Friday, July 29, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

Days before the premier showing of Captain America, I intently did some research about this Marvel character who, admittedly, is the least of the comic book superheroes I’ve grown to like reading. It’s not that the story failed to interest me, but because among the comic books I got when I was young, Avengers copies were the most few. But as a former comic book aficionado, at least my knowledge about the Cap is not totally zero.

Like the X-Men, Green Lantern, and Batman, Captain America is included in my list of favorites. Why? Because they’re real people who eventually became superheroes. Their stories and ordeals are more veered towards reality. I am also glad to know the humble beginnings of Steve Rogers as a lanky, skinny and weakling guy who possesses the courage of a thousand men. It was also enlightening for me to find out that Captain America was actually used as government propaganda to stir up public patriotism during World War 2. Mr. Stan Lee found the story quite interesting that’s why it was resurrected in Marvel Comic books in the 1960’s.

As to the outcome of the movie, I found it funny how diverse are the views of a lot of people. For those who are not much of a comic fan, this film will never fail to entertain the viewers. It is an action-packed, exciting movie amplified by CGI animations filmed in 3D.

On the other hand, hard-core Marvel comic followers, who I think are the most sophisticated viewers, may find this a little unsatisfactory because it might miss a lot of their pre-conceived expectations. That is what happens when comic book fans become too immersed in the original story manuscript -- the comic book becomes like the “Bible” to them. Anything that is way off from the original is a betrayal of their anticipations. But the superb cinematography and CGI applications will surely get a lot of praises from the general movie goers and Marvel fans alike, most especially how they digitally super imposed the head of Chris Evans on the body of a skinny 90 pounder asthmatic person.

As to the actors and actresses who played the characters, discontent may also come out in some Fantastic Four fans that were accustomed to see Chris Evens as the “Human Torch” who is the kind of childish, easy-go-lucky type of character rather than the straight patriotic image that Captain Steve Rogers portrays. For the sophisticated movie Marvel gurus, it’s like an unspoken taboo for an actor to portray the personhood of two different super heroes where in this case the Torch became an Avenger character himself. It’s a bit awkward. But Hugo Weaving for me fits the character of Red Skull perfectly and the accent is exactly the way I pictured him to be. I’m also glad to see Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Philips because his caustic humor adds comic relief to the whole story.

Joe Johnston, the director of the film did superb work in connecting this Marvel installment to the much bigger Avengers story. Howard Stark also came into the picture which gave us bits and pieces of information about the story of Iron Man in the present. The biggest takeaway, of course, was revealed in the traditional Marvel films post credit sneak peek where snap shots of members of the Avengers were brought in to make us all excited to see them in action next year.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Restaurant Review: Chuck's Deli Eastwood Mall

For a regular Filipino guy, a sandwich for a meal is not a complete meal at all. Most of us would prefer to eat and be filled with the good old rice and ulam partnership to be fully satisfied. Maybe it’s because the sandwiches our parents used to prepare for us were the one-variant spread kinds where we don’t get to taste so much of the spread or filling in between the breads. 

A few days ago, we had one of those rare occasions to sample several hearty gastronomical treats. My wife and I, plus a couple of friends, spent a delightful dinner at CHUCK’S DELI at the Eastwood Mall in Libis, Quezon City. There, we got to taste a parade of rare types of sandwiches that won’t make you think of consuming another meal until the next day. The sandwiches we ate were filling in the truest sense.

Chuck’s Deli sandwiches, more commonly known as slabwiches, are the creative concoctions of Chef Katrina Kuhn-Alcantara. Her husband, Marco, who grew up in the U.S., wanted to put up a sandwich house type of resto where U.S. residents and Am-boys, or at least people who used to live in the U.S. for quite some time, could have somewhere to taste the food they grew up eating while here in the Philippines and where almost all meals are served with rice. Katrina, who finished her culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, has the knack of preparing food from scratch. This means they bake their own bread, process their own sausages and corned beef, and make their own beef patty. This adds to the unique qualities of the culture of Chuck’s Deli where everything is home-made.

Among the best sellers of Chuck’s Deli is the Reuben super slabwich, served in a ten-inch long ciabatta bread that’s freshly baked every time you order. It is stuffed with home-processed certified angus beef, layered with bar-thick slices of Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, mustard and glazed with Chuck’s special sauce completes the almost half a kilo sandwich meal.

Another Chuck’s most raved about slabwich is The Buffy, a mouth watering buffalo chicken sandwich with spicy garlic sauce and coleslaw. One special feature about this slabwich is the Chuick’s five-minute Buffy challenge. A successful contender who can finish eating a full slab of Buffy in less than five minutes will get the meal for free plus a shirt and will earn the bragging rights for his/her name to be included with the names posted on Chuck’s famous Buffy’s slayer wall.

After two scrumptious sandwiches, we got to try three or four more types of sandwiches which were all equally and deliciously satisfying. Among the array of sandwiches that landed on our table, there were two particular ones with tastes that linger on my palate up to now. The first is the French Kiss is which is actually a corned Lengua on a sandwich with sauerkraut and garlicky horseradish spread that tasted more like a tamed wasabi. The other one is the Philly Cheese Steak which is actually beefsteak on bread with American cheese and mushrooms, and spiced up with fresh onions and bell peppers.

Every sandwich lover out there who wish to have a great memorable sandwich experience will certainly love Chuck’s Deli. For the light eaters, Chuck’s menu can also be as accommodating with their Flatwiches and Veggie-salad selections. As for me, who usually prefers to eat rice than bread, would certainly steal time to visit again and grab a slabwich meal not for snacking but for a gut-filling treat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids – A Hilarious Movie Masterpiece in Pink

When I first saw the poster of Bridesmaids, I easily concluded that this is just one of those sweet/romantic chick flick tweetums type of movie that only girls who are in their 20’s to 40’s can appreciate. So when my wife and I were invited to the premier showing of Bridesmaids by Solar Films, I was a bit skeptical because I suspected only she would enjoy such film.

Don’t let the poster fool you. Because this movie is nothing like, or even comes close to, a My Best Friend’s Wedding type of movie that will let your partner snuggle closer to you with matching tears and sighs along the way. It is a comedy where slapsticks and toilet humor were reinvented and justified to make it enjoyable by both ladies and guys alike.

Bridesmaids is not like any other comedy where there is a gradual serious pace in the beginning before transcending to pockets of comic reliefs along the way. The first scene is a bed scene with a short graphic demonstration of Kama Sutra in six different positions. The succeeding scenes mostly have pauses where you just have to catch your breath before another punch line makes you spill your guts out laughing. From there, I realized that this is another level of comedy in a freakier sense.

The story is about Annie (Kristen Wiig) who was offered to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Annie, although recovering from a failed business venture as well as a love relationship and career in sales, does her best to pull herself together and organize the perfect wedding for her best friend until Helen (Rose Byrne) tries to steal the show. 

The story basically revolves around the rivalry of Annie and Helen where most of the hilarious antics are displayed. Their enmity focuses on who will be the “bestest” friend of the bride. Helen, the richest among the bridesmaids, uses her affluence to create the best bridal shower party while Annie capitalizes on the long years of friendship and memories she and Lillian shared. Unfortunately, Annie’s ideas often turn into comical disasters at the expense of everyone around her.

The rest of the bridesmaids are composed of Rita (Wendy Mclendon-Covey), Becca (Ellie Kemper) and Megan (Mellisa McCarthy), who all share a mix of their own individual weirdness that injects the story with the funniest concoctions. 

Amazingly, despite majority of the actors in the movie being unknown to most people, they have portrayed their characters with outstanding performances. Even Kristen Wiig, who is also the writer of the film and a Saturday Night Live veteran, is not seen much in the big screen. However, this movie can be lauded alongside some of the top comedy films I adore such as Airplane, Dumb and Dumber and Hangover.

Through all the chaos, a love interest falls in the middle of Annie’s story. State Patrol Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) becomes the knight in shining armor who keeps on flagging her old and busted car for having broken tail lights. Metaphorical lessons in the movie come into play when Annie finally heeds Rhode’s reminders to get her car’s tail lights fixed. At last, she starts to search for solutions for her chaotic and pathetic life which subsequently reconciles her to her true passion and to the people she values the most.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Race Review: The Pocari Sweat Run "Ready Get Sweat Go"

I have shared in some of my earlier posts about running that a runner ultimately competes with himself. At my age, and with only a little over two years of running experience, getting highly competitive and aspiring to be as fast and as strong as the seasoned (younger) runners I know is a long shot and that the best time to prepare to be in that state of fitness was 10 years ago :) With that, the only competitor I needed to beat was my last 10k chip time of 1hr 1min and seven seconds at the Yamaha Run last July 3 at BGC.

Last Sunday my wife and I participated in the Pocari Sweat Run  dubbed as Ready Get Sweat Go! at Fonteraverde Tiendesitas, Pasig City. Much thanks to friends from PepSquad Events and Marketing Services who invited me and my wife and graciously gave us race kits for this event. It was my first time to race at Fonteraverde but I’m quite familiar with the area as I reviewed the race routes. So, with a little confidence, I registered for the 10k run and my wife, a newbie in the running circuit, signed up for 3k.

We arrived early so we ate a quick breakfast at a nearby fast food outlet before we proceeded to the starting line. The crowd was a bit small compared to the past run I’ve been but the place was already jumping with excitement. After a quick change of footwear, I proceeded to the 10k starting line while my wife deposited our belongings to the baggage counter. According to the organizers, there were about 250 10k runners who galloped the streets of Ortigas Center that day. While navigating my way through the crowd at the starting line, I bumped into Reylene De la Paz, a long time friend who has been running and bagging ranks and medals for quite some time now. I also had the chance to be acquainted with her running teammates who, I assumed, are seasoned runners as well.

Photo borrowed from Run Philippines' Facebook page

As the gun was fired, all the front liners sprinted the few hundred meters from the starting line. The first kilometer is a 10-degree ascent along Dona Julia Vargas Avenue. For a mid-foot runner like me, ascents are normally an advantage and give less strain on the knees and ankle. But as the day became busier, cars and jeepneys passing by became additional obstacles as we tried our best to dodge them along the way. It’s a good thing that water and Pocari drink stations were situated at certain points along the race course which made our day easier and fun. In a race course like this, the numbers of ascents come with an equal number of descents as we loop in the course. In general, descents are knee killers. For a mid-foot runner, one is allowed to do heel-strike on descents but with knees slightly bent to allow the body to have a natural shock absorber as it is being pulled by gravity downhill.

The last kilometer stretch was 10 degrees downhill and everybody was on full stride as we approached the finish line. I wanted to go faster but my body was battling with fatigue resulting from all those inclined and declined running, so I just decided to finish the race as comfortably as possible. I crossed the finish line at exactly 1hr. 3min.

I could say that this is one tough race. All of the finishers were given a bag containing a couple of Pocari Sweat drinks and a finisher shirt. After exiting from the finish line, I saw my wife who finished the 3k category much earlier seemingly without any sweat. As I was about to be amazed by her performance, she told me she mostly walked rather than run the whole course :)

Scanning the crowd, I saw and greeted my friend Reylene who turned out to be the first place winner in the 10k women’s category. Kudos to you, my friend, who is not only a fast runner but a good writer as well.

I was not able to beat my last chip-time in this race. But the battle is not over for me as I will continue to run and train to gain more strength. When the next race comes, I am sure to once again face my ultimate running opponent – Me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows - The End

After 10 years, the Harry Potter saga has finally come to an end. The seven-book masterpiece authored by J.K. Rowling that captured the fantasy and wizardry imagination of its followers all around the world culminated in a one grand and final story – Deathly Hollows.

Personally, I’m not much of an HP fan but I was able to watch every single HP movie with my kids on DVD. There was even a time where a typhoon cancelled all classes and all of us were forced to stay put at home. So we decided to do a marathon DVD watching of the first five Harry Potter films for eight hours straight, non-stop. For me, it was one Harry Potter overload that made me experience fatigue of all sorts. I was surprised that my boys had the stamina and endurance to absorb everything with matching commentary exchanges on the side.

Two days ago, I had the momentous opportunity to watch the premier showing of the last and final installment of the phenomenal Harry Potter – Deathly Hollows at SM Mall of Asia in IMAX 3D. The Philippines was given the rare opportunity to be one of the few countries to hold an advance screening after the global premier happened just last week in the US. This reflects the very strong fan base among Filipino Harry Potter aficionados. The HP charisma was even heightened by a cosplay fashion show displayed by a big number of Harry Potter advocates with their wands and Hogwarts robe uniforms. There was even an exhibit with actual replicas of the wardrobe and costumes that were actually used in the movie.

Watching a movie at the IMAX with its DOLBY digital surround sound system is always an exciting treat for me and watching a film such as Harry Potter in 3D amplified the experience even more. The special screening was graced by a short talk by Mr. Francis Soliven, General Manager of Warner Bros. Philippines. The short speech was filled with mixed emotions. For one, it has a kind of festive celebration culminating the end of the last book of HP. At the same time, there was this sad feeling for most die-hard fans since this is also the end of an amazing story that, for many, has been a big part of their fantasy and imagination for the past decade.

For me, the Harry Potter movies has become a benchmark for other fantasy movies such as LOTR and Narnia (although those books were written much earlier than HP) on how fantasy movies should look like in this digital age and how they will be appreciated by avid movie goers as they witness the words of an author animatedly come alive on the silver screen with the aid of CGI technology. What every creative man can conceive, the CGI can perceive. The possibilities are limitless.

Other factors that made Harry Potter so appealing to the public were the celebrity “issues” and “intrigues” that surrounded the cast. Back in 2001, when the first HP blockbuster film first came out, all of us found it adorable to see these three very young and innocent characters (Radcliff, Wesley and Watson) as the cute-trio that captured the hearts of HP fans. But as the years went by and as they grew older, showbiz immersion likewise took place in the lives of these young celebs casting them with the evils of intrigues and malicious spells that usually accompany fame.

In 2009, Radcliff was rumored to have alcohol problems resulting from weeks of partying among celebrity friends. Another gossip that came out was that the character Albus Dumbledore has gender issues and was said to have the “hots” for Harry. There were also the “sneak-peek” voyeur photos of Emma Watson exposing her privates taken by paparazzi perverts. And the list went on about other cast members who had their own share of intrigues and scandalous photos that were devoured by showbiz columnists who were like death-eaters, feasting on the private lives of these celebs who became publicly exposed in tabloids, social networks and YouTube.

As HP came to an end, I hope these “issues” would also come to a close along with the book. In the movie, the dark lord Valdemort, along with his cohorts, was ultimately vanquished by Harry Potter which led to a happy ending for Harry and friends. But in the real world, the lives of these people behind the characters would continue to face intrigues and scandals that still linger in every corner of the World Wide Web and their lives may not be as blissful. All of them now are setting their own individual shining showbiz careers catapulted by the HP phenomenon. But with the fame are also their personal “baggages” that will ultimately test everybody’s mettle as they leave the post-Harry Potter era and enter another chapter of their new showbiz careers.

*Thanks Jeman V. of for the photos

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Race Review: YAMAHA – Run for Heroes

The last Merrell Adventure Run in San Mateo Rizal last month was undoubtedly the most challenging race I’ve been through so far. But despite a few setbacks during my barefoot (crash-course) training period in addition to, of course, exhaustion from the race itself, I still finished the run undaunted, unharmed, and with a smile on my face. After a few weeks of rest, gradual training and more fine-tuning on my running form, I guess I could say I’m fit and ready to face another racing battle ahead.

Despite the uncooperative weather last week, I still managed to run almost every day, come rain, come shine. I visited for race schedules and picked the ones with courses I’m more familiar with which are mostly flat and paved. I guess one gruesome trail running experience is more than my feet can handle and I don’t plan on exposing myself to that kind of punishment again anytime soon.

My first race for this month was the YAMAHA – Run for Heroes which was held last July 3. I registered two days before the race and still luckily got a singlet that fits me. I’ve assessed myself and perceived that I can do a 10 kilometer race since the course would be mostly flat.

The venue for the YAMAHA – Run for Heroes was at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. I arrived at the assembly area at 5:10 in the morning and found the place already flooded with runners. As the voice-over was prompting the 21k runners to get ready, upbeat loud music was also being played that added to everybody’s excitement. As soon as I prepped myself up, I immediately took a few pictures of myself and the crowd before I deposited my bag at the baggage counter. I was glad to see familiar faces of some runners I met from past races and was excited to be acquainted with new ones as well.

As soon as the 21k runners set off, I and the rest of the 10k participants were prompted to position ourselves near the starting line to wait for the countdown to begin. Shortly before the gun start, I still managed to do some quick additional stretching despite the tight space in between the crowd. I made this particular run to be a test for me as I was eager to find out how my newfound running form would do in a 10k race like this one and if all the suggestions I’ve received from sixth time triathlon winner Jason Rubillard would work for me.

And we’re off! At an estimate, I crossed the starting line at 5:31am in a slow constant pace. As many runners went pass by me, I focused on my form and mid-foot landing. The first 5k was a breeze as I took pleasure running with more than a thousand others and just enjoyed the cool and fresh early Sunday morning along rows of BGC skyscrapers.

At the 6k mark, I started to notice the increase in pace of some runners within my pack. I felt a little bit uptight as I was starting to fall behind. So I also increased my speed, maintained my form as much as I could, and was able to catch up with the group. I guess this is the part where the “fun runners” are set apart from the competitive ones. I never considered myself as “competitive” but as much as I lean more on the “fun” part of running, there are times I couldn’t help but raise my game one notch higher. After all, it’s a race.

In the 8k mark, as much as I resisted slowing down for water, because it will eat more time, my exhaustion from the additional speed I exerted compelled me to. The few ounces of cold water coupled with a drench sponge to my forehead quickly recharged my energy. At the turn of the 9k stretch, almost everybody seemed to be at full speed ahead. As we approached the last kilometer leg of the race course we merged with the 5k category runners which made the path a little bit crowded. That’s where I felt a pinch of pain in my left foot arch making mid-foot landing a bit uncomfortable. I decided to slow down a bit and run on heel-strike form to rest the tension on my left foot arch. I was relieved by this and switched back to mid-foot landing again. According to my wristwatch, I crossed the finish line in 1hour and 1minute, but I’m still waiting for the official chip time to come out soon. 

The race culminated with a festive event where all finishers and their support groups were treated with fun activities and freebies. I took some time to drop by the booths, get freebies and shoot more pictures. 

One particular booth that captured my attention was of the Heroes Foundation which happens to be the beneficiary of the race. There, I was given a short orientation about the foundation by their friendly staff and I was moved by their thrust in helping underprivileged children orphaned by their fathers who have fought and died in combat. As a fundraising consultant, I immediately offered my services on how to improve the foundation’s way of raising funds and they gladly considered it.

Another special attraction that morning, of course, was the Yamaha motorcycle display pavilion where they featured their latest line of cool motorcycle models including the most raved about Yamaha Fino which was highlighted at the event. As the morning became a little warmer, many runners didn’t bother to finish the program and decided to go home. 

Three of the Fino models were eventually raffled off and were bagged by three lucky runners after more than twenty names that were pre-drawn were called. Apparently, those who were previously announced were not physically present that’s why their chances were forfeited.

But for those of us who stayed and endured a few hours of waiting but were not too lucky to win any prizes, we’re just happy to go home with sore feet, sweaty clothes, and the enthusiasm to run for the next scheduled race ahead. 


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