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

Interested in What I Create?


Sunday, January 31, 2016

entry arrow7:33 PM | An Experiment in Cultural Worth

Many moons ago, the good people over at the Belltower Project—led by Hope Tinambacan, the indefatigable front man of the band HOPIA—held a social experiment of sorts at a gig at El Amigo, Dumaguete’s bohemian center of indie music, the visual arts, and everything else that’s crazy. It was to test what Hope would call “our music’s worth.”

He said of the social experiment: “The concept was simple: we tapped some bands and solo acts from the Belltower Project to play. And then we asked for an entrance fee from those who watched the event—but they could give any amount, depende sa ilang gustong i-suporta.

“Inside the venue, we presented good music of course—mostly originals—and many other things we could think of, para modugang ang mga tawo sa ilang contribution.”All throughout the night, he kept reminding the crowd: “If you like the music and the performance, please feel free to drop additional contribution to our coffers.”

After the event, these are the observations he managed to make—“some funny, and some not, things to ponder on,” he said:

First, there was the matter of amount they managed to collect. “Naay mga mihulog ug mga tig-10 centavos, and 5 centavos, and other coins,” Hope said. “Maybe mao na gyud to iyang kwarta, but we still told ourselves to appreciate whatever we got.”

Second, a Caucasian entered the venue, and upon knowing there was an entrance fee, started counting out change—“his tinag-piso,” Hope remembered with a chuckle.

Third, they noticed that about five girls entered, and only one of them paid off for everyone else in their troupe. “Pilay gihatag? Twenty pesos,” Hope said.

Fourth, the Belltower Project people estimated that there were about 70 to 80 people who entered El Amigo that night and enjoyed the performance along with their beer and pulutan. “Ang naabot nga money sa amo is P3,300. Kung imong kwentahon, that’s an average of P41 per person—excuse my math. Although I’m sure that some gave more, while others gave less,” Hope said. “This means that kung imong i-divide ang P3,300 sa seven ka bands and solo acts that night, we can only go for P471 per band. ‘Di na lang nato kwentahon pila ang nagasto sa BTP, kay kapoy na.”

And his final rejoined: “Now, this social experiment may not be valid or reliable enough—but it sure does show something. Let you be the judge.”

What does this say about cultural worth, and what that means in Dumaguete?

I think it’s a very good social experiment, and it makes me think that part of cultural work is really audience development: meaning to say we need to make prospective audiences see the worth of what we do as artists—singers and musicians, writers, designers, theatre people, dancers, visual artists. There is an unfortunate line of thought that what we do as artists is something you cannot trust to put a value on—hence a culture of discounting prevails. When I publish my books, for example, I have friends and acquaintances who do come up to me and ask for a copy of a book for free. As if I am not supposed to make some sort of living from my writing, and as if I can go to an architect and ask him to design my house for free, or to a doctor and ask him to give me medical treatment for free.

Many artist, too—molded for far too long to think of their own artistry as something to take for granted and not prize—all too often do not give value to their own work. Once I asked a Waray poet, whose book I loved, how much his book was, and he insisted: “No, libre lang yan para sa’yo.” I insisted on paying. Once I asked a graphic designer how much she charged for a particular work I was commissioning her to do. “Ikaw,” she said, “Depende lang nimo.” I told her to set up her rates—if she wanted other people to also value her work.

And I used to be the same. Before, when people would ask me to edit their thesis or dissertations, I operated on the level of ulaw, constantly undervaluing the work I did—even though editing itself is a murderous job. It is not a walk in the park, and often it ranges beyond mere grammatical corrections to something approaching a virtual rewrite, because there is just no making sense of the original. It took fictionist and editor Nikki Alfar, a good friend, to set me on a better path to valuing my work, and gave me the idea of structuring rates according to the challenges demanded by the work. “If my clients want only mere grammatical corrections, I only charge this much. If it’s grammatical work plus some changes in syntax, I charge higher. If the work demands total overhauling that a virtual rewriting is demanded—I charge so much more,” she said.

It’s always a challenging task—asking other people to start valuing the cultural work of artists, and many artists do give up—but I think Belltower Project is at the very start of a local revolution. And that revolution, I know for sure, will take a while to eventually flower. And I hope that guys like Hope won’t give up. Because the dividends will come, in time.

To quote Albert Jerome Fontejon Babaylan, front man of the band Finpot: “It’s okay, my friends. Knowing the issues [in indie music in Dumaguete] is winning half the battle. Now we know [what we are facing], and we can then approach the situation accordingly. BTP has done very well uncovering these things for us. BTP did us musicians a favor. Now let’s just keep at it.”

Photo of HOPIA by Hersley-Ven Casero

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

entry arrow9:42 PM | Wednesday Night in Dumaguete

Walking down Silliman Avenue to the Rizal Boulevard and then seeing the bright misshapen moon hanging above the horizon, a crown above Siquijor in the clear night sky, it occurred to me so suddenly that the evening was beautiful. The night breeze was a magnificent surprise. From somewhere, some band was singing America's "A Horse With No Name." Everything stirred in that Dumagueteño Wednesday night rhythm, and for a brief shining moment, the universe made sense.


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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

entry arrow11:25 AM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: Fogo de Chon

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

And speaking of lechon, everyone's favorite photographer -- Urich Calumpang -- has decided to try his hand on the food business, this time catering to our instant lechon fix with the quaintly named Fogo de Chon -- a qiosk at the western exit off Robinson's Place, right at the very apex of the beautifully designed wedge called Manhattan Suites Building. They have your usual lechon from P450 per kilo to P112 a quarter of that, plus an assortment of the usual pork favorites, from paksiw (P30), dinuguan (P20), and sisig (P60). I've tried the regular lechon, and it has an aromatic tenderness to it that I liked -- although I'm quite aware lechon quality everywhere always varies and is never quite consistent. But there is an earnestness to the service Fogo de Chon offers that is largely absent from many other lechon counters currently dotting the city. Best of luck with your venture, Poc!


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Sunday, January 24, 2016

entry arrow8:41 PM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: Mamita's Diner

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

There has been, for some reason, an explosion of meat-loving eating places around Dumaguete in very recent years -- although ironically not a single one of them is a steakhouse of some reckoning. (Don't even mention Don Atilano, please.) For the most part, the explosion has centered on everybody's pork passion, which is not always a healthy thing -- and above all these, a hankering for all manner of lechon. Mamita's Diner, only a stone's throw away from the city police station along Cervantes Street, is perhaps one of the first to cash in on this food trend in Dumaguete, billing itself to be the place to go if one wanted the finest of Cebu's boneless lechon. I know people who swear by the delicacy of Mamita's lechon -- and not too long ago, I've sampled the spicy variety that seems to be the favorite, and found it much to my liking. There was a spicy earthiness to the bite of supple meat I had then -- but none of that, unfortunately, was to be had in my latest visit a few days ago. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the meat we got might have sat on the counter for much too long and had grown exceedingly cold, enough to lose the vibrancy we love in freshly made lechon. Still I consider this an anomaly; the diner has always been a lovely place to go. In itself, the place charms me with its intimacy (there are only four tables) and its curious eye for detail. Consider, for example, the tables and chairs -- just your ordinary carinderia prototype, but designed with an eye for an exquisite finish. That assures me very much of the proprietor's keeness to make this place work: it mixes no frills down-to-earthness with pleasant, well-designed air. The staff, too, is a gregarious and friendly bunch, which is always a plus. It has been a while since Manang Siony's, the city's legendary meat central, disappeared. Others have quickly taken its place, and I'd guess Mamita's is one of the more successful torchbearers for our continued meat madness. A quarter of the lechon priced at around P120. Placed my order at 7:00 PM. Order received at 7:15 PM.


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entry arrow4:43 PM | Lakambini Sitoy, Sweet Haven, and the Intricate Forces of Fiction

CATCH THESE TWO EVENTS TOMORROW! Sillimanian writer Lakambini Sitoy will give a homecoming lecture on the process of fiction writing, titled "Intricate Forces," for the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center Lecture Series on 25 JANUARY 2016, Monday at 10 AM at the American Studies Resource Center of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library.

Also on the same date, we are ​launching ​her first novel, SWEET HAVEN, at 6:30 PM at the University House.

The Philippine edition of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize-longlisted novel, published by Anvil, is the story of Narita Pastor who abandoned her illegitimate daughter for a new life in Manila. When a scandalous video of the girl becomes public, Narita must return to her parents and to Sweethaven, the community of her childhood, to perform an act of rescue. In search of the answers to her daughter's shaming, she follows a trail of evidence to reveal a web of family secrets, corruption, prejudice, and the barriers of social class. Sweet Haven was published in a French translation as Les Filles de Sweethaven by Albin Michel in 2011, and its English edition was put out by the New York Review of Books in 2014.

Ms. Sitoy is a teacher and creative writer. Her published work includes the books Mens Rea (1998)​ and Jungle Planet (2005). She received the David T.K. Wong fellowship from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom in 2003, was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008, and has received a Manila Critics Circle National Book Award and numerous prizes in the annual Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards. She holds an MA from Roskilde University in Denmark, where she resides and teaches English.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

entry arrow10:08 AM | Saturday Morning

Spending another Saturday morning at mother's to write...

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Friday, January 22, 2016

entry arrow6:44 PM | Call for Submission to the 2nd Silliman Film Open

Rules and Regulations



1. The Silliman Short Film Open (SFO) is open to all graduate, tertiary, and secondary school students (grades 8 to 12) currently enrolled in Silliman University.

2. The Director and/or Scriptwriter of an entry must be a student officially enrolled in the university during the time of the production.

3. The SFO will have three categories for 2016:

     a. Live-Action Fiction Short Film
     b. Documentary Short Subject
     c. Original Music Video

4. The categories are described as follows:

     a. Entries in the Live-Action Fiction Short Film category must be works of film fiction of any subject or theme. Adaptations of other works are accepted as long as permission from the proper copyright holder has been extended to the filmmaker. They should be no more than 10 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

     b. Entries in the Documentary Short Subject category must be works of film nonfiction, and may be of any subject. They should be no more than 15 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

     c. Entries in the Original Music Video category must be works depicting any original song by a local artist or band, with proper permission from the copyright holder. They should be no more than 5 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

5. The filmmakers are relatively free to choose any subject for their films. Restraint with regards depictions of overt sexuality or violence is encouraged however. Storylines that denigrate religion or sexual orientations are frowned upon. No film is allowed to advocate murder and torture, racism, pedophilia, misogyny, or homophobia—unless done in an ironic mode, or done to render these issues in serious and provocative light meant to provide a better understanding of such issues but without the intention of glorifying them.

6. Each film must be shot in an aspect ratio of 16:9 (unless there is an aesthetic reason to shot in another aspect ratio). The signal format must at least be in 720p (HD).

7. The entries may use English, Cebuano, Filipino, or any of the other regional languages of the Philippines. All entries are required to be subtitled in English, and in .srt format. (No hard coding.) They should be grammatical, and must be rendered in bright yellow with dark borders to ensure readability.

8. All films must be set/shot in Silliman University, and/or Dumaguete City, and/or its environs.

9. A participant may join one or more categories and may submit any number of entries for each category.

10. An entry can only be submitted to one category.

11. Cash prizes will be given, and only one winner is declared per category. A runner-up per category is given a certificate with a special citation.

12. Special prizes will also be given to the following categories:

     a. For Live-Action Fiction Short Films: Eligible for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up, Best Sound Editing, Best Musical Scoring, Best Song, and Best Poster.

     b. For Documentary Short Subjects: Eligible for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Musical Scoring, and Best Poster.

     c. A Special Audience Award is given to a crowd favorite from among all the categories.

The winners of the special prizes will be given certificates of recognition. Special prizes will only be given to winners who happen to be bonafide students of Silliman University. No special prizes will be given in categories where the filmmakers have sought outside help.

13. The competition opens on 1 January 2016. There are two deadlines, one for Registration and one for Final Submission of Film Entries.

14. The deadline for Registration is 12 February 2016, Friday at 5:00 PM at the Cultural Affairs Committee Office. (Please look for Nadine Padao.) The film entries may or may not be submitted on this date, but the following are required for submission:

     a. Accomplished application form
     b. List of participants/creative collaborators form
     c. A .psd file of the poster
     d. A 2- to 3-minute trailer in .avi or .mp4
     e. An application fee of P150.00

The Registration Forms may be obtained from the following address:

     Cultural Affairs Committee
     College of Performing and Visual Arts Building II
     Silliman University
     6200 Dumaguete City

Forms may also be downloaded at the CAC website and Facebook page.

All of the Registration requirements should be placed inside a short brown envelope, properly labeled with the name of the director and the title of the entry.

One registration form should be accomplished per entry. The application fee of P150 should be paid for every entry.

15. The form for the list of participants/creative collaborators must contain the following:

     a. Complete title of film
     b. Running time
     c. Synopsis
     d. Name and contact number and email address of the film representative
     e. Name of director
     f. Name of screenplay writer(s)
     g. Complete cast list (name of actor and name of character)
     h. Name of cinematographer
     i. Name of editor
     j. Name of production designer
     k. Name of costume designer
     l. Name of make-up artist
     m. Name of sound mixer/editor
     n. Name of music scorer
     o. Title(s) of original song(s) used and name(s) of artist
     p. Name of poster designer

16. The deadline for the Final Submission of Entries is on 26 February 2016 at 12:00 NN at the Cultural Affairs Committee Office. (Please look for Nadine Padao.)

17. The final copy of the film entry must be submitted in a virus-free a flash disk, properly labeled with the title of the entry, in either of the two formats: AVI and MP4. The file size should not be more than 1.5 GB.

18. Entrants must indicate in their Registration Form if they have incurred help from professional production houses outside the university in the making of their video. Only help in the technical aspects of filmmaking—cinematography, editing, and sound editing—are permitted. Entrants must indicate the name of the production house and what specific work was done for the video.

The student filmmaker may seek outside help in Cinematography, Editing, Acting, Sound Design, and Musical Score. Hired professional help is discouraged in Cinematography, Acting, Sound Design, and Musical Score—although they may secure this in Editing. Student effort in all areas of filmmaking is encouraged.

19. All music—including the songs and score—must be original. You may secure collaboration with other students in the university, particularly from the College of Performing and Visual Arts. The use of prerecorded and copyrighted materials is prohibited.

20. The student filmmaker must shoulder the finances of the entire production of the film. All film rights belong to the filmmaker, although he/she is required to acknowledge the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee as main presenter of the finished film. The CAC also retains the right to screen the film at any time to market future editions of the SFO.

21. Entries submitted by the second deadline [February 26] cannot be withdrawn from the competition.

22. The participating filmmakers must assign a single representative to act on their behalf. (The director is the suggested representative.) All official communications shall be addressed to the representative.

23. A jury of five to seven members is appointed to screen the entries on February 26, Friday at 6—9 PM. They are tasked (a) to select five nominees per special awards category, (b) to choose the winners of the special awards, (c) to choose the winning best films per category, and (d) and to select the 8 or 10 top films to be screened during the Final Night and Awards Ceremony.

24. The festival is slated on February 27, Saturday. The screening for the films not selected among the 8 or 10 top films is slated at 1—4 PM at the Audio Visual Theatre 1. The screening for the finalists is slated at 6—9 PM at the Luce Auditorium.

25. The films will be screened alphabetically according to the surnames of the student filmmakers.

26. The 8 or 10 finalists vie for the top awards of Best Live-Action Film, Best Documentary Short Subject, and/or Best Musical Video. All entries however are eligible for the special awards.

27. The Awarding Ceremony will be held at the end of the program at the Luce. The actors and production crew of all films are required to attend.

28. The decision of the jury is final. The board reserves the right not to give any awards in a category should no entry merit it.

29. The SFO organizing committee will not be liable for any controversy regarding the sharing of awards among the members of the group.

30. Any entry not following the rules, regulations and mechanics are disqualified. 

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

entry arrow12:40 AM | Call for Manuscripts to the 16th IYAS National Writers’ Workshop

The University of St. La Salle-Bacolod (USLS) is inviting young writers to submit their application for the 16th IYAS National Writers’ Workshop which will be held on 24 – 30 April 2016 at Balay Kalinungan, USLS-Bacolod.

Applicants should submit original work: either 6 poems, 2 short stories, or 2 one-act plays using a pseudonym, in two (2) computer-encoded hard copies of entry, font size 12 pts., double-spaced, and soft copies in a CD (MSWord). Short stories must be numbered, by paragraph, on the left margin.

These are to be accompanied by a sealed size 10 business envelope, inside of which should be the author’s real name and chosen pseudonym, a 2x2 ID photo, and short resume. Everything must be mailed on or before 19 February 2016.

Entries in English, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Tagalog or Filipino may be submitted. Fellowships are awarded by genre and by language.

Fifteen applicants will be chosen for the workshop fellowships, which will include partial transportation subsidy and free board and lodging.

This year’s panelists include Grace Monte de Ramos, RayBoy Pandan, D.M. Reyes, Dinah Roma, John Iremil Teodoro, and Marjorie Evasco as Workshop Director.

Please submit your application to: Dr. Marissa Quezon, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of St. La Salle, La Salle Avenue, Bacolod City. For inquiries, please email iyasliterary@yahoo.com.

IYAS is held in collaboration with the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University-Manila and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

entry arrow10:23 AM | The 55th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Opens on May 9 / Fellows Announced

The 55th edition of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop is slated to start on 9—27 May 2016 at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Camp Look-out, Valencia and Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.

Ten writers from all over the Philippines have been accepted as workshop fellows. They are Catherine Regina Hanopol Borlaza of Lipa City (University of the Philippines–Diliman), RJ Ledesma of Bacolod City (University of St. La Salle), and David Lao of Matina, Davao City (Ateneo de Davao University) for poetry; Veronica A. Vega of Dumaguete City (Silliman University), Marianne Freya Nono of Parañaque City (University of Santo Tomas), Christian Ray Buendia of Cabuyao, Laguna (University of the Philippines–Los Baños), and Arnel F. Murga of Iloilo City (University of the Philippines–Miag-ao) for fiction; and John Patrick Allanegui of Manila (Ateneo de Manila University), Christine Faith V. Gumalal, and Bernice Cabildo, both of Cagayan de Oro City (Xavier University), for creative nonfiction.

Three alternates have also been chosen in case any of the regular fellows declines the invitation: Beatrice Adeline Tulagan of Quezon City (Kalayaan College) for poetry; Tanya P. Cruz of Quezon City (University of Santo Tomas) for fiction; and Nina Unlay of Quezon City (Ateneo de Manila University) for creative nonfiction. Jesulito Kuan of Cebu City (Silliman University) has also been invited to sit as special workshop mentee.

The panel of writers/critics for this year includes Director-in-Residence Ricardo de Ungria, Resident Writer Cesar Ruiz Aquino, and Regular Panelists Marjorie Evasco, Susan S. Lara, Gemino H. Abad, and Alfred Yuson. They will be joined by Guest Panelists Jose Peñaranda, Kimi Tuvera, Simeon Dumdum Jr., and Criselda Yabes, and International Panelists Sumana Roy from India and Prashani Rambukwella from Sri Lanka.

The workshop, which traditionally lasts for three weeks, is the oldest creative writing workshop of its kind in Asia. It was founded in 1962 by S.E.A. Write Awardee Edilberto K. Tiempo and National Artist Edith L. Tiempo, and was recently given the Tanging Parangal in the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

For more information about forthcoming events during the workshop, please email Workshop Coordinator Lady Flor Partosa at nww@su.edu.ph or call the Department of English and Literature at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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entry arrow9:54 AM | Call for Manuscripts to the 23rd Iligan National Writers Workshop

The MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology and the Mindanao Creative Writers Group are accepting manuscripts to the 23rd Iligan National Writers Workshop (INWW) to be held on May 30-June 3, 2016 in the MSU-IIT, Iligan City.

There are 18 slots available for writers who have attended regional writers workshops or creative writing classes and whose works are unpublished. Six (6) INWW alumni (INWW 1-5: 1994-1998) from across the regions are welcome to send their works in progress along with a brief paper on their creative process.

Applicants may submit five (5) poems; one, one-act play; one short fiction, and an excerpt of a novel in progress in any of these languages: Filipino, English, Sebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Akyanon, Chabacano, Maranao or Higaunon.

Except for works in Filipino and in English, please provide translations of your works in either Filipino or in English. Those submitting excerpts of novels should provide a one-page summary of the novel. The general theme for works to be submitted this year is on conflict and on conflict resolution as part of nation building but is not confined only to these themes.

Application forms can be downloaded below or call Hernenigildo M. Dico or Ian S. Embradura (09352003282) or (063) 222-8769 or follow the link here.

Deadline for entries is on 15 March 2016.

The Keynote speaker this year is 1995 Second INWW alumnus Dr. ISIDORO CRUZ of the University of San Agustin, Iloilo City. The INWW is funded by the MSU-IIT, the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao (IPDM) and the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA).

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

entry arrow6:46 PM | Office Reboot

Spent the entire afternoon today right after my Playwriting Workshop cleaning my office at the English Department. It has been a while since I entered that once promising cavern, preferring to spend work time in a cafe somewhere where there's reliable wifi, and air-conditioning, and of course coffee. The last time I used my office was early last year -- until an army of termites invaded it and it took a long while for General Services to come and treat everything; all the while, precious Creative Writing Center files were disappearing into termite hell. When I saw that last year, I was like, "Uggh, I'm outta here." This year though, termite treatment finally over, I decided to come back and clean up everything. It took three hours to clear the dust and the frass, and to put everything -- folders, books, etc. -- into the right places. But it's all done -- and it feels like I've gotten a new lease on work life quality.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

entry arrow7:11 AM | The Drunk

The neighbourhood drunk keeps calling me "Alan." Almost every time he sees me, he asks for money, of varying amounts. Five pesos. Ten pesos. Sometimes twenty pesos. When I sometimes tell him my wallet is inside my apartment, he says cooly: "I'll wait." It never fails to feel like a casual mugging.


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Sunday, January 17, 2016

entry arrow12:21 PM | Kokoy F. Guevara Poetry Competition is Open for Submission

The Kokoy F. Guevara Poetry Competition was established by the friends and family of the late poet Francisco F. Guevara, in partnership with the De La Salle University (DLSU) Department of Literature and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (BNSCWC), to commemorate his life and work.

Kokoy F. Guevara, whose poetry and prose have appeared in both local and international publications, was a writer and teacher. His poetry collection The Reddest Herring was published in 2015 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. He also published two chapbook-length interviews in the Critics in Conversation series of the DLSU Publishing House. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2010 where he was a teaching-writing fellow.

Guevara spent his years writing masterful verses, and through his work as a teacher he encouraged many others to write their own. The Kokoy F. Guevara Poetry Competition intends to continue his work by promoting interest in poetry in the Philippines and providing an opportunity through which talented writers may be recognized.


The contest is open to poets of all ages who are Filipino citizens. It is also open to poets of any nationality residing or studying in Iowa, USA. BNSCWC personnel, Board of Associates, and Advisory Council are not eligible for the competition.


An entry must consist of at least five (5) and not more than ten (10) unpublished poems written in English. Entries must be e-mailed to kokoyguevaraprize@gmail.com. Entries must be in PDF format, typed in size-12 Arial or Times New Roman double-spaced font. Entries not complying with competition rules will be disqualified.

Submission Requirements

Each entry must be accompanied by a separate page that includes the following information:

1. The poet’s first, middle and last name, as well as any nickname and/or pseudonym;
2. 2” x 2” photo;
3. Date of birth;
4. Full contact information (postal address valid for the next 12 months, e-mail address, landline phone number and mobile number); and
5. For Filipino citizens, proof of citizenship (e.g., scanned copy of passport, driver’s license or student ID), and for residents of Iowa, USA (e.g., scanned copy of driver’s license or student ID).

No entry fee is required. Only one entry per contestant will be accepted.

Entries shall be accepted from 28 November 2015 to 28 June 2016.

Board of Judges

The entries will be judged by a panel of judges from the Philippines and the United States. The panel of judges shall have absolute discretion regarding any matter relating to the qualifications and rules of the contest. The decision of the Board of Judges is final.


First Prize: PHP25,000
Second Prize: PHP15,000
Third Prize: PHP10,000

The prizes are offered as gross amounts. Winners are responsible for any taxes and fees resulting from their prizes. For US entries, the prizes will be the US-Dollar equivalent of the aforementioned amounts, based on the rate of exchange on the day the winners are announced. The winners will be announced on 28 October 2016. Winners will be notified via e-mail, SMS, and/or telephone.


Copyright remains with the author, but the Kokoy F. Guevara Poetry Competition reserves the right to have entries performed or published live, on the internet or in an anthology at any time in the future. Each participant will be responsible for complying with applicable intellectual property laws.

Privacy Policy

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entry arrow11:34 AM | Writers Seen at KRI

With writers Lakambini Sitoy (Sweet Haven, 2015), Criselda Yabes (Below the Crying Mountain, 2010), and Ricardo de Ungria (M'mry Wire, 2014) at KRI for dinner, last January 11 -- shortly after the deliberations for the fellows of the 2016 Silliman University National Writers Workshop. The dinner, sponsored by the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center, was to welcome Bing back to Dumaguete, and to host the workshop screeners, which also include poets Myrna Peña-Reyes and Cesar Ruiz Aquino.

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entry arrow10:51 AM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: The Cakes of Royal Suite Inn

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

Here's another one of Dumaguete's culinary institutions, but not the regular kind: it's the small restaurant attached to the small hotel known as the Dumaguete Royal Suite Inn, located along the northern end of Rovira End, near St. Paul’s. The place — an intimate affair of just six tables — is known for its wide array of the usual Filipino favorites -- the crispy pata and sizzling bulalo, most of all -- but our singular focus for now is its surprising reputation for being the place to go if you want to savor a quick selection of the city's best cakes. And it's not even a cake house. I guess that's the secret to Royal Suite's singular claim to fame. Because it is not obliged to create dozens of pastries and cakes to dazzle us with choices, it has come close to perfecting what few cakes it has on its menu. Notably, for me, this includes the Quadruple Chocolate Cake, the Japanese Cheese Cake, and the ever popular Choco Dome. Others swear by the tiramisu, but the former three take me to now familiar levels of glee, which still surprises me for the consistency with which it provokes pleasure. The Quadruple Chocolate Cake, for example, is a fine combination of the four kinds of chocolate hinted to us by its name -- and it wows without overwhelming our sweet tooth: there is a subtlety to its flavor that is unexpected. The same goes for the Japanese cheese cake, which is soaked on top with a syrup of strawberry that sets off the moist pleasures of the cake itself. People love the best-selling Choco Dome, and it's easy to see -- and taste -- why. The cakes are priced reasonably. (I had too much fun in the eating, I forgot to take note of the price.) Placed our order at 9:00 PM. Order received at 9:05 PM.


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entry arrow8:02 AM | Film Log 14 ~ 19: The Big Short, Senior Year, Young Frankenstein, Advantageous, American Horror Story: Hotel, and Macbeth

I do not get the acclaim for The Big Short (2015), Adam McKay's attempt to clarify the most recent banking meltdown in America, and how several men who foresaw the crisis chose to milk it for what it's worth, as is the American way. It's not a bad film, but it's nothing to crow about. It's, in fact, funny in places, and the cast is a virtual list of Hollywood hunk hotties, new and old, from Ryan Gosling to Brad Pitt, from Christian Bale to Finn Witrock, from Hammish Linklater to John Magaro, from Billy Magnussen to Max Greenfield -- give or take Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo to make up for the gender disparity in the cast, plus Steve Carrel to remind anyone that McKay has, with this film, graduated to the front rank of Hollywood filmmaking after years of being in the comedy ghetto. (He gave us Anchorman, after all.) Beyond that, it is irritably condescending, underlined most of all by the celebrity cameos courtesy of the likes of Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler, and Anthony Bourdain explaining -- without really succeeding -- the shadowy complexities of Wall Street jargon and scandal. Its unbelievable Oscar nominations should have gone to Carol (left out of Best Picture), The Martian's Ridley Scott (left out of Best Director in favour of McKay), and Room's Jacob Tremblay (left out of Best Supporting Actor in favour of Bale). It is, this cannot be denied, a film of its time -- a manageable outrage for recent troubles -- but it's a film that seems destined to be quickly forgotten. ★★★☆☆

It has taken me a while to finish Mel Brook's singular achievement, 1974's Young Frankenstein -- a distinction admitted to by the comedy veteran himself. (It was also the same year that saw the release of Blazing Saddles.) What took so long? It's reputation as a comedy legend, perhaps. And an exhaustion from monster movies, which this film is parodying, especially the Universal Pictures variety. But what a handsomely made work! I loved it even if the laughs came far and few between. ★★★★☆

I finally managed to see Jerrold Tarog's Senior Year (2011), five years after it made some waves in the Philippine independent film scene. I remember it most as the film that sought to embody in fuller form the scintillating promise of Faculty, the short film directed by Tarog that preceded it, which went viral and reminded us once again that Tarog was a filmmaker to watch for. (Heneral Luna is only the most recent reminder of what he can do.) I like Senior Year. It has heart, and it has narrative ambitions reminiscent of Alan Parker's Fame (1980) and Aureaus Solito's Pisay (2007), two preceding films that sought to explore the lives of high school students as they go about the challenges of being teenagers: anxiety for the future, anxiety over love, anxiety about peer acceptance. It skims on many of the narratives it chose to follow, but that's to be expected in a film that's largely an ensemble effort to tell an ensemble story. It's narrative frame -- that of a high school reunion -- fails to ignite cohesion, given the traffic of narratives that already exists, but it does serve an important function to make sense of the epilogue: that our teenage dreams do not always necessarily come true, but high school was fun, wasn't it? ★★★☆☆

I wanted to like Jennifer Phang's Advantageous (2015), the minor Sundance hit written by two Korean-American women which centers on Jacqueline Kim's Gwen, an endorser and "face" for a lifestyle clinic in some futuristic world, who is summarily fired from her job, and is forced to undertake the new and still-to-be-marketed procedure of transferring her consciousness to a younger body in order to make ends meet and send her young girl to a proper school. The issues the film poses simmer -- the ethics of untried technology, the roots of race, the fleetingness of identity. It has ambition, sure -- and you can see the tire marks in its striving to create a fuller sense of execution of that ambition. Instead, you could see its obvious flaws framed and distinguished all the more by that ambition, marking the film as a middling, if noteworthy, effort. Generally, it is just a tiresome, unengaging watch. ★★☆☆☆

Let it be known that this is the first time I have ever completed all episodes of Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy's gothic horror extravaganza. I've tried before. I quit Murder House by the second episode, and Freak Show by its sixth, and skipped Coven and Asylum altogether. I like Murphy's breezy showmanship, but for the love of camp, he doesn't exactly know how to tell a coherent story. He delights in muddled narrative, puts a bow of ribbon on it, perfumes it with a whole flask of designer cologne, and nevertheless manages to call the Frankenstein monster of a product a ratings success. I couldn't be bothered to be hoodwinked. (Couldn't be bothered to stay longer for Scream Queens, either.) But American Horror Story: Hotel (2015-2016), for some reason, I finished. It's still muddled, yes. There are still so many loose strings left untied by the finale, yes. It's main narrative thread -- the vastly uninteresting Ten Commandments serial killings -- was also notable for fizzling out by the very middle of the entire season. But I grew to like small parts of it: Lady Gaga's The Duchess, David O'Hare's Liz, Kathy Bates' Iris, Sarah Paulson's Sally McKenna, Evan Peters' James Patrick March, and Mare Winningham's Hazel Evers. The end, when it came, was far, far, far from perfect -- but it was surprising: it was an episode that was strangely cuddly and warm, if refracted from an AHS lens. It's all about belonging to family, and fighting for it. Awww. Who knew? ★★★☆☆

I couldn't believe my eyes when I scanned the marquee of our local cineplex and saw that Justin Kurzel's adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth (2015) was screening. For a theatre chain loath to give us in Dumaguete a slate of good films, this was a complete surprise. The film itself is beautiful to look at -- Adam Arkapaw's searing cinematography is comparable to the miracle that John Seale achieved for George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) -- and contains two striking performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the murderous royals. But it plods: there is no energy to this adaptation, just an endlessness of emotic glances and whispers. It's a wasted exercise of epic filmmaking. ★★★☆☆

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entry arrow6:46 AM | Every Writer Needs a Good First Reader

After years of searching, I finally found a fantastic First Reader! He's blunt and smart, and reads a lot and has a nose for what works for any reader. He tells me exactly what he thinks about my fiction without mincing words -- but I also know it comes from a good place. (Sigh of relief.) He pesters me because he actually wants to read my unpublished stuff (I don't need to beg for him to read them!) and he has ADHD, which means he doesn't suffer bullshit or boring self-indulgent stuff writers often create. Plus, he's actually a real-life entertainment producer. Yey. Every writer needs a good first reader.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

entry arrow12:43 PM | What is a Saturday?

Saturdays are molasses. Saturdays are slow mornings bathed in yellow sunlight, the changing color of the skies a pageant of all shades of blue. Saturdays are quiet cups of coffee and songs streaming from somewhere not too far away. There is a fragile feel to Saturday's air, as if any moment now, something or nothing will snap...


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Friday, January 15, 2016

entry arrow12:04 PM | Classic Film Dancing to Uptown Funk

When I was sick, this mashup video of dance clips from a grand array of classic movies edited by Michael Binder, author of A Light Affliction: a History of Film Preservation and Restoration [Amazon], was welcome comfort. The choice of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" as the musical thread of the clips is inspired and strangely appropriate. It's even better and apt than the more contemporary version of the mashup. Here you go...

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entry arrow11:25 AM | Feeling Major Tom

At last, beginning to work today, and my instincts dictate that I first listen to "Space Oddity" -- for some reason my favourite David Bowie song. (I never really got to do the whole paroxysm of online tributes to Bowie earlier this week because I was all drugged up and dead to the world.) And so I sing: "I'm stepping through the door / And I'm floating in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today..." It all sounds very liberating, but it ends with the reminder that the song's Major Tom admits to "sitting in a tin can far above the world / Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do..."

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entry arrow10:19 AM | Corrective

There are reasons for the radio silence. The corrective after the New Year came early, and I'm glad, the way you can only be with silver linings. The middle of January wasn't even over yet. Monday night found me reeling from a headache and a sense of unease brought on by volatile weather [the day's heat seeped into my skin], no sleep, and the stress of having to finalise my choices for the next writers workshop this summer: the descent into fever, vomitus, and the runs waylaid me until Thursday. I was being my usual bachelor self of independent means -- I prepared to self-medicate and sleep it off -- but by Tuesday night, I had expelled all that was inside of me until my insides felt raw, and despite the fact that I had no appetite, I felt a consuming hunger. I've never asked for help from anyone before, and for the first time in years, I felt alone and helpless. It took sheer willpower for me to finally call my family, and ask for help. My brother Edwin came to the rescue, and soon my mother as well. It was a powerful demonstration, for me, that at the darkest hour, blood is always thick with love. I cried.

The days between Monday and Friday brought sad tidings as well -- two reminders that life is finite and no icons (goodbye, David Bowie, goodnight Alan Rickman) are forever -- and while I'm saddened, I'm chastened all the more to make the rest of this matter.

It's easy to forget; but be present, be kind.


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Monday, January 11, 2016

entry arrow12:05 AM | Personal Best: Forty (Actually 44) of My Favorite Films From 2015, Part 4

Lists are a good way to gauge film in two respects: first, as a reflection of personal taste (which always evolves), and second, as a picture of what constitutes diversity in filmmaking best for a moment in time. I'll probably look at this list in the future, and say, "What was I thinking?" But for now, this is my Top Ten, for better or for worse. Read Part 1 (nos. 40-30) and the explanation for my choices here, Part 2 (nos. 29-20) here, and Part 3 (nos. 19-11) here. Let's get on to the fourth and last batch of movies, the top ten, that delighted me this year...

10. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson, dir.)

I love a film that defies explanation but does not alienate. That's a rare balance, and when it succeeds, it deserves applause. Andersson's latest effort, the last in his "Living Trilogy," which includes Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007) [both unseen -- yet -- by me], defies narrative logic, and then some, and it deserves a thousand rounds of clapping: it begins with the titular bird, perched on a branch as a display in some museum, observing the goings on around him and by extension the rest of the film. The rest of the film, of course, are mysteriously presented episodes shot in tableaus, capturing the strange minutae of pale-faced robotic people in some European country -- most likely Sweden itself -- going about the small absurdities of their daily lives. It's existential, for sure. It doesn't make sense. It's all lovely.

9. Carol (Todd Haynes, dir.)

Give yourself a favour and watch Todd Hayne's film -- his first since his HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce -- twice, and in a row. The first time is to behold the crisp formality of the filmmaking -- the elegant cinematography and production design, the impeccable direction and editing; and the second time is to immerse yourself, finally, in this love story between two women in the conservative heat of the 1950s. The latter might not immediately make itself apparent in the first viewing because the film has a bewildering coldness to it that fogs the brilliance and warmth of its romance, and I think it's because everything is so crisp in construction -- and great beauty, alas, is distracting. Once the story embraces you, it becomes the very paragon of compelling. This is a rare happy-ending from the forever cynical Patricia Highsmith, whose novel The Price of Salt the film is based on, with savvy adaptation by Phyllis Nagy.

8. The Martian (Ridley Scott, dir.)

You cannot deny the power of this crowd-pleaser, an increasingly rare demonstration of Hollywood studio-filmmaking at its finest when it wants to be. It is assuredly directed by a veteran director who has managed to create perhaps the most positive film in the whole arc of his long and impressive career. Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded in Mars gives a performance that is virtually the equivalent of walking on a tightrope, going between drama and comedy in subtle measures. There no villains here, only the deadly challenge of the seemingly impossible. It is a film that makes you happy, that makes you believe in science, and that makes you believe in humanity. We need to celebrate films such as this. It is all too rare. Thus, it lands a spot in my Top Ten.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, dir.)

How is this possible? A belated sequel to a long-dormant franchise, directed by an old director whose last beloved film centred around a talking pig, shouldn't capture our imagination and our adoration this much -- but it has. And it's all a perfect combination of directorial chutzpah, bewilderingly beautiful cinematography, fantastic performances -- and a feminist twist to a traditionally testosterone-filled narrative. Much has been said already about Miller's film, and of late, it has been gaining recognition for the sheer inventiveness of its scale. This is bravura filmmaking. People will talk about this film for years and years.

6. Brooklyn (John Crowley, dir.)

Director John Crowley and screenwriter and novelist Nick Hornby's adaptation of Colm Tóibín's book is earnest in its conceit: life is hard, but it can be surrounded by the kindness of good people. This is why I love the film, because it is frank in its depiction of Irish lower class poverty and New York immigrant blues at the turn of the 20th century but it embraces earnestly a believable brightness in its navigation of a young immigrant girl's life and the way it is touched by many people. True, there is a villain or two in the film -- but the real obstacle is just the way life is often slow in making you realise for sure what it is that you truly love.

5. A Borrowed Identity (Eran Riklis, dir.)

There are twists and turns in this Palestinian/Israeli drama nobody can foresee, especially if you expect the tried-and-true formula of this particular sub-genre of film: anger, clash, recrimination. We follow a young Palestinian boy growing up in a neighbourhood of radicals all wilfully fighting the presence of Israelis in their midst. His father, however, wants him to land a good spot in a good school -- and that means leaving home to matriculate in an Israeli institution. The usual clash of identities and culture ensue (but in a different kind of unfolding). The difficulty becomes even more so when he falls in love with an Israeli girl and becomes the best friend of an invalided Israeli boy. Beyond that, the larger political upheavals engulfing this part of the Middle East are more or less skirted or are hinted at with obvious attempt at subtlety -- except for a speech our guy makes in the middle of the film, where he voices out what he truly thinks of the Palestine stereotype being banded about in the book they are studying for class. He makes a startling decision in the end, and by that time, we are forced to take a second look at the life he has lived. This is a film that gets under your skin, and upends our expectations.

4. Boy and the World (Alê Abreu, dir.) and World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, dir.)

Two animated films of such rudimentary designs do more to our imagination than most of the films from 2015 with more ambition for the grandiose, such as the utter disaster that is Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, which fails to make us feel anything for its flesh-and-blood characters, despite the film's good intentions. Alê Abreu's Boy and the World and Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow -- see the link between the three films? -- on the other hand, ask us to follow a cast of stick figures, and the result -- buoyed by a fine balance of narrative control and spiralling imagination -- is more crazily emphatic.

3. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, dir.)

It is easy to see why many critics see Ergüven's film to be a kind of Turkish parallel to Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999). We get the same willowy set of teenage and pubescent girls -- beautiful, ethereal, long-haired, and hormonal -- who are punished for their youthful exuberance by fundamentalist family members into the prison and cocoon of their homes. Coppola's story is a tragedy told in nostalgic tone by the boys in the neighborhood that the girls had enchanted into a kind of arrested longing; no such romanticism exists in Ergüven's film, which soon escalates into a war between the younger girls and the relatives who want to marry them off to men they don't know over the course of a summer. It's a beautiful and devastating film, but it ends with a hopeful note. And makes us realise how backwards most of the world still is in its obsessive control over women's bodies and fates.

2. Phoenix (Christian Petzold, dir.)

This film is my favourite surprise of 2015 -- I watched it as a matter of ticking off a checklist of films with buzz, and I ended up inexplicably enchanted and thoroughly devastated. This is not an easy film to watch: there is a formal hardness to it that can be off-putting, but it makes such a fine case of empathy, which lies in the fates of Nina Foss's character, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, who still longs to be with the husband who might have informed on her to the Nazis. Plastic surgery to her face has given her a new lease on life, and unexpected inheritance gives her the promise of putting the past behind, perhaps with a move to Israel. But she insists on looking for her husband whom she still loves without reservation, who then only recognises her as a doppleganger to his dead wife. He makes a proposal: he wants her to pretend to be his wife so that he can cash on in her inheritance. She relents -- and our anguish begins. It's a quirky take on My Fair Lady and Vertigo, with the darkness of the Holocaust and the darkness of the human heart as the background. And that ending...

1. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, dir.)

I didn't expect to like Danny Boyle's adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of the Apple founder this much. I expected to admire it highly, the same way I admired screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's effort to dramatise the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher's The Social Network -- and in fact I expected it to be a kind of thematic sequel to the 2010 instant classic: more of the same, thrilling the form-admiring cineaste in me. The structure of Steve Jobs indeed was what drew me in. Sorkin's decision to lay out the demons and desperations of Jobs in three acts, all centring around the launch of a major product, is genius, a storytelling device that made it a paragon of cinematic collaboration: the ensemble acting has compelling arcs, the direction is challenged to pursue tautness in the narrative, the production design showcase a feel for the passing of time that adds to the drama. The film is a fantastic example of how story comes first in any narrative. Without story, nothing matters. Steve Jobs is all fantastic and dexterious storytelling, and that is why it is my No. 1 film of the year.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

entry arrow9:44 PM | Film Log 13: Blazing Saddles

Today I needed to laugh. So I went for a sure thing. It has been a while since I've seen Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles (1974) a grab-bag comedy classic that surprisingly improves on memory. When I was younger, its silliness amused me to no end. Now that I am older, I laugh at its sheer audacity, and the brilliant crassness of its humor that -- given the passage of time -- has graduated to become a kind of superlative wit. Even its largely politically incorrect language -- "faggots," "twats," and "niggers" abound -- seem largely essential even now, considering that this was furious satire of the myths of the American Wild West in a time when racism was still an institution. That the film closes in post-modern chaos, revealing itself to be a manufactured Hollywood creation, seems more inspired and telling than Deux ex Machinining. With this, and Young Frankenstein (1974) and The Producers (1967), Brooks had created a brand of comedy that is perfectly of its time, although it eventually became diluted with later forays such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). And Madeleine Kahn. Darling Ms. Kahn, the perverse and sweet Teutonic Titwillow, and Oscar-nominated for the role. Comedy has never been the same without her. ★★★★★

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entry arrow11:18 AM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: The Rollin' Pin

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

The Rollin' Pin, located along Katada Street (beside Opeñas), is arguably the surprise success of the past two years -- a no-frills cake shop and cafe that has, for some reason, attracted a steady clientele who loves its pastries, or its bread. (I know friends who come regularly for its baguettes, and for its croissants.) I come for the Mediterranean Chicken, a tasty morsel of chicken leg dipped and fried in basil goodness. For its price, however, I'd love to have a meal with a fuller proportion of meat, but it's a beguiling concoction, one that I find ordering again and again despite myself. The cakes are a delight, some more than the others. But the space is quite small, the tables often filled to capacity -- and the wifi is notoriously lamentable. But that hasn't stop me and many others from going. The Mediterranean Chicken is priced at P195. Placed my order at 12:05 PM. Order received at 12:20 PM.


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entry arrow10:18 AM | Personal Best: Forty (Actually 44) of My Favorite Films From 2015, Part 3

A film's greatness, I think, largely depends on chance -- no filmmaker goes about his business telling himself, "I am going to make a bad movie" -- but having an acute sensibility that is able to fuse technology and vision is paramount. Read Part 1 (nos. 40-30) and the explanation for my choices here and Part 2 (nos. 29-20) here. Let's get on to the third batch of movies that delighted me in 2015...

19. Seymour: An Introduction (Ethan Hawke, dir.)

The intriguing question that haunts this film by actor and first-time documentary filmmaker Ethan Hawke is this: what happens if you walk away from it all at the height of one's artistic peak? Meet classical pianist Seymour Bernstein, who abandoned his rising career as a concert pianist to retreat to a more modest and very private life as a music educator and composer. We follow him go about his day, and bit by bit, we get life lessons -- all unforced -- about living the authentic life, and the value of keeping the integrity of our art central to our lives. The film unwinds like the finest chamber piece. I've always loved documentaries that follow artists in the pursuit of their creativity; this is a fantastic exploration of that.

18. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, dir.) / Grandma (Paul Weitz, dir.) / I’ll See You in My Dreams (Brett Haley, dir.)

Here is a trifecta of films that feels linked for me, and grouped together they afford us varying glimpses into the rich emotional landscape of women of a certain age. I could add a fourth, Paolo Sorrentino's audacious if uneven Youth, which contains a searing cameo by Jane Fonda, but the central performances in that film belong to two old men, so never mind. These three films, however, amply demonstrate the undiminished power of fantastic actresses usually considered past their prime -- and they do so with a subtle measure of heart and wit and beauty. An aching for connection connects the veteran actresses in the three films. In Brett Hartley's I'll See You in My Dreams, Blythe Danner -- gifted in this film with the starring role largely absent from a long and illustrious career as a character actress -- a longtime widow, very independent (she refuses to live in the same assisted living facility like the rest of her friends) slowly comes to terms with the loneliness that starts engulfing her more fully. In Paul Weitz's Grandma, a misanthropic poet played by Lily Tomlin, recently left behind by her lesbian lover, takes to the road with her granddaughter in search of money needed for an abortion. And in Andrew Haigh's incandescent 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling grapples with the slowly dawning knowledge that she can never be loved truly by her husband because of a ghost from the past. (I've written more fully about 45 Years here.) As acting showcases for three beloved actresses, they are sublime.

17. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, dir.)

This film has been in the ether for so long, it feels weird to still talk about it in 2016. Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria came out in festivals at the same as Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman but never received proper distribution until 2015 -- and both are practically the same kind of film but made with different sensibilities. Both are about aging actors (Michael Keaton in one, and Juliette Binoche in the other) preparing for plays that promise to redefine their careers, but are unsettled by the ghosts of old roles that defined them in the first place. Assayas' film is the better movie, I think -- it feels like a sturdier study of being human rather than a prolonged technical gimmick, but guess which one had traction? The one about the male actor. Kristen Stewart plays Binoche's assistant and foil -- and reaffirms her mark as a compelling actress beyond the usual and unfair disparagement of her as a one-note actor. (News flash: she's not.)

16. While We’re Young / Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, dir.)

There are three New York filmmakers who best encapsulate the quirky intelligensia of the city that never sleeps -- Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, and Noah Baumbach. All three are great directors, adept at catching the wit and ennui of big city intellectuals, but 2015 just happened to be more of Baumbach's year. Allen's Irrational Man was a scatterbrained waste of an effort, and Whit Stillman's pilot for Amazon Studios, The Cosmopolitans, never made it past the first episode. But consider the year's output by Baumbach: While We’re Young and Mistress America, two films of radically different conceits, are both wonderfully made and wonderfully acted, both trying to answer the ageless question of the restlessness and the diminishing promise of youth of artists in New York.

15. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, dir.)

Every thing Jacob Trembley does in Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation of Emma Donoghue's Room feels authentic, it is startling. The film itself feels like your regular standard good movie, although much can be admired of Abrahamson's uses of claustrophobic space about this drama about an abducted woman kept hidden by her abductor in a locked shed for ten years, together with the five-year-old kid she bore in her captivity. Brie Larson's Ma is a study of schizophrenic dilemma, but Trembley's Jack goes to town with a searing portrait of a boy who knows no other world except a small room. And that midpoint reunion is calculated to shred you emotionally..

14. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, dir.)

This is not exactly a sequel to Joshua Oppenheimer's tremendous The Act of Killing (2014), but it is a continuation of the same exploration of Indonesia's mostly untold genocide of communists and other people in the political opposition in the 1970s. It runs shorter than the former film, but it is arguably the better made of the two. Oppenheimer makes a difficult subject bearable by a use of cinema that's breathtaking, and while you can question the forced metaphors (an ophthalmologist opens the film! to make you "see"!), the painstaking effort at documenting the atrocities and the ghosts that remain is admirable and brave.

13. Night Flight (Leesong Hee-il, dir.)

I have a grudging admiration for the films of Leesong Hee-il. The Korean filmmaker is unique in the respect that he remains the sole Korean director who's openly gay, and who's adamant in pursuing frank gay story lines in his films. But there has always been a strange and distasteful undercurrent of violence to his body of work -- No Regret (2006), Break Away (2010), Going South (2012), Suddenly, Last Summer (2012), White Night (2012) -- which could never be erased by the tenderness that is also present. His characters have to be bloodied, tortured, and maimed before they can ever find a hint of (gay) romance in their lives, and it got me asking: is this a reflection of the annihilating conservatism and homophobia in Korean society? Night Flight does not differ from Leesong Hee-il's expected treatment of gay characters, but for some reason, this film becomes a flowering of the director's queer sensibilities. Two childhood friends find themselves growing miles apart in high school -- one becomes the ringleader of a band of bullies, the other the hapless friend of another schoolmate who becomes the object of the bullies' ire. Both are openly antagonistic towards each other, but they maintain an undeniable bond they cannot deny. Then secrets from the past are revealed, and the mayhem begins. Also love. This is a painful film to watch, but it's also beautiful, and in its small ways, quite grand.

12. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, dir.)

I had to watch this film twice to get the full measure of its unbearable greatness. And it is, for that matter, a great film -- the latest in Denis Villeneuve's efforts to follow the desperate turns in desperate times for regular people, with a gimlet-eyed view of that despair finally spiralling to chilling violence. I held my breath watching Incendies (2011), Prisoners (2013), and Enemy (2013) -- but I gripped my chair to a pulp while watching Sicario. We follow Emily Blunt's FBI agent as she gets involved in the hunt for a notoriously violent Mexican drug lord, and the labyrinthine journey she takes is a nightmare of betrayals and bureaucracy. Benecio del Toro has a star-turn here as an asset of dubious motivations, and how he steals the film in the third act proves what an important, and often unsung, actor he has always been.

11. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, dir.)

Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is a throwback to class films of journalistic procedurals (think All the President's Men and The Paper) that no longer gets produced by Hollywood. And while it doesn't deliver much in terms of visual delights, it is an important film of the present because it is fearless in pursuing an important issue: the cover-up by the Catholic Church of the abuses of hundreds of children in the hands of pedophile priests. The cast is a scintillating ensemble (save for Mark Ruffalo's irritating choices in characterisation), and the story is evenly paced, written, and edited that "thrilling" almost becomes the byword to describe the usually boring acts of investigation and writing. This is a film that celebrates the best of what investigative journalism can do, and I loved it.

To be continued...

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Saturday, January 09, 2016

entry arrow8:34 AM | Film Log 12: Sisters

I love Jason Moore's Sisters (2015) for what it is: a celebration of irresponsibility for adults on the verge of Peter Pan syndrome. But as a showcase for Tina Fey's fumbling search for a cinematic foothold, it remains much of the same. Look, she's not a bad comedian. She's a treasure, and that is easily seen in her comedic work -- both acting and writing -- for television. Only a smidgen of that has ever translated to film though. It has been almost 12 years since Mean Girls (2004). You'd think by now lighting would have struck twice, or thrice. The efforts since then -- Baby Mama, The Invention of Lying, Date Night, Admission -- have been funny, but middling. Sisters is a continuation of that. But I laughed my head nonetheless. Who wouldn't? Two grown-up sisters (played by Fey and Amy Poehler) are shocked to find out that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, in a strange casting continuation as an older married couple straight from the set of TV's Life in Pieces) have sold their childhood home. They then proceed to hold one last wild party in the house together with what has remained of their high school friends (apparently so many has stayed on in the same town since graduation), trashing the house in the process -- and also consequently falling in love and encountering life lessons along the way. It's de rigeur to elevate trashy comedy like that, but I appreciated more the bacchanalian disregard for adult responsibility by much of the cast. I can feel their pain and joy. I'm now 40, and a part of me still wants to party like it was 1994. The film is gleeful wish fulfilment more than anything else. There is a scene in the middle of the film where Fey's character delivers a rousing call to arms when a couple of old friends attempt to leave the party as adults are wont do in the name of responsibility: "To anyone who's even thinking about leaving, you can forget it. You need this as much as we do. If you think I shlepped all this so that you can go home and watch Flip or Flop, you are fucking dreaming. Don't you want to feel that carefree again, like balls deep in joy? It's not too late! The young you still lives inside you. We used to party in this house because we thought we would never die. I say tonight we party like Vikings because we know we could die tomorrow!" Amen, sister! ★★☆☆☆

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Friday, January 08, 2016

entry arrow8:04 AM | Film Log 11: Mozart in the Jungle Season Two

Amazon's first season of Mozart in the Jungle, the raunchy and comedic series that follows the lives and loves of the musicians and administrators behind the fictional New York Symphony Orchestra, was a totally unexpected surprise -- and it endeared itself quickly to me, given the fact that in the world of television, we've had too many shows following lawyers and cops and medical professionals and serial killers, but never musicians. That it followed the biting drama of the memoir by Blair Tindall was also fodder for interest, and I couldn't wait for the second season to start: this was drama made for binge-watching. I did binge-watch the ten-episode-long second season, and while I liked it, there was less to admire. It has considerably slowed down in terms of compelling momentum. For some reason, how we follow the show's major characters -- Gael García Bernal as the tempestuous conductor, Lola Kirke as the newbie oboist, Saffron Burrows as the world-weary cellist, Malcolm McDowell as the high-strung former conductor, and Bernadette Peters as the elegant but harried president of the orchestra -- seemed half-bake, noncommittal, bordering on boring, which is preposterous given the kind of actors we have in the cast. There is a minor arc, for example, for Ms. Peters' character who has suddenly rekindled a love for singing (as it should -- the voice of this Broadway legend was wasted and unused in the first season), but it's a storyline that's quickly dropped and serves only as a halfhearted device to introduce some illicit love affair to her character. For the most part, we follow a story that revolves around contract negotiations, a strike, a tour through South America (with Mexico as the main stop), a dance reality show, a stolen violin, a lesbian affair, a photographic fetish, a less-than-steller attempt at a new career at composition, an attempt to declutter, motion capture, PR battles, and a host of cameos from the classical music world's rock stars including Gustavo Dudamel, Emanuel Ax, Blair Tindall, Anton Coppola, Lang Lang, Joshua Bell, Alan Gilbert, Bernard Uzan, and Brian D’Arcy James. But it gels along with the gravity of its own narrative, and for the most part, it's fine -- just not spectacular. It is what it is: a sophomore season. I hope the third season is better, if there is one. ★★★☆☆

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

entry arrow7:17 AM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: KRI

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

I have already written extensively about KRI before, countless times -- but it pays being reminded why the place bills itself "a neighbourhood restaurant." Dumaguete comes to KRI, and it has done so very regularly since the place opened about six years ago: this is where people take their guests to, this is where people meet, this is where people have their fill of consistently good cuisine, and this is where people sometimes work over a cup of good coffee. (I know I do). I have written about KRI's food before, and so I shall not attempt to repeat myself. There will be only echoes: the food is still fantastic, and people from all over town have their own distinct favourites from the menu. Let me focus on one such favourite: the turkey burger. On the menu it is listed as the Turkey Thanksgiving Burger, a whimsical name with more than a hint of truth: there is no end to my thanksgiving that this thing exists. It's the epitome of understated deliciousness, and the meat itself -- perfectly set-off in its bun and bed of leafy greens -- is generous and subtly tantalising. They always present you the catsup as condiment, but I suggest requesting for the relish. The hint of spiciness adds an extra punch and texture to the taste. It is a perfect full meal. Turkey burger priced at P210. Currently having a staff shortage, so please be patient.  Placed my order at 1:10 PM. Order received at 1:30 PM.


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