Thursday, July 13, 2017

“WILDFLOWER” Keeps Audience Hooked with Latest Twists

Be it before or during primetime hours, ABS-CBN continues to always be ahead of its competition from the other networks. Perhaps the most significantly successful programming they have in the late afternoon would be the revenge-theme drama series “Wildflower”, delivering a heady blend of heartwarming love, sinister plotting, classical villainy and even heated action sequences. In five months’ worth of weekdays the show has racked up an audience share that would be the equal of the best teleseryes the network has fielded in the evening primetime. Stellar writing and incredible acting from stars both contemporary and legendary has provided home audiences with one of the best soaps ever aired by ABS-CBN.
Kantar Media, the audience measurement arm of the UK-based Kantar Group, has noted this month perhaps the highest record for audience share of “Wildflower” since its debut last February. A 25.8 percent national television rating is nothing to sneeze at, after all. So many people are tuning in before the evening newscast to see the continuing struggles of Lily Cruz in her personal crusade against the tyrannical and dysfunctional Ardiente political clan, while trying to reconcile her feelings for one of them who was her childhood friend, even as she lives under an assumed identity to carry out her plan.
Sounds like the stuff of supreme melodrama, but the cast of “Wildflower” have transformed it into something so much more. Headlining it all is the lead, Maja Salvador. In her role of Lily Cruz, under the assumed name of Ivy Aguas, she works to covertly destroy all traces of unity and reputation in the Ardiente family, whom she holds responsible for the tragic loss of her family. While she is expected to carry out her vengeance through plotting and honey traps, she also gets to display a physically fierce side. Having been taught martial arts by her adoptive mother in the backstory, Ivy gets to show her skills (and Salvador gets to demonstrate her training) by taking on a group of assailants in a June episode, which has become a trending topic for the scene in question depicting her in high heels throughout the fight.
But “Wildflower” isn’t a one-woman show, and the other principal cast members elevate the narrative to some truly emotional levels. Veteran actress Aiko Melendez gleefully shows showbiz world that she still has it as the splendidly bitchy Emilia Ardiente-Torillo, one of the primary antagonists in Lily/Ivy’s life. Her character’s eldest son Arnaldo, played by R.K. Bagatsing, is also effective in his bad guy role. In fact, the show’s villains are just so memorable in their all-too human vileness, as shown by Wendell Ramos portraying Emilia’s husband Raul Torillo, with the intimidating moniker of “Jaguar”.

The series has only gone up ad up in storytelling quality, especially with the latest plot developments that have drawn audiences in. If the revelation that Ivy’s mother Camia Cruz (Sunshine Cruz) was still alive, just when Emilia has finally sussed out her true identity as Lily, another woman (Yen Santos) appears claiming to be Lily Cruz. Who knows where this new bent in the narrative will go? You’ll just have to keep watching “Wildflower”, every weekday afternoon before “TV Patrol World” on ABS-CBN.
Photo courtesy of ABSCBN

“LA LUNA SANGRE” Dominates Filipino Primetime

Last month on June 19, ABS-CBN unleashed their latest drama series in the form of “La Luna Sangre”, after teasing it on their November 2016 trade launch. This is the latest chapter in their multi-installment saga of the horror and urban fantasy bent that began in 2008 with “Lobo”, and continued in 2010 with “Imortal”. In order to hype the launch of what could be the third corner of a series trilogy, the network has gone so far as to upload the entire episode runs of the previous two shows on their official YouTube channel. But as soon as “La Luna Sangre” started airing on air, everything was all about them on TV and online.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that ABS-CBN’s new show will rule the roost in the primetime slot. Looking at numerical statistics courtesy of Kantar Media, the June 19 pilot episode had a national TV rating that was over twice its timeslot counterpart on GMA7. Nor was social media immune from the highly positive buzz generated by the series, with the pilot’s official hashtag hitting number one of Twitter’s Philippine trending list. Needless to say, ABS-CBN keeps on cementing its superior program lineup compared to its longtime rival network.
The factors that have contributed to the runaway ratings success of “La Luna Sangre” can be attributed to the people at work both in front of and behind the camera. While the initial trailers made a great deal over the reprising of roles by John Lloyd Cruz and Angel Locsin from “Imortal” (and the latter all the way from “Lobo”), the real stars of the show would turn out to be the Kathniel love team. After a year’s break from TV dramas following the remake of “Pangako sa ‘Yo”, the first ABS-CBN “teleserye”, Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo are back to the delight of their many fans.
“La Luna Sangre”, which picks up from its predecessor “Imortal” chronicles a new conflict in the supernatural world of werewolves, vampires and men. The malevolent vampire Sandrino (Richard Gutierrez in his first major ABS-CBN soap) usurps the vampire race to hold a secret dominion over the world, after murdering the previous heroes Mateo (Cruz) and Lea (Locsin). But their daughter Malea (Bernardo) survives; half-vampire and half-werewolf but with no noticeable powers (at first). Her paths cross with Tristan (Padilla), son of a Luna (human hunter of the supernatural). Together they must rally werewolves, sympathetic vampires and men against the Supremo Sandrino and his dark designs.
The first week episodes of “La Luna Sangre” were overseen by celebrated director Cathy Garcia-Molina, who is heartily approved of by ABS-CBN viewers for her work I “Got to Believe”. Though she has since left the production to work on a new Star Cinema film, her succesors Richard I. Arellano and GB San Pedro have kept the level of quality consistent, ensuring that the series will continue to reign supreme in Filipino primetime TV. “La Luna Sangre” airs weekdays on ABS-CBN following “FPJ’s ‘Ang Probinsyano’”.
Photo courtesy of ABSCBN News

Glorious MAYWARD Tandem Feature in “YES!” MAGAZINE

It’s no common occurrence that a famous pairing could ever arise from a reality television show, but when it does happen then it becomes a thing of showbiz magic. The inaugural season of ABS-CBN’s “Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Edition” did give us – for a time – the memorable “Kimerald” tandem of Kim Chiu (the winner) and Filipino-American heartthrob Gerald Anderson. Now we’re seeing the Filipino-foreign pair phenomenon happening again with Maymay Entrata, winner of “Pinoy Big Brother: Lucky Season 7”, and Fil-Brit hottie Edward Barber who got 4th place. The chemistry that formed between them while in Big Brother’s house was so intense that it has since carried on after they got out at the end of the show last March.
Now Maymay and Edward are getting all the mileage they could out of their fans’ “Mayward” fever to launch their careers in showbiz, both as individuals and as one of the hottest new love teams in the Philippines today. And there can be no better way to celebrate their combined star power by having them included on the “100 Most Beautiful Stars 2017” issue of “Yes!” magazine. Not only that, they only just happen to be gracing the cover for that. Big props must be given to their stylists and photographer too.
Maymay Entrata has certainly found herself busy ever since being named Grand Winner of “Pinoy Big Brother: Lucky Season 7”. With that out of the way she threw herself into launching her singing career. Last month her debut album was introduced to the general public at an event at the SM North EDSA Skydome. For a singer-songwriter of her age, it’s a dream that has come true far beyond her greatest expectations. She even got a product endorsement from Bench (and a “MMK” episode) on top of it all.
Edward Barber is sailing the hype and momentum really well himself. He had the honor of serving as a presenter for the first ever Entertainment Editors’ Awards for Movies (Eddys for short) given out last month by the Society of Philippine Entertainment Editors (SPEEd). Another occasion that he graced with his presence was “Mega” magazine’s Mega Millennial Ball 2017, which was also the launch of that publication’s “New PH” showbiz campaign.
But really, Edward and Maymay get maximum fandom whenever they appear together. Whether it’s their exchange of “I do’s” in a wedding skit done in the June 25 “ASAP” show, or the fact that they are appearing as supporting stars in the bloody awesome horror-fantasy drama series “La Luna Sangre” on ABS-CBN, the power of “Mayward” is just so appealing to people who have seen them in tandem. Speaking of that word, their upcoming film “Loving in Tandem” will be something else to look forward to in the future.
Photo courtesy of Maymay Entrata’s IG

DARREN ESPANTO – Evolving with Style

On Tuesday of last week, July 4, when Jollibee opened its milestone 1,000th branch in Taguig City’s BGC Triangle Drive, the occasion was graced by the stellar song performances of Morissette Amon and Darren Espanto, singing in duet for the large excited crowd the “Ang Sarap, Ang Saya Maging Pilipino” anthem of the great Filipino fast-food chain. This was but one of the latest public engagements of the Filipino-Canadian singing sensation, who has wowed squealing girls and impressed music critics for years with his unbelievable vocal range.
That voice has helped 16-year-old Darren become a favorite nominee and awardee in some of the country’s most prestigious music and entertainment awards, especially the MYX Music Awards. This year he did win Fave Artist and Fave Male Artist, while his song “7 Minutes” got two nominations for Fave Song and Music Video.
And Darren’s popularity isn’t confined in the Philippines either. One of the latest posts on his official Facebook page is a screenshot he has taken from the “Top 10 of Asia” web magazine of RHA Media Sdn Bhd. in Malaysia. Their feature on the “New Asian Singers Making Waves in the Music Industry”, dated June 2 this year, would have Filipinos bursting with pride at Darren Espanto being ranked first in that Top 10 listing. He (and fellow Filipino artist Jason Dy at Number 2) beat out crooners from our neighbors near and far like South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Mention was made of Darren being the youngest idol singer to perform solo at a sold-out event during his May 29 birthday concert at the Mall of Asia Arena.
During his early days of fame ad stardom, Darren has been guaranteed to wow audiences and listeners with his voice reaching to high registers. It has served him well when covering high-pitched hits like Rihanna’s “Only Girl (in the World)” during his time in Canadian YTV’s “The Next Star” back in 2012-13, or Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” at the semi-finals of ABS-CBN’s “The Voice Kids” in 2014. But as he transitions into the latter half of his teens, even Darren is well aware that adolescence will mature his vocals away from those sorts of big-belting tunes.
How he has coped with this eventuality is a sure mark of his singing abilities and star power. It was a simple matter for Darren to begin exploring other song genres that cater to his vocal evolution. The best example for this would be his upcoming cover of the hot Latino tune today, “Despacito” by Luis Fonse and Daddy Yankee (with a Justin Bieber remix). Just to hear Darren’s version is so awesome. You’ll be sure to hear it sometime on his performances in ABS-CBN’s “ASAP” in the coming Sundays.
Keep up with the latest happenings for Darren Espanto at his FB page (@Darren Espanto Authentic) and Instagram account (darrenespanto1).
Photo courtesy of Darren Espanto’s IG

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Third Time’s an Epic Charm

For those who were old enough to keep track, there have been six major live-action films (in the 21st Century) adapting the iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. Of these movies, the story of the wall-crawling and web-swinging superhero has already been revisited three times, with three different actors to boot. The first was a trilogy with Tobey Maguire that started strong but fizzled out on its second sequel. The second with British-American Andrew Garfield had decent characterization but a weak story. With Spider-Man film rights holder Sony deciding to come to agreement with Marvel Studios, the web-head gets another shot at a story, this time as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At long last, Spider-Man has come home.
That last sentence was on purpose, calling to mind the new film’s title – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. It is the 16th feature film installment of the now-massive MCU, and does double-duty of establishing one of Marvel’s powerhouse characters as part of the sprawling film franchise and giving a quick once-over of his own background amidst the universe he is now included in. Part of the work was already done by introducing the character in advance during 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, and this standalone adventure for him completes his fleshing out.
Portraying Spider-Man and his civilian alter ego Peter Parker is British stage and film actor Tom Holland. His casting is one of the most brilliant moves in both the MCU and in Spider-films in general. Maguire and Garfield were both twenty-something during their times in the red-and-blue costume, but their takes on Parker saw him spend very little time in high school (when his adventures started back in the comics) before transitioning into young adulthood (when his comic stories started getting meatier). Holland was 19-20 when he played the part during “Civil War”. Come “Homecoming” he is 21, but he pulls the teenager thing really flawlessly. Holland makes you believe he is Peter Parker in high school.
“Homecoming” picks up where “Civil War” left off where Spider-Man is concerned. Having been drafted as a “child soldier” in a war between superheroes, Peter Parker – whose prior experience in hero work was stopping street crime in Queens, NYC using a homemade costume – is now owner of a high-tech suit and possessed with a wanderlust to take on even bigger threats. His benefactor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) however is aware that he had crossed a line in getting Parker involved in the Civil War, so he tries to dial down Peter back to being a “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” again like before. Good luck with that.
While Parker returns to his home life and school, he is putting himself in a holding pattern, just waiting for a heavyweight crime to stop. This comes in the form of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Toomes is a salvage contractor who was going to strike it rich cleaning up debris from superhero battles like in “Avengers” which left New York littered with alien junk. Unfortunately Stark and the federal government create a new department that takes away his line of work. Pissed at the people above and trying to make work for his crew, he turns to using salvaged alien and super-tech to craft super-weapons to sell on the black market. His personal gadget is a wicked winged flight pack that looks both feasible and fantastic at the same time.
It’s not very long until Spider-Man encounters this illegal super-arms dealership, but Iron Man deigns it above Peter’s weight class and tries to dissuade him from investigating further. This only spurs him, in typical teen fashion, to keep digging up the dirt with the help of a new confidante in classmate Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). He also has other concerns; the school homecoming dance is approaching and he would like to try his luck asking out his scholastic decathlon leader Liz (Laura Harrier) to be his date, all while another classmate Michelle (Zendaya) snarks at his lame-seeming life. Things come to a head, secrets are suddenly revealed, and it’s all high-flying high-swinging action in between, and it works so brilliantly like you wouldn’t believe.
Sony has got to be counting their blessings at having allowed Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to handle the actual movie-making for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” this time around, rather than make another attempt wholly in-house. And Marvel itself is so over the moon at getting creative control over Peter Parker back that they pretty much snuck in a lot of shout-outs in the film, from the orchestrated thme music of the 60s cartoon (during the studio IDs), to tie-ins with past MCU installments, to hints of possible future storylines (a crook played by Donald Glover is the uncle of another teen who takes up the mantle of Spider-Man in the comics), to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (not kidding!), plus one epic scene that is lifted from one of the most famous issues (#33) of the classic prints. No doubt about it, “Homecoming” is packed to the brim.
Welcome home indeed, Spider-Man. Here’s hoping your next MCU adventure fares just as well.
Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


The ‘Transformers’ toy-line was one of Hasbro’s most iconic products for the male child demographic. It was no surprise then that it was adapted as an animated series in the 1980s, even getting a theatrically released animated film in 1986. But only dedicated Transformers aficionados would likely know about this, as more recent fans would instead be aware of the 2007 live-action and CGI blockbuster directed by Michael Bay, a highly respected yet polarizing figure in Hollywood on his best days. His first “Transformers” film is often touted as the best Bay-directed film ever. And then it got sequels. Now the film franchise is on its fifth installment and, well, there are still tons of action and Bay explosions. But that’s all there is.
Really, if the original film was the only one ever, the story could be considered satisfyingly complete. In fact the first three movies make for a serviceable-enough trilogy. But being a film based on a toy franchise means sequels will always be on the table. However by the time the fourth film “Age of Extinction” rolled into theaters back in 2014 the prospect of a live-action “Transformers” movie directed by Michael Bay has lost significant appeal for me. And after coming away from “The Last Knight”, the fifth installment reinforced in me that I can make no further serious investment in this series.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” carries on as its protagonist Cade Yeager from the fourth film. Before I would have made a distinction between a “human” and “Transformer” protagonist, but this time the burden is all on Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling single parent and inventor. He now operates a junkyard in South Dakota to hide his alien robot companions from the increasingly militant human governments that have it in for all Transformers regardless of alignment.
Thing is, Yeager’s an adult, and the past films were somewhat exciting from having a youngish person be the primary viewpoint human. They tried to pull this off with a newcomer in Isabella (Isabela Moner), an orphaned urchin who survived the Battle of Chicago from the third film and has been living in its ruins with outlawed Transformers for company. She falls in with Yeager after he rescues her from government robot-hunters and moves into his junkyard, but that’s her prominent contribution. Yeager meanwhile finds himself aping the situation of his protagonist predecessor Sam/Shia LaBeouf, stumbling across a sentient alien artifact shaped like a medieval medallion.
And here we stumble into the cesspit of retroactive canon that is the back-story of the “Transformers” film series. The first movie would have it that the first human-Transformer contact was a couple centuries ago. Then the sequel would have it that the first humans to see them were prehistoric. And then the third film claims that the Apollo 11 lunar mission was to have the astronauts explore the crashed Transformer ship on the moon. There were no back-stories of this sort in the fourth, but “The Last Knight” would have it that olden-time Transformers were allied with King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his wizard Merlin (Stanley Tucci).
That’s not the half of it. The status of the doomed Transformer home-world of Cybertron has been altered yet again. The first film had the energy source that created Cybertron and its inhabitants destroyed. The third saw Cybertron nearly warped next to Earth. At the end of the fourth, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) left Earth to return there, and when he does in this film he gets accosted by another Prime. By now even franchise newbies would be lost.
Anyway, Cade’s alien medallion leads him to England where he meets a British Lord (Anthony Hopkins) who is the last of a secret order that has recorded the secret activities of Transformers throughout history. Apparently the Witwicky Family from the early trilogy is distantly related to an order member. So is another new companion in beleaguered Oxford professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), who has some plenty powerful genetics in-story here. And that’s really all the human characters of note because aside from Optimus, Bumblebee and the evil Decepticon leader Megatron (Frank Welker), all other Transformers are window dressing at best, combat fodder at worst.

Seriously, despite the plot on-goings, everything in “Transformers: The Last Knight” has been seen and done in the four films preceding it.  Nothing is surprising anymore. A trope name for such a phenomenon of blandness is “sequelitis” and that is a bad thing for movies. Not even Michael Bay’s “patented” directing style and trademark “Bay-splosions” will suffice to cover up the fact that this movie is a rehash of what’s come before. And despite the subtitle, this won’t be the last Bay “Transformers” film. A spin-off with Bumblebee is set for next year, with “Transformers 6” up for 2019. I might watch just to do a review, but my enthusiasm is gone. Time to let Optimus rest.
Photo courtesy of