don't have an excuse not to demolish my own metaphorical mountains.

What's your excuse?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

entry arrow2:49 AM | Ricardo de Ungria is new Silliman Workshop Director

Award-winning poet Ricardo de Ungria has been appointed Director-in-Residence for the 54th Silliman University National Writers Workshop by Silliman President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III upon the recommendation of the Advisory Board of the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center through its Coordinator, Ian Rosales Casocot.

De Ungria has published eight books of poetry and edited a number of anthologies, for which he has won five National Book Awards. Through a Fulbright Grant, he received his MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis in 1989. He has received writing grants from the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers and Bellagio Study and Conference Center.

He is a founding member of the Philippine Literary Arts Council, which published Caracoa, the first and only poetry journal in the Philippines in the eighties, and initiated a series of poetry readings that stirred interest in the performative aspect of the literary arts.

In 1999 when he moved to Davao, he founded the Davao Writers Guild that, since then, has held annual readings in the schools and malls in the city and published books by its members and a literary journal called Dagmay that features literary works in various languages by mostly young writers in the Davao region.

He has served as Chancellor of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao for two terms (2001-2007) and as Commissioner for the Arts at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Dr. De Ungria will oversee the selection of fellows and panelists for the 2015 Silliman Creative Writing Workshop, the oldest of its kind in Asia, which was founded by the late Edilberto K. Tiempo and National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo in 1962. He will also help in the continuing evaluation of the thrusts and programs of the Workshop, which this year is scheduled for 11-29 May 2015 at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village and the campus of Silliman University in Dumaguete City. (CWC)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

entry arrow1:39 AM | Call for Manuscripts to the 54th Silliman National Writers Workshop

The Silliman University National Writers Workshop is now accepting applications for the 54th National Writers Workshop to be held 11—29 May 2015 at the Silliman University Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village. This Writers Workshop is offering twelve fellowships to promising writers in the Philippines who want to have achance to hone their craft and refine their style. Fellows will be provided housing, a modest stipend, and a subsidy to partially defray costs of their transportation.

To be considered, applicants should submit manuscripts in English on or before 9 February 2015. All manuscripts should comply with the instructions stated below. (Failure to do sowill automatically eliminate their entries).

Applicants for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction fellowships should submit three to four (3-4) entries. Applicants for Poetry fellowships should submit a suite of seven to ten (7-10) poems. Applicants for Drama fellowships should submit at least one (1) One-Act Play. Each fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama manuscript should not be more than 20 pages, double spaced. We encourage you to stay well below the 20 pages.

Manuscripts should be submitted in five (5) hard copies. They should be computerized in MS Word, double-spaced, on 8.5 x 11 inches bond paper, with approximately one-inch margin on all sides. Please indicate the category (FICTION, CREATIVE NONFICTION, POETRY, or ONE-ACT DRAMA) immediately under the title. The page number must be typed consecutively (e.g., 1 of 30, 2 of 30, and so on) at the center of the bottom margin of each page. The font should be Book Antiqua or Palatino, and the font size should be 12.

The applicant’s real name and address must appear only in the official application form and the certification of originality of works, and must not appear on the manuscripts.

Manuscripts should be accompanied by the official application form, a notarised certification of originality of works, and at least one letter of recommendation from a literature professor or an established writer. All requirements must be complete at the time of submission.

Send all applications or requests for information to Department of English and Literature, attention Prof. Ian Rosales Casocot, Workshop Coordinator, 1/F Katipunan Hall, Silliman University, 6200 Dumaguete City. For inquiries, email us at silliman.cwc@su.edu.ph or call 035-422-6002 loc. 350.


Application Form
Certification of Originality of Works
Call for Manuscripts

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

entry arrow12:59 AM | What Makes You Stay

We measure our lives in years. There is no getting away from that cultural given—even when we do earnestly sing the refrain from the musical Rent that it is best to measure our lives in love.

I wish we genuinely could. How great would it be to live through life with such seasons, all defined by passion and affection? But human nature has such infinite capacity for both light and darkness, and for every kindness we come to know, there seems to be an equal unkindness to encounter. Any visit to Facebook with its steady display of humanity played out in our timelines shows an equal measure of fathomless love and blinding hate—of late: news of the Charlie Ebco massacre lying side by side with a linkbait story about a homeless woman meeting kindness in a fastfood joint. Plus a picture or two of cats being playful.

So we measure our lives in years, because love is often in short supply. There is great convenience, too, in cataloguing the unfolding of ourselves by the years we’ve managed to live through. Some of us do that by believing in the fitting ending of Decembers, with the New Year’s promise of being given a clean slate—and we mark these with resolutions to becoming better. Some of us believe in annual readings of horoscopes, in the mysterious pull on our fates by the stars or by Chinese animals. And some of us believe in taking stock of our days as they pass through patterns we seem to think our lives follow—the ebbs and lows, cycles of turbulences and triumphs: a map of sorts that takes into count both luck and the consistency of our personalities.

I do all of the above, because I figure there’s nothing to lose in subscribing to one or the other: all of these are just expressions of the human need for pattern-seeking in chaos anyway. And life is chaos. So we turn to calendars and zodiacs and psychology to wrest a semblance of control over the uncertainty of what’s to become of us. But mostly I measure my life by the years I still stay in Dumaguete, my nest, my comfort zone, my familiar shore.

A few weeks ago, I was having Christmas lunch with a bunch of colleagues, all of them good friends, in the early days of the holiday season. We feasted on buttered corncobs, pot roast, and magical roasted chicken floating gloriously in some sweet gelatinous thickness. Despite the specter of the rush the holidays engendered, it was a good day in Dumaguete, enough to put us all in good spirits. At one point, as the afternoon turned deeper, someone ultimately pulled out a bottle of white wine and a box of chocolate-flavored silvanas, which proved necessary indulgence for the seriousness of the talk that followed. One of us invariably turned the conversation towards the question of why we have stayed so far in this city. Because we have always been told that, given who we are, the world is our supposed oyster—and so why stay?

There was a flurry of responses to the question. “The world outside isn’t much better. There’s only new wallpaper somewhere else,” one of us said. “ “I like being my kind of fish in this perfect little pond,” another one of us said. True enough, when I make my own reflection, I could be honest enough to admit I find it utterly puzzling that I have not found it necessary to move on, to uproot the anchor, sail the rough seas, become a better sailor, and find a new beach to relax in. Isn’t that the narrative we all teach ourselves to follow? All our literature tells the hero of the story to go out to the world to make his mark. So, if you choose to stay, does that unmake you as the hero of your story? And yet I still remember what National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo once said in reply to the very same question: “Why do I stay in Dumaguete? I look at its shoreline and I know I’m home.” In many ways, I have come to adopt that line as my own answer. There are days when the questions are particularly heavy—but when I step into the Rizal Boulevard and I see the balance of life played out by the mix of blue sky, green seas, and the quaint promenade lined by Dumaguete’s so-called sugar houses, I always feel that I am living in an unexpressed answer to the question of why I stay.

When I stare into Tañon Strait, with the faint outlines of Cebu, Siquijor, and Bohol in the horizon, I realize that I could either see that blue faint line as either a prison or a gate. It is perspective that can become our ultimate salvation from the worries we throw ourselves into. Sometimes, when I am at a painful standstill or at crucial point in my life, when the cares of the world threaten to overwhelm, I do all that I can to remind myself of that single, most helpful word: “perspective.” “Perspective, Ian,” I tell myself. “Perspective.”

When the last year drew to a close, near the cusp of December 31st, I thought that perhaps this was the ultimate lesson I could wring from 2014’s troubled unfolding. “’Troubled,’ Ian?” I asked myself. “Call it a ‘corrective’ instead.”

But this was not a new insight. Not for me, nor for anyone else. It was something I had come to understand more last year as I went on from one “corrective” day to another. The great Carl Sagan, writing in Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space in 1994, penned the best argument for this—and I was reminded of his immortal lines when it served as a fitting epilogue to last year’s run of the new Cosmos. In that book, Mr. Sagan considered the now-iconic photograph of our planet taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. From a distance of about 3.7 billion miles, the space probe captured our world as being barely the size of a pixel—just a tiny dot floating in the vast emptiness of space, caught in bands of scattered sunlight: “Look again at that dot,” he wrote. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The past year crystallized my realization of several things. First, that just because one can doesn’t mean that one should. Second, that life is better lived the way good chefs run their kitchens: to clean up as one goes along. And third, taking my cue from Mr. Sagan, that the world does not revolve around me nor you, and like everything else, you and I are not indisposable.


Dumaguete is what it is: it can be home, or a destination. It can be a nurturing community, especially for artists, but it can also be cruel: it can choose to either love you back, or it can keep you out like the langyaw of legend. I guess it’s the spirit one brings into the place that finally decides one’s fate in it. And I realized that no place on earth, not even Dumaguete, owes anyone their happiness. It’s like asking the world to revolve around you. I have come to consider the rhythm of that world instead, and to learn to dance to its music.

Sometimes I still get unhappy about this place. But I always remember Edith Tiempo’s words, and I also remember that perhaps the only way to become happy, whether you stay or you go, is to measure everything, however you can, no matter how difficult it can be, in love.

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Monday, January 05, 2015

entry arrow2:05 AM | The Missives of Our Lives, Recollected

Pusheen the Cat on my shoulders watching me as I write tonight.

This should have been done a couple of years back, but I'm now seriously cataloguing all the essays I have written for a planned book manuscript. (Truth to tell, manuscripts for two or three books, actually -- each collection grouped together by a common subject matter. Part of the current challenge is trying to see how I can rewrite many of these essays so that they fit each other to simulate a flow in their book's narrative. I'm always greatly disappointed in books that are mere compilations of columns culled from newspapers and magazines, without the author attempting to create a tome with a common narrative vision.) So I'm basically going through eleven years worth of creative nonfiction and columns -- and some, I find, are quite promising, but a great many are groan-inducing. ("Why did I write about that?" is a constant refrain I hear myself emitting. One column from years back, for example, had me soliciting for Friendster votes for a beauty pageant -- and I cringed, knowing how I stand now regarding pageants of this kind.) But it's enlightening to know what specific subjects I keep writing about, and it's heartening to identify the trajectory of our growing up as reflected by these weekly missives. This is an exhausting project and will probably take a few days to compile. I should have done this regularly.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

entry arrow8:46 PM | Film #5: Matthew Warchus' Pride (2014)

Near the end of Matthew Warchus' Pride (2014), a grandmother from a down-and-out mining town in Wales goes to London to join a gay pride march, and upon disembarking from her car at the parade's starting point, she calls out with more than a touch of affection and sweetness: "Where are my lesbians? Where are my lesbians?" Whereupon, said lesbians -- dear friends she has made in this story about the unlikely alliance between gay and lesbian activists and striking miners in Thatcherite England -- come upon her, and we get the group hug we knew was coming. Our hearts swell, and knowing that this is based on a true story can only get us having high hopes for the future of humanity again. This, in a nutshell, is the overall design and heart that we get from the film, a feel-good "we-can-do-this-together-as-a-community" narrative that is so well-made and so well-embodied by its huge ensemble of actors that we long surrender to its sentimentality even before we've realised it. And we find that we don't mind actually. This is very much the LGBT sibling of Peter Cattaneo's The Full Monty (1997), where comedy meets English social commentary, and makes laughing cry-babies out of all of us while learning a thing or two about social struggles in contemporary history. This is something totally earned by the film, however, and we can only wish that such a crowd-pleaser can attract the crowd it has not so far engaged in the box office.

#NotAReview #Cinema2015Project

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entry arrow4:26 PM | Film #4: Chris Mason Johnson's Test (2013)

Chris Mason Johnson's Test (2013) feels tight and focused, like a chamber piece about dance and the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It shouldn't work, given the claustrophobic nature of its subjects -- there are the endless rehearsals on a small stage, and there are the endless bouts paranoia of a specific kind of hypochondria. But it does work, and I think it has much to do with Johnson's choices of framing this story about a young dancer (Kevin Clarke) who's trying to break into a major role for a small dance company in 1985 San Francisco, while navigating the harrowing realities of a community suffering from a largely unknown virus during a time when the first HIV test was becoming available. Charting the ways these two arcs intertwine with each other, the film feels expansive because of a certain gracefulness in style, helped much by David Marks' beautiful cinematography. Johnson is able to probe deep into his characters' skins so easily, often in lingering close-ups that feel not invasive but intimate and intoxicating; yet he also knows when to pull back -- this he does during the dance sequences -- to make us appreciate the confluence of colour, movement, shape, and composition. It's a rather simple tale, but that doesn't matter: this is a study of mood, and we get this in spades.

#NotAReview #Cinema2015Project

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entry arrow12:32 AM | Film #3: Adam Wingard's The Guest (2014)

I don't know what to make of Adam Wingard's The Guest (2014). Ostensibly a thriller -- and it is: the story is about a grieving family who has just lost a son in the army, and who then welcomes into their home a mysterious, sexy stranger who claims to be their son's friend, but who may not as he appears to claim -- the film manages to be suspenseful and funny and gory, and features a bravura performance by Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, who unhinges throughout the film like a psychopath you'd love to take home to mother. It feels like a 1980s Brian De Palma movie without the Hitchcockian bent, only the dark comedy distilled into a genre-bending something-something you don't care much to define, only enjoy.

#NotAReview #Cinema2015Project


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Saturday, January 03, 2015

entry arrow4:20 PM | Film #2: Tomasz Wasilewski's Floating Skyscrapers (2013)

Tomasz Wasilewski's Floating Skyscrapers (2013), which is being touted as Poland's first film that features truly humanised gay characters, suffers from being a little too late in the game of queer cinema. Its earnestness, too, is distracting -- it comes off like the middling effort of a self-absorbed painter who thinks he has discovered Cubism without knowing Picasso. I wanted to like this film. I couldn't. The story is that of a swimmer whose stupefying daily grind as an athlete in training finally leads him to fall for another man -- much to the dismay of his mother and his girlfriend. I could forgive the lack of originality, but there's something almost banal in the film's execution that tested my patience. There is, for example, a recurring sequence in the film where we basically follow the eye of the camera -- perhaps simulating a car -- as it goes round and round in the endless maze of a parking garage. Perhaps it is to indicate how lost our protagonist is in his quest to understand his burgeoning sexuality. The effect, however, is that of metaphorical tedium, the film's way of masturbating off its tired symbolisms, and thinking it new and brilliant. But the acting is nuanced and the cinematography crisp -- and by that, I mean the actors have been properly workshopped to simulate the requisite physical demands of looking despondent in sobering lighting. I don't get Mr. Wasilewski's editing choice of abruptly cutting away from scenes on the verge of an emotional pay-off, which results to our eye-rolling ambivalence. This is sad because Mr. Wasilewski clearly wants us to care. It's a ponderous movie that follows the cliches of a coming-out narrative, but without the heart to ground it. Avoid this film and watch Xavier Villaverde's similarly-themed El Sexo de los Ángeles (2012) instead.

#NotAReview #Cinema2015Project

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entry arrow3:49 PM | Film #1: Dan Villegas' English Only, Please (2014)

I was prepared to be disappointed with Dan Villegas' English Only, Please (2014), the Metro Manila Film Festival sleeper that is fast becoming a word-of-mouth hit. Its trailer did not exactly pique my interest, but the reviews it was slowly garnering were unusually good and particularly convincing in their praises. It did prove to be imperfect, but the flaws -- matters of nitpicking -- seemed forgivable compared to how satisfying it finally proved to be, and how smart the narrative choices it made. What carries the film are two crucial things: [1] the screenplay by Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone, which borrows Nora Ephron's deft handling of the romantic comedy genre in Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... (1989) by staying true to its tropes but also gloriously transcending it, and [2] the easy and believable chemistry between its stars Derek Ramsay and Jennylyn Mercado, whose characters could have been easily-digested cardboard cutouts, but here seemed truly rooted in the organic requirements of their roles. It's an acting and writing vehicle more than a directing one, but given that this is Mr. Villegas' first feature film effort, it is quite commendable, and perhaps amounts to signalling the arrival of a fresh new voice in Philippine cinema. Perhaps with this film and Ms. Jadaone's other 2014 efforts -- Relax, It's Only Pag-ibig and That Thing Called Tadhana -- we're finally getting the commercial rom com filmmaking that deserves our brain cells.

#NotAReview #Cinema2015Project

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Thursday, January 01, 2015

entry arrow2:19 PM | Resolutions

Mark Twain, in an 1863 letter, on the folly and beauty of New Year's resolutions...

[Image from Letters of Note]

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