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Monday, June 19, 2017

New “MUMMY” Film Makes for Uneven Start to Universal’s “DARK UNIVERSE”


Where motion pictures are concerned, these are the days of the multi-installment film franchises. Unlike conventional film sequel formats, which try to maintain a central theme for every new movie that comes out, the franchise films tend to highlight world-building, moving from one main character to another (with a few odd sequels featuring the same characters in between) while maintaining the feel of a “shared universe” where all these separate stories take place, and occasionally interact. Disney has the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Brothers has the DC Extended Universe. Legendary Entertainment has begun its own “Monster-verse” featuring the likes of (King) Kong and Godzilla.
Now Universal is trying to hop onto the bandwagon with their “Dark Universe” franchise, essentially a 21st-Century reboot of all the classic monster movies their studio has had a hand in producing since the Golden Age of Cinema from the 1920s on to the 50s. These include such iconic luminaries of old-school monster horror like Frankenstein, the Werewolf/Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and even Count Dracula himself as immortally portrayed by Bela Lugosi. One other scary creature that Universal has had a hand in is the wrapped-up wonder from ancient Egypt, none other than the Mummy which had six films attributed to it in the classic Universal Monster years (with said role given life by horror big-shots like Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.)
The “Mummy” franchise was popular enough then that Universal gave it its own reboot in the 90s and 2000s, the more “high adventurous” film series starring Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo as the bandaged abomination. With fond memories of that franchise, Universal decided that, going into the development of their “Dark Universe” films, the inaugural movie will be about a mummy (after discounting 2014’s “Dracula Untold” with Luke Evans as a starting point).
Returning the atmosphere of the mummy to horror, Universal then took the subversive bold step of changing the monster’s gender. Rather than a mummified Egyptian priest named either Imhotep or Kharis, the monster of the film is the sultry yet sinister Princess Ahmanet, played to scary sexiness by Sofia Boutella. Mummified alive after selling her soul to the Egyptian god Set in a bid to seize the throe of Egypt, her sarcophagus is found in modern-day Iraq (with a grim reference to the archaeological destruction wrought by ISIS) and recovered by American military officer/relic hunter Nick Morton, a role that is rather ably take up by older-than-he-looks superstar Tom Cruise.
Viewers can at least easily believe that Cruise is portraying a character that is a decade or two younger than his 54 years, thanks to that uncanny face and the action sequences he gets into for this film. All his time spent on “Mission: Impossible” and its oodles of sequels certainly paid off. And in a way he does make for a pair with Boutella as Ahmanet, who does make for a darkly seductive force whenever she appears to him in visions as her non-mummified self. She seeks to make him, who found her resting place, into a vessel for Set as part of her plan to rule the world like any god-like monster that was once human would.
Theirs isn’t the only storyline running through this movie however. If Ahmanet is trying to lead Morton into a dark path, there is archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who is trying to keep him from falling into perdition. Never mind that the only meaningful interaction they had in backstory was a one-night stand where Morton steals her map to Ahmanet’s tomb.
And then there’s the unwieldy introduction of a common thread that must serve to tie up the Dark Universe films the way SHIELD did to the early-stage MCU. The Prodigium is a secret agency that hunts down monsters and evil entities in the world (with shout-outs to Universal monsters that will be rebooted for this franchise). Said agency is led by a minor Universal Monster in Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), the brilliant doctor-scientist with the twisted and superhuman alter-ego.
This new “Mummy” film does somehow manage to deliver seat-jumping scares at key points all the way from the Middle East to England, thanks to some effective CG work. But the unwieldy middle portion and the shoehorning of the monster-hunters of Prodigium makes the already bare-bones plot thread concerning Morton and Ahmanet (with Jenny as a heroic third wheel). At times the pacing of the story is more a transition from one action set piece to another, with phoned-in info-dumps inserted in some quiet portions.
One can appreciate the steps Universal undertook to build a foundation for a multi-film franchise of their own. However the unevenness of the execution will come across as an elephant in the room for more critical moviegoers. They can thank their lucky stars that the box office is a bit more positive in their regard for the movie, but Universal really needs to step up its game for the next segment of their Dark Universe, if it is to have any chance of becoming a movie-verse at all.
Photo courtesy of insidethemagic.net

TJ MONTERDE Brings House Down with FIRST CONCERT EVER


To any dedicated follower of the newest and latest in OPM, there are a lot of standout music artists and performers that totally deserve their fan-bases. One example is singer-songwriter Titus John (TJ) Monterde from Cagayan de Oro. Although a university graduate with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Developmental Communication, TJ decided to take the plunge with a singing career.
He started as a radio personality in his hometown, then a TV host for ABS-CBN Regional programming, then a YouTube performer and even joining the auditions for the next MYX VJ back in 2012. Under the guiding hand of Polyeast Records since 2013 and bolstered by a publicized warm pairing with OPM soul artist KZ Tandingan, TJ’s star has been on a steady rise in recent years, finally culminating in his first solo concert last Saturday.
As MYX Philippines tells it, TJ Monterde pretty much rocked everybody’s world at the Music Museum on June 17 for his debut live concert “Ikaw at Ako”, named after the hit single from his first album. Speaking of albums, this concert also served double duty as the launch party for TJ’s third and latest album “Kahit Kunwari”.
At times just singing with band accompaniment and in others joining along with his acoustic guitar, TJ went through his repertoire of songs from his Polyeast Records library to the adulation of his audience. Over the course of his performance his official Twitter page was swamped with photographs taken of him onstage captioned with squealing and genuine praises from fan-girls and fan-boys, a strong indicator of the cross-gender appeal of his songs.
It really helped that a number of his songs were inspired with his strong relationship with KZ. Speaking of KZ, she was also a special guest at TJ’s Music Museum concert. In a post-concert interview the OPM soul singer expressed her pride at the success of the evening, especially with their live performance of “Ikaw at Ako Pa Rin”. “Not all artists can open [their concert] singing an original song of theirs,” she remarked. “He took the risk and it paid off.” Also among TJ’s guests was young singing diva Sassa Dagdag of “The Voice Kids” fame.
In his own post-performance interview with MYX, TJ described how the whole experience had been very overwhelming for him to the point that he could barely believe he had finished his first concert ever. “I offer all this to God,” he declared. “Thank You for the music… I promise to continue to make more songs for everyone.”
Photo courtesy of lyntabuco’s IG

Friday, June 9, 2017

SUNFLOWER FESTIVAL at Tupi’s BLOOMING PETALS AGRI-TOURISM PARK



Ever since I saw a photo of it during science class during my school-kid days, sunflowers have held a fascination for me. At a glance they look like the most basic drawing of a flower for children. As I grew up the curiosity for sunflowers (g. Helianthus annuus) I had remained a constant, and I’ve often visited gardens where these big bright blossoms are grown and cultivated. Just today however, I may have encountered perhaps the most wonderful location in South Central Mindanao where sunflowers bloom at their very best. While passing by the municipality of Tupi in South Cotabato on business, I heard word of an agricultural tourism park that had opened there only late last month, where there’s a field of helianthus that begs to be seen and enjoyed. Who am I to refuse?

The Blooming Petals Inc. Agri-Tourism Park touts itself to be the first of its sort in the province of South Cotabato. Located at Purok 3A, the park dominates a good area of land, perfect for growing vegetables and flowers, most especially the blooming sunflowers that have fascinated me for so long. In fact I only just learned that they even opened a booth back in GenSan, at Veranza Mall, where they showcased the blossoms they were going to grow and cultivate at the park itself. It was a shame indeed that I missed that. Or maybe not, since I could just go to the place myself.

As it turns out, Blooming Petals Agri-Tourism Park opened last May 27, and from what I discerned it was a major hit. And looking at what’s in store inside (after a P30 entrance fee), I can most definitely agree. Like I said, the star attraction of the park is the masses of sunflowers there, neatly planted in artistically winding rows. I give props to the landscapers for their aesthetic sense where this is concerned. You just need to look at me among the helianthus blossoms to tell that I’m having just so much fun.

But before I get too carried away, let’s talk about Blooming Petals Inc. some more. It’s just like the title of “Agri-Tourism” Farm says; there’s some agriculture going on there as well. One section of the premises has been reserved for a perfectly varied vegetable plantation. Aside from the usual stuff a resident of South Central Mindanao would see at the market or mall grocery section, like string beans, cucumber and pechay, there are also stuff like red radishes (instead of white) and bok choi growing on the featured plots.
Even better, the management has an open invitation for visitors to take their pick of veggies right out of the ground (for market prices of course). Or, if you’d prefer to purchase them clean and dirt-free, then Blooming Petals has their very own in-house veggie stall. And I have to say, they take good care of the crops there.
Now, as an Agri-Tourism Park, Blooming Petals has taken steps to be prepared for a lot of visitors and tourists coming over to have a look-see. And that includes looking out for them should they get hungry while taking their strolls. That is why I applaud the establishment for having dining facilities where they offer affordable meals to fill hungry bellies. Their meal package has a cup of rice, three sticks of pork barbecue, and a serving of vegetable salad. It’s a perfect way to end your tour of the park be it for (late) breakfast, early lunch or snack-time.

Here I am going on and on about the park and I plumb forgot to mention their operating times. For their grand opening period, Blooming Petals Inc. is open seven days a week, from 7 AM to 5 PM. But here’s the thing: that arrangement is only good for three weeks from its opening day last May 27. It means that the all-week business days will last only until June 16. This is in time with the lifespan of their sunflower crop.
After June 16 the park becomes open only on weekends (same P30 entrance fee per head applies), because by that point their inaugural sunflower planting will be gone. But fret not, a new crop will be replanted and should be in full bloom for more visitors by September. It’s quite long, but quality can’t be rushed, I’m sure.
Long story short, I am very impressed by my day jaunt at the Blooming Petals Inc. Agri-Tourism Park and I encourage everyone to come and see for themselves. They’ve already gotten featured in “Candy Mag” already, so that’s one major endorsement that I’m happy to join.
For more information on Blooming Petals, you can check out their official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bloomingpetalsinc/?ref=page_internal, or call 0918 935 9352 for your inquiries. Remember, they’re at Purok 3A, Tupi in South Cotabato. But you have until June 16 to see the sunflowers, so hurry!

MICROSOFT Acquisition of Software Startup Brings Back CREATOR of MS WORD and EXCEL


For people who have used PC with Microsoft Windows all their lives, they must hold some appreciation for the MS Office suite of word processing, spreadsheet and other related applications. These have been one of the most important products in the entire package of the earliest Windows operating systems that would cement the rise of Microsoft as a giant of computer software. It should be noted that the project head that originally oversaw the development of Word and Excel had since left the company he had been a part of, but just over a decade after his departure, Charles Simonyi finds himself back with Microsoft, in a rather roundabout way too.

CNN reports that on Tuesday April 18, Microsoft announced their agreement to acquire Intentional Software, a startup firm launched by Simonyi following his 2002 resignation from the company he has been a part of since 1981. Although the specific terms of the acquisition deal were kept private, Microsoft did state that having Intentional Software as one of their subsidiaries would be a major help in advancing their own development of more productivity tools, a newly emergent battlefield between software companies fielding competing work platforms.

Simonyi, who became a billionaire himself during his tenure at Microsoft, leading the development of MS Word and Excel (and Excel’s spreadsheet forerunner Multiplan), would go on to found Intentional Software in 2002 which, in his own words, focuses on “reinventing productivity software for the modern workplace”. The Hungarian-born software executive also donated millions of dollars to the same charities as Bill Gates himself, and even became the second “space tourist”, or recreational civilian astronaut, in 2007 when he flew in the Russian Soyuz TMA-10 rocket spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS), a feat he would repeat in 2009.

With regards to the Tuesday announcement of Microsoft acquiring his startup, Charles Simonyi had only this to say in his blog post on Intentional Software’s website the same day: “I am excited, stoked, amped, and elated to join forces again with Microsoft.” With his startup now part of his old stomping grounds, he sees a software revolution of sorts that he describes as “reinventing productivity itself”.

The higher-ups at the company Simonyi worked in for two decades were just as much in awe with his “comeback” as he is. Current executive VP of the MS Office product group Rajesh Jha, had nothing but praise and honor for one of his predecessors saying, “During his tenure, Charles oversaw the creation of some of Microsoft’s most well-known productivity applications. Now it’s my honor to welcome Charles back to Microsoft, along with his exceptional team.” It should be recalled that Microsoft is on an acquisition spree, one of which was LinkedIn for $26 billion.

Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

BABY BACK RIBS and More at RANCHERO NUEVO GRILL AND SEAFOOD at SM CITY GENSAN


SM City Gensan has been a total godsend to the people and city of General Santos. Ever since opening in 2012, it’s been a hub for all the great new things coming to town, where the hottest shops from the outside come to set up, and where some of the most delicious dining to be found anywhere, all in easy reach. The alfresco dining section of the mall has been waiting to get filled up by restaurants and coffee-shops since near on six years now, but what establishments have indeed opened up there are major draws for families and foodies of Gensan. Let’s go over one of the best there now, none other than Ranchero Nuevo Grill and Seafood Restaurant.
It’s location at SM City Gensan’s alfresco dining area is truly inspired. Just a brief walk either out the doors or around the mall fa├žade at San Miguel Street, you’ll see it just off to the side of the alfresco stage, supremely decorated in the rancher’s style that its name implies, with tables even laid outside the doors for diners and drinkers who prefer being out in the bustle, with a clear view of the stage and whatever evening’s entertainment is in store. The interior is also remarkably neat, illuminated with soft lighting, and hews to the overall theme, something I give the decorators my compliments for. Seating arrangements are also praiseworthy with good elbow room, not cramped even if packed to capacity with customers.
But we’re not here to discuss only the looks and aesthetics of Ranchero Nuevo. It is a grill and seafood restaurant after all, so let’s shine the spotlight on what’s best to eat over there. The menu is a mix of American ranch, Mexican and even Filipino cuisine, all either cooked or ROASTED to delectable perfection. Should you happen to check out the Google reviews for Ranchero Nuevo at SM City Gensan, almost all the reviewers are in awe or one signature dish that any self-respecting grill restaurant should have: baby back ribs. I can guarantee that this is one of the best, if not the best roast pork you can pay for anywhere in the city. It doesn’t disappoint with the crispy brown cut ribs with their savory sauce and cut veggie garnish. Surely, the baby back ribs are Ranchero Nuevo’s best-selling offerings. But that’s hardly all they’ve got.

They’ve got other choice cuts of pork to serve up here. On a more Filipino bent, Ranchero Nuevo has also got its own recipe for crispy pata or deep-fried pork leg. Served already chopped in easy serving pieces mixed with minced spices and a variety of dips, it’s another tempting dish for die-hard pork lovers, along with their crispy binagoongan. But before readers assume further about pro-pig bias, Ranchero Nuevo has even more than these to make your mouth water with. Switching over to beef, they serve some nicely-sauced lengua estofado (beef tongue) with mashed potatoes. Another Spanish-inspired hit is the callos de ranchero with beef tripe, which can be considered an alternative presentation of sorts for a beef dish that Generals are already so familiar with: balbacua.
I’d say that about covers the best of Ranchero Nuevo’s red meat delights, so it’s time to discuss the white. For something a bit more uncommon to local tastes, they serve sizzled chicken steak on a hotplate, with garlic among its primary flavor spices. And let’s not forget that Ranchero Nuevo also has “Seafood” in its name, with the prime example of their fish cooking being the bangus relleno (milkfish), a scrumptious meal if you can put up with cleaning the meat of the characteristic little bones. Finally, not even veggie lovers are forgotten by this amazing restaurant, which lists a wide variety of salads from various regional cuisines. Whether it’s western Casesar’s Salad or a tropical-themed summer vegetable salad, it’s up to you.
Thanks to SM City Gensan being located across the street from a major hotel their alfresco dining area and adjacent fountain court end up being full of people most nights, especially if some performers are scheduled on set at the stage. That’s usually when the dining establishments really fill their seats. Ranchero Nuevo is no exception, and they even have a detached open-air portion of their restaurant with tables and chairs in front of the stage for better viewing of shows. You’ve got to hand it to their staff to be so considerate, but that’s just one of the numerous reasons why the Ranchero Nuevo Grill and Seafood is already so well-loved, not just by the Generals but by travelers and tourists stopping by. Try out their “everything” for yourself at the ground floor outside, at the alfresco dining area of SM City Gensan.


NINTENDO Planning SNES MINI for 2017 Holidays?


Last year, video game company Nintendo scored an epic coup for retro nostalgia when, just before the highly-anticipated release of their new hybrid portable-console system the Switch, they introduced the Nintendo NES Classic Edition, a miniaturized reissue of their landmark killer console from the 80s pre-loaded with some of the most iconic game titles of the time, with save game and video quality options to boot. The plucky little throwback console was quickly sold out of both real shelves and online ones. It was a surprisingly successful gamble, and Nintendo’s apparently is in the mood to try again, with the next generation of their gaming history.

According to Eurogamer, it has been confirmed to them by anonymous sources close to Nintendo that the company is indeed in the middle of drawing up plans to create what may possibly be known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Classic Edition, a retread of the NES Classic but for its next-generation 16-bit successor. Likely packed with a prime selection of popular SNES games with some slight variations on titles depending on region (NA or JP), the proposed new retro re-mastered console is being slated by Nintendo for release sometime in December, the holiday season.

This new development and production may well be the reason for the seemingly abrupt discontinuation just this April, both in North America and worldwide, for the NES Classic which has been in production for only five months. Although the videogame maker has long stated that their retro offering was a one-off limited run, many fans have been upset at how quickly the consoles become scarce after shipment to retailers. The resulting clamor for production to be extended has reportedly take Nintendo by surprise due to their marketing it only as a holiday novelty. But now with the trickling of this piece of inside information, things seem to be making more sense, in needing to prep for the production run of a new classic edition console.

Already online gaming communities are abuzz with the possibilities, as while the NES and its games were legendary and well-loved, there’s no doubt whatsoever that the later SNES was packing superior hardware for great-looking and even greater playing games. While it’s expected that the titles for the in-development SNES Classic are pre-installed and unchangeable like its predecessor, one can assume that some of the best Nintendo- (and third party-) made games will be ably represented, like “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”, “Donkey Kong Country”, “Chrono Trigger” and several “Final Fantasy” sequels. While no official word has come from Nintendo about this leak, hopes are high that this report can be substantiated and not turn out to be mere rumor.

Photo courtesy of 4onegaming.com