Saturday, 2 January 2016

Rude Boy Gone Good (With Food)

English celebrity chef Aaron Craze likes being called a "rude boy".

But not because he’s actually rude (anybody can make the mistake of taking his sobriquet literally). It's simply a subtle hint of his upbringing in the West London community he was part of, which, at the time, was heavily peppered with Caribbean influences – from reggae music, to West Indian cuisine, to the rude boy culture.

A Turbulent Past
While the so-called “rude boy” can refer to the slick 70s fashion trend among men, it is often associated with juvenile delinquents and gangsters. “It was good if you’re called a rude boy in where I’m from,” recalls Aaron.

Being brought up in the West London Sink Estate, Aaron’s past was a roller coaster of madness just like the idea that his last name suggests. He was born into a family of criminals, dropped out of school at the age of fifteen, and took a string of low-paid jobs, like working as a gardener in a cemetery and as a carpet-fitter on a yacht, to make ends meet.

Becoming a chef had never crossed his mind back then. “I didn’t even think about cooking. It wasn’t something in my head,” says Aaron about his life before getting bit by the culinary bug.

It was his partner Nicci, who steered his life towards cooking. She sent out an application form on his behalf to partake in renowned chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver’s “The Fifteen Apprentice Programme”, a social experiment to train disadvantaged youngsters. To his surprise, he earned a spot. Aaron eventually discovered and developed a strong passion and love for food during his time in the programme.

“I never even cooked anything before I met Jamie,” he admits. “But he was like ‘Anyone can cook.’, and people got confident because he made cooking look easy.”

Jamie Oliver’s unconventional way of teaching made Craze realise that nobody has to stick to a recipe to be a good cook. “Jamie said ‘Just start a fire and cook something!’ And that’s it.  For me, I was like ‘Wow, doors have opened here. I can do just whatever I want with food.’”

After graduating from the programme in 2004 with merit, Aaron won in the cooking competition “Jamie’s Chef” in 2007, ran a pub which he painfully had to close down in 2008, penned a cookbook on Italian food called “Aaron Cooks Italian” (“Italian was the first food I was introduced to. I just fell in love with it,” chimes Aaron), and hosted cooking shows including “Junior Bake Off”, “Taste Off”, “Pet School”, and “Aaron Craze’s Rude Boy Food”.

His latest stint is hosting the third season of Asian Food Channel’s “The Amazing Food Challenge: Fun in The Philippines”.

Pinoy Food Trip
Aaron doesn’t hide his love for the Philippines. He has been in the country thrice, and has even cooked adobo for his family (“They really enjoyed it,” he notes). But if there’s one thing that stuns him most about the Philippines and its cuisine, it’s that “It’s not as Asian as I thought it would be.”

Well-travelled around Asia, Aaron finds the Philippine food culture very different from its neighboring countries. “When you’re in Europe, when you think of Asia, you think ginger, lemon grass, chilli – that’s what you’ll think. But the Philippines is completely different. It’s got a European twist to it.”  He was quick to point out that such is most likely the result of the centuries-long Spanish occupation in the country – the man did his history homework.

Over the course of shooting the third season of The Amazing Food Challenge: Fun in The Philippines, Aaron travelled around the country with twelve contestants from all over the world, who took on a series of rigorous cooking and physical challenges, including racing on traditional wooden bikes with no brakes, crab fishing, and preparing fiesta dishes for fifty hungry townspeople, in the hopes of winning 30,000 USD and an all-expense paid trip around the country. Esteemed Filipino chefs Rob Pengson and Fernando Aracama served as the program’s resident judges.

Aaron guarantees that the show will be more exciting than the previous seasons, and would have more fun and energy.  “It was pretty full-on. It wasn’t sugar-coated at all. It was quite scary for the contestants. It really is an edge-of-your-seat stuff,” he assures.

Among all the places in the Philippines where they filmed the show, he singles out Banaue, Ifugao as his favorite. “It was really nice, peaceful, and mystical because of all the mountains. I got really spiritual there,” he gushes. He also recalls getting awe-struck by the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “It was unbelievable to look at. It was breath-taking. That was my most memorable place.”

Another destination that he enjoyed is Batanes, which reminded him of Scotland and Wales. “Apart from the sea, that beautiful, clear sea, and the sun, it looked just like being in Britain. I couldn’t believe I was in the Philippines,” he says.

Being part of the show also allowed Aaron to mentor the contestants just like how Jamie Oliver guided him years back. “I tried to come across like a good teacher. You always had a teacher in school that you could confide in. I didn’t want to be just a host and say the lines and then that’s it. I wanted to get involved and be part of it.”

Candidly Craze
Off-cam, Aaron is really chill, and “chill” isn’t an adjective commonly used to describe chefs, who are often perceived to be short-tempered. He will remind you of that cool, go-to friend of yours with whom you hang out for Friday night drinks at the pub.

He has an ear for music, and plays the guitar and saxophone during his downtime. “I tried to sing, but it gets worse after a couple of drinks,” he laughs. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, and Coldplay are on top of his kitchen playlist, but he would occasionally let some random radio program take control of his background tunes.

A dedicated chef, the greatest reward for Aaron is when a plate of a dish he prepared comes back empty. “When you’re a chef and the waiters come back, you always look in the plate to see if it’s empty, and if it’s not, you ask ‘Why didn’t they eat that? What’s wrong?’” he spills. “So if someone eats [your dish], and the plate’s empty, that’s quite rewarding because you do put a lot of time and effort in it. You’re up early in the morning, and you’re on your feet sixteen hours a day, and you put a lot of passion into [the food] and if someone eats it and enjoys it, it’s worth it.”

While he spends most of his time in restaurants, Aaron, a proud father of three girls, enjoys cooking at home more. “Cooking in a restaurant is pressure. You know, you’re tired, and you’ve got to prepare a lot of food. When you’re at home, you can put music on, pour a glass of wine, you can get your kids involved, there’s no time limit. You can just chill out and relax. I think that’s the way I enjoy cooking the most.”

And as someone who’s totally laid-back, Aaron admits that his biggest pet peeve is when chefs shout in kitchens to get people moving. “I don’t like people who shout and put people down. That’s not what chefs should be,” he presses. In fact, he even has in a theory to prove why all the noise isn’t necessary, and it’s rather interesting. He patterned it – among other things – after the Disney Pixar film Monster’s, Inc.

“In Monster’s Inc., they scare children to get energy, right? And in the end they realized that if they made them laugh, they’d get more energy,” he explains. “I think, in the kitchen, if you shout at people, you don’t get nothing out of them, but if you’ll encourage them and you’re nice, you get more. It’s better to encourage someone.”

From living a rough past in the West London Sink Estate with no hope for a bright tomorrow, to bringing joy to people on their plates and small screens, Aaron sure is a chef with quite a story to tell, and he has something to say to aspiring chefs – an easy yet fail-safe life advice: “If you like food, and you enjoy cooking, just be yourself.”

***NOTE: A trimmed version of this article has been published on Read it here.


Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mission 2016: Ser Mejor

Let me tell you something: 2015 was supposed to be the year I'd get my shit together, be a better me, and achieve the little goals I set some time ago - you know, like what happens to the heroines in movies about big breaks? I craved for that. The OCD voice living inside my head also convinced me that since 2015 is a good-sounding number, it would be a good year for me. After all, I was turning 21, graduating from college and entering the real world. Everything seemed at reach. I was excited. And for quite some time, I believed that things will finally fall into place for me in 2015.

I was wrong. 

Nothing fell into place in 2015. In fact, a lot of things crumbled down as the year wore on. After finishing college, everything just turned into this massive blur, and I got lost. For some reason, my passion for writing slipped away. The dreams I used to look up to like stars started to mock me and vanish one by one. I stopped painting. I didn't pick up my guitar as much as I did before. My camera sat on top of my shelf and collected dust, the roll of film in it unwound for over a year already. 

My life - my young life that should be lived with much gusto - started to become tasteless. The little zing that used to jolt me into life despite all the demons in my head had left. While I may have had some happy moments, they were temporary. Fleeting. 

What amazes me, though, is how I never cried amidst all the chaos in my own little world that I battled in solitary. I was unhappy, but that unhappiness didn't deserve my tears. 

In 2016, I want to be better. I don't know how else to put it. 

I want to bring back the passion I had for the things I used to love doing. I want to learn something new each day. I want to acquire a new skill. I want to explore unfamiliar places. I want to meet interesting people who are in love with their lives. I want to be smarter. I want to be kinder. I want to start and end my day with a smile (okay, most of the time). I want to learn to laugh at my own mistakes and not live in them. I want to bounce back with a vengeance of bringing myself a happier tomorrow.

These are not resolutions, but wishes I hold for the new year. And if making these wishes come true meant working my ass off for them, I really don't mind. Fairy godmothers don't exist anyway. 

Happy new year, everyone! 
*Raises glass filled with crisp, bubbly champagne* 
Here's to a better 2016! 


Monday, 19 October 2015

UNBOXED: The Art of Disney: The Renaissance and Beyond Collectible Postcards

So, I picked up a box of The Art of Disney: The Renaissance and Beyond, and not one bit did I regret buying it. 

The set is one of the postcard boxes Chronicle Books released to celebrate the art of Disney. They also have Disney: The Golden Age, which includes all the classics you love, and The Art of Pixar

The set is definitely not a cheap find, especially for "just a stack of postcards". But if you're a big fan of Disney who loves collecting postcards, it's quite a purchase. 

The box contains 100 postcards, featuring the concept art of ten select films from Disney's Renaissance Era to 2014, specifically Disney's Revival Era: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Mulan (1998), The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Wreck It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014) - that's 10 postcards for each movie.

A postcard measures 9.5x14 cm and is nicely stiff, but unfortunately, not stiff enough to withstand harsh handling in the post. I have sent a couple of cards to some friends, and one of them got folded. It's a bummer, really, since that very postcard was one of my favourites in the set. 

Truth be told, it's hard to let go of a card, never mind three, since every design's
just too pretty to be given away! But then again, postcards are meant to be sent
and not kept. So yeah, I posted my first batch of  Disney postcards two weeks
ago. I'm not good at writing messages, so I just drew some symbols from the
film featured on the postcard and wrote a movie quote.

Here are some of my other faves:
(Please note that these are pieces of concept art, meaning some of the illustrations may or may not resemble the characters, settings, and other elements of the film they're from.)

The Little Mermaid
Kay Nielsen
Coloured pencil

Beauty and the Beast
Mel Shaw

Jean Gillmore
Black line and marker

The Lion King
Bob Smith
Watercolour and coloured pencil

Dean DeBloise
Coloured pencil

The Princess and the Frog
Lorelay Bove
Digital Print

Victoria Ying
Digital Print

Wreck It Ralph
Lorelay Bove
Digital Print

Claire Keane
Digital Print

Big Hero 6
Jin Kim
Digital Print

While the front of the postcard is a stunner in itself, the back is pretty, too, in all its simplicity. It has enough room to write (or draw) on, and Disney geeks will certainly love scanning through each postcard to check the label on the upper left corner, which carries the title and date of the movie in front of the card, the name of the concept artist, and the medium used to illustrate the image. 

The back of a Disney postcard can't get Disnier than this! Simple yet classy!

The only downside of the postcard set is that it lacks variety. Since its aim is to showcase "The Renaissance and Beyond", it would have been better if they included more films from Disney's Renaissance and Post-Renaissance, and not just pick a few from the Renaissance then skip to the Revival era. 

I understand that you could include only so much for a box of 100 postcards, but if they limited and carefully selected the art pieces (just the best of the best) to be featured for each film, then it would've been possible to include a bit more movies. 

Like, Hercules...

Or Pocahontas...

Or Tarzan, a.k.a. the film that ended the Renaissance era...

I've always admired Glen Keane, and couldn't thank him enough
for illustrating the characters I grew up watching.

Also, who wouldn't love to see some concept art from movies in the Post-Renaissance period like Atlantis: The Lost Empire?

When I was little, aside from wanting to be Mulan, I wanted to be
Princess Kida. She kicks ass and she has Milo. #NerdsAreHot

Or Treasure Planet?

Jim Hawkins is another
childhood crush of mine.
Finding out that he's voiced
by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
later in my teens, made me
love him even more! 
Haha :D

How about The Emperor's New Groove?

Or Lilo and Stitch?

Brother Bear?

And even Chicken Little?!

Oh well, despite that, I wish Chronicle Books would release more postcards for these visual treats, because the films deserve it. Moreover, the artists behind them deserve it. 

*Note: I do not own any of the concept art pieces featured in this post. They all belong to Disney and are created by their respective artists.


Monday, 21 September 2015

The Rhythm of Thorns

Apo Whang-Od is tired.

The 95-year-old mambabatok, tattoo artist, sets her tools in a soot-stained plastic ice cream tub, and wipes her intricately-inked wrinkly hands on the sides of her shirt as she slowly stands up from the rock she was sitting on in front of her decrepit wood-and-tin house, which also serves as her tattoo shop, in the mountain village of Buscalan, Kalinga.

She has just finished working on a tourist’s arm kayyaman, a centipede tattoo believed to bring the gods’ guide and protection to its bearer. But the work is not quite done yet, for the client, a young lawyer and previous tattoo virgin, wants another whatek, another tattoo – a five-inch python slithering next to the centipede.

The remaining job is left by Apo for her teenage grandniece and only apprentice, Gracia “Grace” Palicas, to continue.

Sitting on her grandaunt’s rock, the budding tattoo artist gathers herself and slips into pure concentration. In a split second, the bubbly girl with the playful smile is gone. Through her dark almond eyes, you might think her soul has drifted somewhere distant. Yet, the way she moves tells you that she remains united with her body, and allows the rustling of the trees and the sound of the wind to take control of it.

She fixes her eyes on the tourist’s bleeding bicep, and gently trails her fingers on his skin. She takes one last deep breath before she finally starts drawing the python with a bamboo strip dipped in whiyug, a soot-derived ink.

The python, a symbol of strength, is depicted by the Kalingas through uncomplicated lines and geometrical patterns, which, when put together, look like a chain of squares, linked from corner to corner with two stripes inside.

It does not take another minute after completing the snake’s outline for Grace to start hammering the ink into her client’s skin by striking the gisi – a tool fashioned from a stick and pomelo thorn, which serves as the needle – with a pat-ik, a long and sturdy wooden rod.

Tick – tick – tick – tick – tick…

The sound of wood beating wood beating skin is fast like a metronome on an overdrive. It conjures a unique melody that joins nature and spirit. Above all, it is a rhythm that reverberates an ancient Philippine tradition that has been practiced for thousands of years, with a future now in the hands of a bright-eyed 18-year-old girl.

Grace and the Whatek

Dubbed as the most beautiful young woman in Buscalan, Grace has a silky black river of hair flowing from her head to the middle of her back, enviable sun-kissed brown skin, and an infectious smile. She is not tall, but her muscled arms and legs speak for her strength.

Just like most teenage girls, her toenails are painted. For this week, she chose a nice periwinkle blue shade. An ornate half bracelet tattoo, a collection of thick and fine zigzag lines, wraps the area just below her right arm’s inner elbow. She has two other tattoos inked on her back by Whang-Od, including a kayyaman, her favorite design.

Grace developed a keen interest in her tribe’s tattooing custom at a tender age, and began learning the art of the whatek through her apo Whang-Od when she turned ten. The time she had away from rice paddies, school, and house chores, she spent on polishing her tattooing skills, her little hands meticulously mimicking the movements of her grandaunt’s, hoping one day, she’d be able to perfect her talent.

“I am confident that it is Grace who will take over my place as this tribe’s mambabatok when I’m already too weak to work,” apo Whang-Od says in the Kalinga dialect.

Eight years later, Grace has dropped out of college, completely ending her short-lived dream of becoming a teacher and totally committing herself to the whatek tradition, carving a name of her own – quite literally – in the rich tattooing scene one body at a time.

“Ipagpapatuloy ko pa rin ‘to kahit anong mangyari,” the girl is steadfast in defending her duty as the only guardian of her tribe’s vanishing custom.

While the number of Kalinga’s mamababatoks has gone down from a handful to two, people wishing to get a whatek are growing at a surprisingly fast rate, keeping Grace and her apo preoccupied every week with throngs and throngs of clients, Filipino and foreign, who hike for some two hours from the main road in Bugnay, another village in the municipality of Tinglayan, to reach Buscalan and get inked.

“Halos araw-araw may nagpapatattoo dito. Kapag holiday, mas marami ang dumadayo. Nagkakapila yung mga gustong magpatattoo,” Grace says.

The whatek gained popularity among thrill seekers and tattoo aficionados, when it received coverage from mainstream media in the 2000s, a result of the piqued interests of local and international documentarians, including renowned American tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak, who featured the Kalinga tattoo in “Tattoo Hunter”, a series of documentaries about indigenous body art forms aired on the Discovery Channel.

Although the reemergence of the Kalinga tattoo is seemingly healthy for the region’s tourism and the tradition itself, it is its true essence that’s gradually becoming obsolete.

The whatek used to be reserved only for the brave head hunters of Kalinga, who defend their tribes from intruders and enemies, and Kalinga women, who wear tattoos on their bodies as marks of beauty and to bring fertility. Inked Kalinga women accentuate the concept of ambaru, the concept of beauty.

Today, however, the whatek is often treated more like a souvenir or reward for making the dangerous trip to and from Buscalan. 

Nevertheless, Grace considers tourists sporting Kalinga tattoos as an extension of their culture. “Hindi lang Kalinga ang may tradisyon [ng pagtatattoo],” she says. “Marami tayong kababayang naghahanap ng tatak Pilipino.”

She also heavily disagrees with people who call her apo Whang-Od the “last” Kalinga tattoo artist. “Siya lang yung last sa old generation. Ako na yung new generation na mambabatok,” she explains.

In an effort to keep the custom alive outside Kalinga and in sync with the beat of the modern Filipino life, Grace takes part in the annual Dutdutan – a tattoo convention in Manila that exhibits the talents of the finest Filipino tattoo artists – on behalf of Whang-Od, who is now too weak to travel.

“Lahat sila, puro ‘bzzzzz’ yung tunog ng pangtattoo nila. Sa akin lang yung maingay na tick-tick-tick yung tunog,” Grace laughs, recounting her first Dutdutan experience.

In a few days, she will be setting out on another journey to Manila for her sophomore stint at Dutdutan. Grace proudly says that the event’s organizer Ricky Sta. Ana, himself, invited her to participate in the two-day convention, which will be held on September 26 to 27, 2014. She obliged, with high hopes of introducing her tribe’s culture to more people in the country’s capital.

Dutdutan 2014

It’s a few minutes past one in the afternoon on a Saturday, and the crowd at the Kalinga tattoo booth near the entrance has grown once again. Bewildered eyes are fixed on the chocolate-skinned teenage girl, who is hammering ink into the forearm of a man with the use of sticks and a thorn. Some are snapping photos. Some are taking videos.

This is the kind of sight that even a heavily-tattooed man would stop to see.

But Grace remains indifferent to all the attention she’s getting. She has slipped back into her own realm that is not to be disturbed by anyone.

Tick – tick – tick – tick – tick…

Grace has already tattooed dozens of people since the opening of Dutdutan 2014. Today is the convention’s last day and business is still going strong. A lot of her clients are foreigners and professionals, most of them driven by curiosity to get a whatek.

In Buscalan, Grace would take any amount, even a simple present like a box of sweets, from tourists after inking them. But in Dutdutan, the prices of exhibitors’ services are fixed. For a whatek, one has to pay one to two thousand Pesos, depending on the pattern’s size and intricacy.

Seated on a black cushioned chair, Grace’s client watches the thorn play a painful game on his skin. He chose to have a series of arrows inked underneath his completely-healed kayyaman. He has subjected himself to the same ordeal in the past, and yet, he still winces every now and then as Grace hammers the ink into his skin.

The ways people deal with getting a whatek greatly differ, and Grace has seen them all. There are some who have screamed or pulled their bodies back in fear of the thorn, but most who find the ritual painful often go through it in silence. There are also some others who sing, just like how the tribal elders of Kalinga would, whilst getting their tattoos back in the day.

Only a few have described getting a whatek “painless”, including a woman in her fifties who dropped by Grace’s booth to have a centipede done on her back. “It’s not painful at all,” she kept saying. The hint of disbelief in her tone never faded.

Grace is down to the last arrow, and the crowd has begun to thin.

The audience of the young mambabatok come and go, but one can easily tell when she has stopped tapping. It’s when the frantic ticking of an invisible bomb comes to an abrupt halt.

Beads of crimson-red blood seep through her client’s exhausted skin, which Grace carefully wipes off with a piece of fabric dipped in oil. She takes one last look at the fresh whatek, and leaves it to be admired by its bearer.

It is complete…

And it is beautiful.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Burning Thoughts and Feels After Watching "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials"

I went to see “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” yesterday, and honestly, I still can’t decide whether I liked it or not. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that it was bad, because it’s not. There were a lot of good things about it, but, of course, there were also a handful of bad stuff that happened in the film, which were pretty major – stuff that fans of the books may or may not take nicely.

You've been warned.

Scorch opens with a quick peek into the childhood of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) with his mum handing him over to WCKD (World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department – in the books), but the story picks up exactly where the previous film left off – on a helicopter after an apparent rescue of the Gladers. They are then brought to a secured facility, where they are fed, given fresh clothes, and promised a new life. Everything seems too good to be true, and soon enough, the Gladers find themselves taking a run out of their rescuers’ den and out in the Scorch, where they face a new test of survival.

It’s pretty much a whole different story.

Our favourite Gladers are back! But if you have seen the trailers, you probably know by now that a lot of changes have been made in Scorch. Well, what they showed in the trailers were just bits of the big jumps director Wes Ball, writer T.S. Nowlin, and their team pursued. I have read James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy, and I can tell you that the movie runs in a totally different direction.

In fact, the word “trials” in the title almost seems irrelevant, since the Gladers are not sent to the Scorch for any kind of trial, or at least, not in the context of them being lab rats of WCKD. The Gladers voluntarily got themselves out of the facility against the wishes of WCKD, who were, by the way, the people behind the staged rescue (duh). That is the biggest plot difference that I can pinpoint, since all the new stuff branched out from it.

Some elements in the third book have also been incorporated into the second movie, just like what Ball has said in interviews. The reason: to ease the franchise into a big ending, which he said will be “cool” and more “futuristic”. Was it a smart move? Perhaps. But we’ll have to wait for more than a year until we find out if the changes he made will pay off or not. In the mean time, let’s just put our trust in Ball’s vision, and hope for the best. 

The visual effects are sick!
Trust me when I say that you are in for a CGI extravaganza when you see this film. While the setting is a lot darker, the visual effects team didn’t see that as a reason to downplay things. Instead, they used that as an advantage to give the film the creepier, hair-raising, and heart-thumping feel it deserves.

Less dialogues, more action.
Scorch is an adrenaline-pumped film and fans of action will not be disappointed. It’s fast-paced and intense, leaving little room for the characters (and the audience) to catch their breath and even speak to each other! I also guarantee you that this movie has a lot more running than the previous one. Watch out for Thomas’s slide through the closing door and Minho’s knee to chest attack – I have to admit, those were pretty awesome.

Forget romance. You won’t be getting it.
One of the things I really liked in the Scorch movie is how unromantic it is.

I do understand that romance plays a great role in young adult stories, and that ruling it out is a big risk (we’re talking about millions of fangirls losing their minds here), but for me, the filmmakers behind Scorch bypassing the romantic aspect of the story is a risk well taken.

Through a subtle way, the movie gives you the idea that Thomas has strong feelings for Teresa and Brenda, and that’s better than doing something drastic that would push fans to gang up and form “Team Teresa” or “Team Brenda”, pitting both girls against each other. That is so yesterday, and that's not what The Maze Runner is about.

Having said that, while Scorch is not a movie that has a lot of romance to offer, it is certainly a movie about different kinds of relationships, and that’s what’s so great about it because instead of watching two people getting cosy together, you see everyone genuinely caring and looking out for each other.

There’s the brotherhood of the Gladers, the foster father-daughter relationship between Jorge and Brenda, and even the complicated link of Teresa with WCKD and her twisted affection for the Gladers. If you don’t think that’s love, you better get yourself a new heart.

The cranks are terrifying.
They are not zombies. They are not an army of the undead. They are just terribly ill people who look terrifying and run way too fast. And just in case you’re wondering, the “rose took my nose” crank wasn’t in the film. The cranks past the gone do not speak but they let out haunting screams every now and then. 

You will get to hear Newt call Thomas “Tommy”.
Happy now? And, yes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt is as cute and young-looking as ever, proving that life is, indeed, unfair.

More Minho? More like foreshadowing.
My favourite character in The Maze Runner series is Minho (Ki Hong Lee), so it was a great treat for me to see him in almost every scene in the movie. Little did I know there was a bigger reason behind his almost-constant presence around Thomas, for towards the end of the film, Minho unexpectedly becomes a driving force of the story…

After finding some relief in a camp of immune and uninfected humans, the Gladers are once again found by WCKD (How? You'll find out later.) and they try to make another escape. In the middle of all the chaos, Minho stays behind his friends to ensure their safety, while exchanging bullets with WCKD soldiers, who eventually incapacitate him. Too stunned to move from their hiding places to help Minho, the Gladers don’t get to save the former keeper of the runners, who is then taken away by WCKD on a Berg.

With Minho gone, Thomas loses it, and decides to go back to WCKD and find his maze-running buddy, sticking to a promise he previously made that no more Glader will be left behind. His friends along with Jorge, Brenda, and Group B, who were all hesitant at first, resolve to join Thomas, and that’s where Scorch ends.

Now does this really have anything to do with Minho being in almost every scene? Well, I like to think of it as a foreshadowing technique used by the filmmakers. Thing is, if they fail to establish the idea that Minho is someone who means a lot to Thomas (especially in Scorch), then him going back to WCKD to find his friend, when freedom is almost at reach, would be rather impractical if not pointless.

As for Minho's sass, we'll get that, but just. His hair is still on fleek, though! :D

Teresa’s actions are more reasonable.
The book has some motivation issues when it comes to the characters’ actions, so I’m glad that Ball and Nowlin made Teresa’s (Kaya Scodelario) dedication to WCKD (which makes Thomas eventually lose his trust in her) more believable and reasonable. 

In Scorch, Teresa’s memories are restored, and her desire to help WCKD in finding a cure for the Flare is reignited. She goes along with the Gladers, but towards the end of the film, she gets in touch with WCKD authorities who arrive at the colony of immunes. Chaos ensues. Trust is lost. Minho is taken. Shuck this life. 

But it’s not all bad, because we also get to see the sensitive side of Teresa as she recounts a memory of her as a helpless little girl seeing her once-beautiful mother turn into a crank. That part gave me (and probably other fans out there) a reason to sympathise with Teresa. I mean, if I were her, I would have the same determination to look for a cure and eradicate whatever killed my mum and billions of other people. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to like Teresa. 

It just came to me: Teresa is reportedly named after Mother Teresa (just like how most of the other Gladers are named after prominent people in history: Thomas from Thomas Edison, Newt from Isaac Newton, Alby from Albert Einstein…), and if there’s one trait they have in common, it’s that they put the welfare of others before their personal interests – Mother Teresa being the living saint that she was and Teresa wanting to find a cure. If you’ll think about it, Teresa is not selfish. She genuinely cares for everyone – and I mean everyone – just not in the way we and the Gladers want her to.

Winston gets his moment.
Thank God, Ball and Nowlin did not include the scene with the head-swallowing molten metal in the film! It's one of the parts of the novel that I didn't like. So yeah, good riddance! But then such omission means only one thing: Winston dies differently in the movie. 

Winston (Alex Flores), the former keeper of the slicers, makes it out of WCKD's facility alive and well with his fellow Gladers. But after an encounter with the cranks who claw him, he gets infected by the Flare and his health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of the disease on Winston were undeniably grotesque. After dropping unconscious midway through the journey, he wakes up coughing out blood and when he lifts his shirt, he reveals his exposed sick-coloured innards. He then begs the Gladers to leave him behind - a scene that was surprisingly emotional.

In my opinion, had Winston's character been developed better in the first film, his farewell scene would have conjured more feels, since it's a great display of the friendship among the Gladers.

Brenda is made to be more likeable in the film.
I found it difficult to like Brenda (Rosa Salazar) in the books. I actually hated her and her unreasonable and almos creepy touchy-feeliness towards Thomas. The movie, however, made her a lot more likeable and a bit more kick-ass.

Salazar did a great job portraying Brenda. She brought a fresh female presence to the film that Kaya Scodelario as Teresa wouldn’t have done, and she just blended so well with the rest of the cast. Whether she will be romantically linked to Thomas or not in the last film, it doesn’t matter because Brenda is someone you’d totally cheer on even without the romantic arc Dashner originally wrote.

Giancarlo Esposito makes a great Jorge.
I pictured Jorge to look more Latino so I was a bit taken aback when I found out that Giancarlo Esposito (you’ve probably seen him on Breaking Bad) was playing the role. He’s just not Jorge… or so I thought. Damn, he was perfect! He may not look the part, but he carried Jorge’s cleverness, tenacity, and soft  side in a good, balanced way.

Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” is surprisingly a great background music for an intense and explosive action scene.
Who knew, right? I enjoyed this part immensely, and I might have sung through the entire song. Haha!

Apart from Aris, members of Group B don’t appear until the last part of the film.
Aris joins the Gladers shortly after they arrive at WCKD and has stuck with them throughout the journey. However, Harriet and Sonya do not appear until the last quarter of the film, when the Gladers, Jorge, and Brenda get ambushed by immunes who live in a colony which the two girls are part of.

Janson is just… boring.
As the assistant director of WCKD, Janson (Aidan Gillen) goes about looking for the Gladers in the entirety of the film, trying his best to be on the good side of Chancellor Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) like an overly-obedient lackey – that’s all there is to him. He’s not even called the Rat Man! I personally think Gillen could have given more to the character if he were just given the chance.

Nobody is safe.
With all the plot changes, the characters in the movie are at their most vulnerable. All I can say is that everything is too uncertain for everyone at this point that it makes you fear of what Ball can do to the characters you've been rooting for from the beginning.



Sunday, 12 July 2015

Looking Back: Senior Highs

It's been a little over a month since I graduated, and I still can't believe that my university life is over. Everyday, I find something new to miss about college - seeing my classmates in school, my daily commute to and from Manila, and more recently, with the monsoon season kicking in, class suspensions.

The so-called real world is more cruel than I thought it would be. After a couple of interviews and writing tests, I finally landed a job as a copywriter-slash-editorial assistant at an online magazine. It's a nice place to get the hang of office life, but honestly, I don't see myself holding that job for a long time. I have yet to realise my real goals, but once I get hold of them, I will surely do my best to achieve them.

In this post, I'd like to look back at my last few months as an undergrad, as I never had the chance to write about them...

13 March - 2015 Philippine Journalism Research Conference
I have never really been the kind of student who would join competitions. Knowing that I write okay is enough for me. I never felt the need to apply for awards or contests to affirm that.

Last March, however, I found myself competing in the Special Projects category of the 2015 Philippine Journalism Conference. I honestly didn't want to join, but a professor of mine was insistent. He told me I should submit the paper I wrote about the Kalinga tattoo.

Thinking it would never get through anyway, I emailed an excerpt to the board in my Uni. The next thing I knew, my work made it through the screening processes, and I had been named as one of the finalists in a national competition. What's even crazier was that I was going to present alone!

Almost every output in the category would be presented by groups or partners, and I had to go A-L-O-N-E! Geez! You don't know how much stress the fear of speaking in front of an audience and a panel of judges caused me. I was cursing myself for submitting my work in the first place.

But on the day of the competition, things went really well. Call it what you will, a miracle or Divine Intervention. It was unbelievable that I pulled off such a presentation. None of the judges gave me negative comments, only suggestions and looks of approval. For a moment, I thought I was going to win. But I didn't, and that's okay. At least the experience helped me realise that I was capable of doing something I never thought I could.

The only photo of me while presenting, taken by my friend Kai :)

With some classmates, who competed in the Investigative
Report category

30 March - Journos on ice
Growing up watching ice skaters like Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, and Tara Lipinski performing, it had always been a dream of mine to try skating on ice, so I was super ecstatic when my Sports JRN groupmates liked my idea of interviewing a friend of mine who's a figure skater for our final project, a magazine show. I knew it was my chance to test my feet on ice, so, we scheduled the interview, and went on with the shoot.

Gosh, I didn't like being on ice at all! Haha! I was constantly worried about slipping and fracturing my skull that I didn't get to enjoy the experience anymore. And I wasn't alone, my team also found it quite tricky getting on the other side of the rink, where the lighting was better. After that day, my respect for figure skaters shot up to a whole different level.

Pretentious sk8r journos with figure skater Emee Dy

11 April - Thesis it!
After all those sleepless nights, consultations with statisticians and advisers, seemingly endless collection of surveys, and long hours spent at the library (revising, encoding, and whatnot), we finally got to defend our thesis successfully. It's one of the most relieving moments of my entire college life.

If you're wondering what our thesis is about, we focused on fake news on Facebook. So, it's all about analysing news stories that appear on Facebook, checking facts, hunting for hoaxes, and trying to find out how much UST journ students believed the fake news stories we selected for our study.

The golden trio

The fruit of our labour

Our obligatory post-thesis defense disorder syndrome photo

12 April - Fly on the Wall
The day after our thesis defense, we shot another segment for our sports magazine show: wall climbing! I was about 10 years old when I first tried wall climbing and I totally enjoyed it. Ten years later, I still found it fun! Totally loved the adrenaline rush!

21 April - PR Presentation
While our thesis defense is like the BIGGEST requirement for us to graduate, there's another that comes close enough: our presentation for our Public Relations course. We had the best professor to teach the subject, which can be a good and a bad thing at the same time - good, cos we learned a lot from him, and bad, cos his standards and expectations were pretty high.

The group I was part of had to revamp the PR department of a construction company, and I was in charge of making the layouts for a coffee table book featuring the projects of the company and other promotional items. Preparing for the presentation was really stressful  for everyone, having been drained (brains, bodies, and pockets) by our other projects, but getting a smile of approval from our professor meant a lot. It was also the last senior requirement that we had to deal with, so we celebrated with some pizza and pasta right after.

With the JoMa Carlos

28 April - Dapitan book launch
One of my biggest frustrations is not being able to get any of my written works published on Dapitan, the official literary folio of the Flame. So, in my senior year, I ultimately stopped trying and accepted the fact that I'm not much of a lit writer. But, somehow, by some miracle, I made it in this year's Dapitan, and not as a writer but as an artist.

Our art director took notice of some of my paintings and suggested to the literary editor that I illustrate the chapter divisions. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I may not be good enough a writer to be published on Dapitan but, at least, I'm artsy enough to illustrate its much-needed chapter division images. Also, a photo I took was chosen to be featured on the cover, so I was extra stoked about the whole Dapitan thing.

The theme of this year's Dapitan is Time. Check out Prague's Astronomical Clock on the cover

The shameless senior Flame crew

Here are some of the paintings I made for Dapitan:

2 May - Deadline of Thesis
Good riddance!

15 May - The Send-Off
Remember four years ago when I posted about the Thomasian Welcome Walk? Well, this time, we had our farewell walk - or farewell run, or farewell walk-and-run-and-jump - and it happened on the best night of my entire college life!

The send-off started with a parade (each college had its own gimmick - we wore flower crowns and garlands), followed by the baccalaureate mass, then  a couple more university traditions (oath-taking, exchanging of the Dominican Cross, lighting of candles, and others I can't quite remember anymore) , which was capped off by a kick-ass Rock of Ages-themed fireworks display, before we mobilized towards the historic Arch of the Centuries to make our much-awaited exit.

Like eager children, we broke into a run out of the Arch, and that was it - one step was all it took for us to realise that we are finally putting an end to our college days. Just thinking about it now still gives me goosebumps, and I might even be a wee bit emotional as I type this. That night really was the highlight of my Thomasian life.

Writing short messages on our uniforms is tradition
Having to wear a blouse or polo with a Sharpie-drawn dick is a curse

Thesis mates

Flame peeps

With my confidantes

Mr. Class President and the bane of his existence :D

Joan and Andy - inseparable since 2011

My attempt at a #selfie :D

Forever seatmates :D

Free at last!

27 May - The Finish Line
Graduation Day. While the ceremony itself was long and boring, I was happy enough to spend the occasion with family and friends.

I hate having to get glammed up, but I graduate from college only
once, so I thought I might as well. Haha! Not wanting any fuss, I
kept things simple and did my own hair and makeup.

I so loved Shraddha Kapoor's campaigns for Anita Dongre's Global Desi that I swore 
I would wear a dress from Global Desi on my graduation day, and I did! Had to have 
it flown all the way from India. Belt's from Stradivarius, while the bag was gifted to 
me by designer Cora Jacob. My nails are inspired by the signature colours of 
UST - black, gold, and white. I also painted my fingers with henna.

4 June - 4 JRN 1 Farewell Party
I don't usually attend parties, but for some reason, I felt the urge to attend my class' farewell party. It was a simple overnight house-slash-pool party (we were trying to catch up on summer) and only about half of our class made it, but it was fun nonetheless.

A different setting for 4JRN1