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Friday, December 22, 2017

Latest Tropical Depression becomes Storm VINTA as It Approaches Philippines After Urduja


Parts of the Philippines have already been left reeling by the passing of tropical storm “Urduja” through Eastern Visayas and parts of Mindanao and Luzon last week, before leaving the country’s Area of Responsibility just this Tuesday. Now there won’t even be much time to relax as another depression, developing due east of Mindanao, just became yet another contributor to a very wet and rainy Christmas season for 2017. Named “Vinta” by PAGASA, the tropical storm is now bearing down towards the province of Surigao del Sur, intensifying its wind speed and gustiness as it goes.
CNN Philippines reports that PAGASA’s latest advisory at 5AM of Thursday, December 21, has pegged Vinta’s maximum wind speed at 65 kilometers per hour, gustiness of 80 km/h, and was last located  some 510 km east of the Surigao del Sur municipality of Hinatuan, travelling west at 18 km/h. The next 24 hours have already been slated as having scattered and widespread rains happening all over the Regions of Eastern Visayas, Caraga and Davao. Not surprisingly, these rains have already been happening much earlier, including sudden bursts of downpours as farther south as parts of General Santos City in SOCSCSARGEN.
Already several provinces have been issued tropical storm signal warnings by PAGASA as Vinta makes its final approach, estimated to be sometime over the weekend. Thus far, Surigao del Sur is the only location with Typhoon Signal Number 2. Signal Number 1 warnings were given to Southern Leyte in Eastern Visayas; three of five provinces in Northern Mindanao: Bukidnon, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental; most of Davao Region: Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, and the northern portions of Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental; four of five provinces in Caraga: Agusan del Norte and del Sur, Dinagat Islands, and Surigao del Norte. Even SOCSKSARGEN has not been spared; North Cotabato also has a Signal Number 1 up.
The fact that Vinta’s probable landfall happens close to or on the Christmas weekend, officials from both the Department of Interior and Local Government along with the Department of Transportation have begun issuing travel advisories to commuters in the affected areas who are planning to head for their hometowns towards the end of the week. The LTFRB has also suspended bus trips travelling via RORO to the Visayas and Mindanao. Even sea travel has been canceled.
Though Christmas holidays are already starting, for some schools still holding classes in Davao City, the local government has called for suspension in all levels starting Wednesday to Friday.
By the time Urduja left this week, casualties in the Philippines numbered 41 dead and 45 missing. These numbers are grimly expected to be added to when tropical storm Vinta comes to town.
Photo courtesy of cnn phils

Video game Series “FINAL FANTASY” Turns 30 YEARS Old


Thirty years ago, in December 18 of 1987, videogame developer Hironobu Sakaguchi of Square (now Square-Enix) saw the release on video game stores of what at the time he felt would be his final title on the business before quitting. Such was his thought on the matter that he entitled the game “Final Fantasy.” It was a fairly basic roleplaying game (RPG) where the player controlled a party of four adventurers to save the world. Today, the “Final Fantasy” franchise is still going strong with 15 main installments and near-countless spinoffs. What a way to spend a videogame franchise’s 30thanniversary.
Monday this week marked three decades of the best-selling RPG series “Final Fantasy” from Japanese game company Square-Enix. Needless to say the past couple days were a blast for longtime fans of the multi-title and multi-platform franchise. So much has been going on in the way of celebration that a special website at finalfantasy30.com was set up to be an online hub where the flood of tributes can go and be seen. Most of the sendups are Twitter posts that have been collated for the site by means of their hash-tag #FF30. Images range from in-game screenshots to character cosplay.
But it’s not merely the fan community who has been hyped. Square-Enix and their commercial partners have also been releasing tie-in “Final Fantasy” merchandise outside copies of the game series’ installments. Commemorative items run the gamut from coffee mugs, ballpoint pens, postcards, clothing articles and stuffed toys of various franchise mascot creatures. On the videogame front, day-1 edition copies of the latest “FF” game, “Final Fantasy XV” which came out on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are now retailing online with up to 50% discount prices. The love for all things “Final Fantasy” is evident in all these developments.
The first title in the series came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, and subsequent “Final Fantasy” titles stayed on Nintendo consoles and handhelds until “Final Fantasy VII,” which released on the first PlayStation. Square-Enix has kept the mainline series with Sony, and later Microsoft’s Xbox line ever since. Original creator Sakaguchi’s final work had become anything but, with eager fans purchasing the games enough to keep the developers churning out new titles and spin-offs. The next big “Final Fantasy” project is a remake of “FFVII” for the PS4. No tentative release date has yet been announced however.
Photo courtesy of finalfantasy30.com

Thursday, December 21, 2017

BLACKBERRY Stock Rise Proves TURNAROUND of Formerly Beleaguered Smartphone Brand


Before the advent of the touchscreen which revolutionized the design of so-called smartphones forever, the image of the most hi-tech mobile device was any phone model from Canadian company BlackBerry. Its QWERTY keypad and the devices’ OS have at first encapsulated the concept of smartphones being handheld microcomputers. But the blistering pace of technological advancement saw BlackBerry being reduced to near-irrelevance by the advent of Apple’s iPhone and other devices running on Android, which made touchscreens better than physical keypads. BlackBerry announced their halt to producing smartphones last year, and to their pleasant surprise, the company seems to have rebounded.
As CNN tells it, BlackBerry appears to have made a significant turnaround in their fortunes as of Wednesday, December 20, when their stock surged by 10% following some solid demand for their software. This has been their primary focus ever since letting go of their in-house smartphone manufacturing and outsource development of the phones which had once been the personal favorites of former US President Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian-West. With the business of making BlackBerry hardware taken up by outside manufacturers, the company has only needed to concern itself with software development, which now generates 85% of their sales.
The recovery of BlackBerry from its monumental crash as a victim of the Apple-Android rise has been nothing short of miraculous. This year their stock has risen by a total of 75%, and their latest quarter earnings have been a record high of 77%. Analysts hold current CEO John Chen and his 2013 turnaround plan for the company as being the catalyst for BlackBerry’s reinvention and return from the brink. Part of his strategy had been embracing Android for BlackBerry-branded smartphones, and stepping up efforts in other software endeavors such as QNX, which is a hit with “connected” cars and the Internet of Things which connect and run home appliances.
It’s in fact the inroads in car computers that have been a major factor in BlackBerry’s renaissance. Their QNX is the core of the latest Ford automobiles’ Sync 3 smart entertainment/navigation systems. They have also partnered with Qualcomm to push the boundaries of chips for connected cars. This however doesn’t mean that their old smartphone stomping grounds have been forgotten. Currently BlackBerry has at least five contracted smartphone makers worldwide, making BlackBerry devices with some variant of their iconic software.
And their latest team-up is with watch manufacturer Timex since last September, where the end result is a possible smart-watch using BlackBerry’s Internet of Things technology. And all the royalties gain from having their name attached to products is going to help BlackBerry continue their return and rise to prominence.
Photo courtesy of business.time.com

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

“OCEAN’S 8” TRAILER Drops Days after Poster Reveal


Just days ago, Warner Bros. Pictures released the first official movie poster image for their upcoming heist film “Ocean’s 8.” Spinning off from the “Ocean’s Trilogy” of the past decade starring George Clooney, itself a remake of a 1960 movie outing with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, the upcoming 2018 adventure focuses on a new character played by Sandra Bullock. Initial blurbs have played up on the all-star female cast who will portray the team of lady thieves out to make an epic act of larceny, but the appearance of a trailer so soon was a very pleasant surprise.
Warner Bros. Pictures put up the first trailer of “Ocean’s 8” online this Tuesday, December 19 according to Entertainment Weekly. Said trailer, lasting two and a half minutes, doesn’t waste time in establishing the circumstances of Debbie Ocean, a master thief in the vein of her brother Danny (Clooney from the trilogy). It also reinforces the fact that this is pretty much a retread of the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven” film, but with the principal characters’ genders flipped. True, unlike Danny completing his sentence at the start of his story Debbie is simply out of prison on parole, but similarities remain.
Just from the opening scene, we get a handle of the character of Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock). She looks and sounds frazzled talking about restarting her life, getting a job and making friends. Cut to Debbie bluffing her way into a hotel as a guest by stealing a coat and suitcase from a trolley. Like her bro, Debbie is very confident in pulling off capers with limited (wo)-manpower, her and seven others. And when her first partner for the job (Cate Blanchett) asks her why she’s back in business so soon, the reply is simple: “It’s what I’m good at.”
What follows in the trailer, of course, is the assembly of Ocean’s bunch of misfits, both old acquaintances and needed specialists. Every snippet of dialogue is delivered with finely controlled humor that only a gathering of “professional criminal” women could pull off. And the target is expectedly huge, being the Met’s annual ball, where a valuable necklace to be worn by a certain model is the primary objective, worth over a hundred million dollars. But here’s a new twist that the “Ocean’s 8” trailer reveals: for Debbie it’s more than a comeback job; she’s got a personal stake in it.
The rest of the star-studded cast aside from Bullock and Blanchett include Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Akwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Gary Ross, “Ocean’s 8” will be set to steal the cinema box office on June 8 next year.
Photo courtesy of collider.com

PRESIDENT DUTERTE Signs 2018 BUDGET and TAX REFORMS into Law

President Rodrigo Duterte signs into law the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) and the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA) on December 19, 2017. Screenshot from RTVM.
There have been stories in the past on how long it takes for some year-end bills that are supposed to take effect at the start of the next January to get signed. Usually bills like the next-year national budget have a bad tendency to get bogged down in congressional committees. None of that is holding water in the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. On Tuesday of the third week of December, he put his signature on two bills, one being the national budget for 2018 and the other a comprehensive tax reform package with, among others, a lowered income tax.
CNN Philippines reports that on December 19 President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law his long-lobbied-for Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIn) bill, now Republic Act 10963. Said new law had the double purpose of raising annual revenues by about $130 billion while at the same time significantly ease the burdens on taxpayers in their income taxation. The general gist is the tax exemption for employees and workers earning P250,000 or less annually. This also includes 13th-month pay and bonuses that equal to P90,000 and below. President Duterte performed the signing at the Ceremonial Hall of MalacaƱang Palace.
In addition to the tax exemptions, RA 10963 also includes reduced tax rates for income-earners whose annual amounts to P2 million and below. There’s also a provision regarding value-added tax (VAT), wherein small businesses are exempted from it if their total annual sales do not exceed P3 million. This is a boon on micro-small operations which comprise 98% of all registered business in the Philippines. Other tax exemptions include milk and coffee products, natural fruit/vegetable juices and medical beverages.
On the flip side, there will be tax hikes on petroleum products that will be staggered from 2018 all through 2021. Beverages with sweeteners (caloric or otherwise) are to be taxed P6 per liter while drinks with high fructose corn syrup get P12 added per liter. Lastly, tobacco excise taxes will get a P2.50 per annum raise.
Revenue gained from the TRAIN Tax will be divided as follows: 30% to education, health, nutrition and anti-hunger, social protection/welfare, employment, housing, and the sugarcane industry; 70% to an intensive building program (Marawi in particular), military spending, public school sports facilities, and putting public drinking water infrastructure for all public spaces in the country.
After RA 10963, there’s also the new national budget for next year signed by President Duterte. It is higher than the 2017 budget by 12%, amounting to P3.77 trillion in total. The division is: DepEd (₱553.3 billion), DILG (₱170.8 billion), national defense (₱149.7 billion) and the DSWD (₱141.8 billion) according to guidelines laid out in the Constitution.

Monday, December 18, 2017

KIM JONGHYUN of KPOP Group SHINEE Dead at 27


It’s often a sad fact of life that when it comes to famous people, fans tend to see only the happy, bright and positive aspects of their daily affairs, without any inkling for the bad things that lurk under the surface. Such then is the case with the internationally successful K-Pop boy band SHINee, in particular one of their members, lead vocalist Kim Jonghyun. At a cursory glance, everything’s been going great for SHINee, which has a presence in both South Korea and Japan. This year marked the release of their fifth Japanese album, with accompanying tour. Yet on Monday, Jonghyun was dead and the five-man band became four.
CNN Philippines has it that Kim Jonghyun, 27, was found unresponsive at his hotel residence in the Gangnam District of Seoul on December 18. He was discovered by medical first responders who were called to the scene by Jonghyun’s sister Monday afternoon (Seoul time). This was due to the sister receiving text messages from Jonghyun that read: “Please let me go. Tell me I did well. Final farewell.” Concerned that her brother was contemplating suicide, she called emergency services.
Upon finding Jonghyun unconscious in his home, first responders diagnosed him as having undergone cardiac arrest and made attempts to revive him all the way to a Seoul hospital. According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the singer did not regain consciousness and was later pronounced to have died. Police are investigating the possibility that Jonghyun may have committed suicide as suspected. Evidence of coal briquettes being cooked on a frying pan in the star’s residence appear to lend some credence to the theory, implying that he may have been trying to suffocate himself with toxic fumes.
Kom Jonghyn rocketed to fame as part of SHINee when the boy band debuted in 2008, winning local and international followings with their throwback 90s musical fair and dance routines, coupled with the latest of contemporary fashions in their dress sense. He also embarked upon a successful solo artist career starting in 2015, and for a time was also host of his own FM radio program on the South Korean station MBC.
As expected of the K-Pop fandom, followers of SHINee and Jonghyun flocked to social media to express their condolences and pay him tribute. The late singer had appeared to drop off from the online community this year, not updating his Twitter since April. His last social media post was on Instagram last November where he posted lyrics of the song “Beside You” from fellow K-Pop group Dear Cloud, emphasizing the line “I pray you aren’t hurting.” Jonghyun’s last public appearance was at a solo concert in Seoul just this month.
Photo courtesy of idolator.com

Friday, December 15, 2017

First MOVIE POSTER of “OCEAN’S TRILOGY” Spinoff “OCEAN’S 8” Revealed


It had been quite the gamble in 2001 to produce a remake of a 1960 heist film that was headlined by the legendary Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra. But Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “Ocean’s Eleven” starring George Clooney in Old Blue-Eyes’ role as mastermind thief Danny Ocean, proved such a strong box office presence that it eventually became a trilogy. Granted the last installment of that trilogy was way back in 2007, a decade ago. But an all-female spinoff led by Ocean’s sister has been in development since 2015. Now the first poster for that film has landed.
As Entertainment Weekly tells it, the first official movie poster for WB’s “Ocean’s 8” is up online, giving the first good look at the new cast of lady thieves in character-establishing pose and fashion. Ever since the film was first floated two years ago, the name of actress Sandra Bullock has been attached to the project to play the lead role of Debby Ocean, Danny’s sister. The rest of her eight-woman heist team is also in evidence, all in common wearing slick shades and coats of varying quality and class. Principal photography on “Ocean’s 8” started in October last year.
The plot of the movie is pretty much a gender-flipped version of Big Bro Danny’s first big job with his team of eleven. Freshly-released inmate Debbie Ocean gets it in her head to steal a priceless necklace from the annual Met Gala and decides to assemble her ultimate team of female larcenists to do just that. Her associates are portrayed by Bullock’s fellow heavyweight stars Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, and Helena Bonham Carter. To establish continuity with the 2000s trilogy, Matt Damon and Carl Reiner will cameo as their characters from Danny Ocean’s gang.
In an interview with EW Bullock has expressed how much fun she had in the film along with her major co-stars. “Imagine all eight of us crammed into a makeup trailer in the morning,” she remarks. “You think that it would be disastrous, but it was heaven, all of us just sharing information, all of us doing three jobs with families, our other jobs, the juggling. And then we get to shoot this movie together.”
“Ocean’s 8” is directed by Gary Ross, who helmed “Pleasantville,” (1998) “Seabiscuit” (2003) and the first “Hunger Games” film (2012). Warner Bros. has slated this movie for a June 8, 2018 release.
Photo courtesy of NME.com

FCC Ends and Replaces NET NEUTRALITY Regulations in US


In 2015, the administration of former US President Barack Obama put into effect a set of regulations that compelled internet service providers to treat all online content equally in terms of access and consumer traffic. This was the concept of “net neutrality” which prevented the ISPs from dangling the carrot of “fast-lane” access to content providers for extra charges, as well as prohibiting the same from slowing down net speed for providers that are perceived to be competition by the ISPs. Telecom companies have long been trying to see these net neutrality regulations struck down, and on Thursday the Federal Communications Commission obliged.

USA Today reports that this December 14, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality a mere two years after it was enacted. The decision was reached over the virulent protests of certain internet companies and consumer groups, who felt that killing off the regulations was tantamount to pandering telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who hailed the FCC vote in their favor as a great victory instead. In place of the Obama administration-era rules are a set of new guidelines that was passed by the Commission, which was strongly pro-Republican, by a narrow vote of 3-2.
Now that ISPs are not, in their view, “hobbled” by the even playing field enforced by the old neutrality restrictions, they have full control on how much traffic certain content providers get. That’s the theory; but the new replacement regulations by the FCC also require the ISPs to always disclose publicly every instance that they will restrict or speed up any content using their services, whether their own or provided by partners. The removal of the old neutrality guidelines and their new replacements need only to be published in the Federal Register in order to take full effect.
Of course, just because a decision has been made and action has been taken, doesn’t mean the story has ended. In the eyes of the opposing factions who lobbied to protect net neutrality, the battle has only just begun. And their next recourse to make their voice heard will be in the Courts which will be reviewing the new regulations. Meanwhile, opponents of the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order in Congress remark that they are moving to have the whole thing overturned by planning to introduce Congressional Review Act legislation.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed in January by President Donald Trump, believes that the fears tied to net neutrality are overblown. He says that ending neutrality “is not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy and it’s not going to stifle free expression online. We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”
Photo courtesy of cnet.com

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” Does Not Go the Way You Think, and That Makes It AWESOME


When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was first teased to audiences in 2014, prior to its premiere in December of the year that followed, fans of the immensely epic sci-fi space opera franchise had their minds blown. After all, it promised the return of characters from the original trilogy, the last film of which (“Return of the Jedi”) was released in 1983, a gap of over 30 years. The gist of the trailers leading to the premiere of “The Force Awakens” hinted at the old (both in- and out-of-universe) characters passing the torch to a new generation of heroes to protect the Galaxy from darkness.
That was, details notwithstanding, pretty much what happened in the plot of “The Force Awakens.” The new generation, under the guidance of the original heroes, stand as a Resistance against the First Order, the resurgent remnants of the old evil Empire. They took on a powerful planet-wrecking weapon and a new Dark-Side Force user, and somehow they prevailed. In a way, some viewers of the film thought that it may have been too by-the-numbers in the way “Force Awakens” followed certain plots beats of past “Star Wars” films. They’re in for a surprise with “The Last Jedi” then.
Yep; Episode VIII: the second installment of the “Star Wars” Sequel Trilogy that was developed under the umbrella of Disney. If anybody thought that being connected to The House of Mouse would make an action-packed franchise like “Star Wars” lighten up, then “The Force Awakens” was a wake-up call. But “The Last Jedi” in turn could be compared to being thrown out of the bed, hauled up to your feet and getting slapped fully awake; because not only is this movie emphasizing grim and dark, it intentionally twists regular “Star Wars” plot conventions and makes it work.
There have always been significant gaps of plot time passing in between “Star Wars” installments, usually years between films and decades between trilogies. “The Last Jedi” starts changing things up by being a direct (seconds-later) continuation from “The Force Awakens.” Having been saved from annihilation by a planet-destroying weapon last movie, this one starts off with the Resistance making a desperate escape from the First Order’s conventional fleet. It’s kind of like the evacuation from Hoth back in “The Empire Strikes Back” but significantly different in some aspects, and worse.
I suppose it also bears mentioning because of how important it was when it happened. “The Last Jedi” is the final film appearance of veteran actress Carrie Fisher before her death in December 2016. She was reprising her iconic role as Princess, then General, Leia Organa (one-time Solo). Luckily she did complete all her scenes in the production, and she gives a hell of a performance as a leader who has been through hell and back and is doing it all over again even as she is clearly getting worn down by it. In between mentoring her subordinates to be able to carry on the fight even if she should fall, Leia does get one scene of awesome that reminds the audience that she is biologically of the Skywalker bloodline of Jedi, like her twin brother.
That then, is where Luke Skywalker comes in. The hero of the original “Star Wars” trilogy portrayed by Mark Hamill; he also voices The Joker in animation and videogames. But being Luke was what made Hamill’s name legend, and it was interesting to see how he would now interpret the character 30-plus years after his great triumph in “Return of the Jedi.” He just has that age range now where he’d be perfect as the old master and…no, he’s not.
But that’s the thing. In a big subversion from fan expectations (seen already in “Last Jedi” trailers), Luke is a burned-out old man without any serious interest in teaching, especially after one of his past pupils went to the Dark Side, destroyed his fledgling New Jedi and is now the First Order’s top enforcer. Still, despite exiling himself and not having seriously used his power in the Force for some time, he’s just as capable of teaching a new apprentice/padawan in Rey (Daisy Ridley), and later execute some cosmic-level impressive feat that I won’t be spoiling.
Anyway, that’s all for the classic characters that figure in the movie’s plot. Yes, Chewbacca’s still there despite the loss of Han Solo, but the best usage of him is simply as pilot of the good old Millennium Falcon. R2-D2 and C-3PO are just like cameos. So now let’s look at the “new” characters’ appearances.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a marvel. We were surprised at how he suddenly became the central figure back in “The Force Awakens” when her powers awakened. Now she needs some guidance to “find her place” in the grand scheme of things. She’s got two obstacles though. Luke Skywalker, whom she set out to find, is a very reluctant Jedi teacher now.
Furthermore, she seems to have formed a linking of minds with the last person in the galaxy she wants anything to do with: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), formerly Ben Solo, the father-killing Dark-Side apprentice of First Order Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). For some reason, at certain times they are able to communicate across space, trying to figure each other out, especially as it becomes clear that their Force talents may be a rough equal. Their interaction plays off like a variation of how young Luke struggled to bring his father Darth Vader back from the darkness long ago. But like most of “The Last Jedi” there’s a twist. Just as Luke says in the trailer, “It won’t go the way you think.”
Boy howdy, it doesn’t. The Resistance is in constant dire straits for this film, with ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) having their own roles to play in the struggle to survive and keep the flame of rebellion alive. In terms of character development, the former learns the nature of being a commander; while the latter is able to gain some closure from his past to move forward (we saw his duel with his former superior in the trailers, after all).
Outside of the characters, “The Last Jedi” is a visual juggernaut in the vein of “The Force Awakens” and the “Rogue One” spinoff, all crisp pictures with very impressive tech designs and set locations. Certain alien locales however end up as feeling rather tacked-on, though it’s saved by some Chekov-like world building that falls into place in the end of the movie. John Williams is still the music master with the further expansions of his soundtrack for the expansive “Star Wars” saga.
But everything good to be said about this film can be laid on the feet of director Rian Johnson, taking over brilliantly from J.J Abrams of Episode VII. Watching “The Last Jedi” from beginning to end might well explain to viewers why Disney has decided to offer Johnson the plum opportunity to develop a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, effective putting him in a position to shape it similar to George Lucas of old. As if that’s no bigger commendation for his and everyone’s efforts, then I will say now that any fan of “Star Wars” or epic movies in general must not miss this film in theaters. Yes, things get too dire for comfort, but the saga has always been about hope.
Photo courtesy of Mashable

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SAUDI ARABIA Allows Movie Theaters to Operate Again After 35-YEAR BAN


For being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also well-known for being one of the most culturally-repressive of all. Much has been discussed of the utter sway that conservative Islam has over how people in the country, both its citizens and its foreign residents and visitors, are expected to live. Over three decades ago these repressive moral regulations led Saudi Arabia to ban movie cinemas, forcing people to go to their neighboring nations to be able to watch motion picture entertainment. Now, following the wave of restrictions being relaxed, Saudi will soon see its theaters returning.
CNN has it that the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information revealed in a public statement this Monday, December 11, that they will begin issuing licenses to operate movie theaters early in 2018, over 35 years after the blanket banning of the business in the country. According to the estimated timetable, the Ministry expects the first Saudi cinemas in such a long time to begin opening for business by March next year. The Saudi Culture and Information Minister, Awwad Alawwad, noted that this event is a “watershed moment” in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing development of its “cultural economy.”
The Saudi cinema resurgence is just the latest facet of the Middle Eastern country’s economic diversification program Vision 2030, which endeavors to move Saudi Arabia gradually from its over reliance on its oil fields. The program, envisioned by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Salman, is prioritizing the generation of new jobs outside of the petroleum industry, an objective that can be partly filled by the reopening of the local theater businesses for residents and foreigners to patronize for watching the latest films. It’s been established that entertainment-starved Saudis travel to nearby Dubai if they wanted to go to the cinema.
It’s this sort of “extremist Islam” conservatism that Prince Salman is looking to do away with by means of the initiatives being rolled out by Vision 2030. In the spirit of his more moderate approach, Saudi women have already been given the right to drive automobiles themselves, and starting next year they will be allowed to enter sporting venues. Saudi Arabia has also started offering to be venues for major music concerts, and some baby steps at mixing men and women on certain occasions have been carried out on trial basis.
While movies to be shown in Saudi cinemas will still be subject to strict censors removing nudity and sexual scenes, the Ministry of Culture and Information is confident that coming the 2030 target date, the return of the movie theater business would see Saudi Arabia having around 300 active cinemas and a possible total of around 2000 movie screens.
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

SONY and Marvel Release Trailer for “SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE” Animated Movie


Fans of Marvel and of its comic-book character Spider-Man had plenty of reasons to rejoice when “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” a co-production by Marvel Studios and Sony-owned Columbia Pictures premiered last July. It was considered a return to top form for the web-swinging hero following Sony-Columbia’s failed cinematic reboot of their original film trilogy (directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire) with two movies starring Andrew Garfield. Regarding the agreement about film usage of Spider-Man between Marvel Studios and Sony, the former could include the character in their MCU verse as part of an ensemble, while the latter remains responsible for solo cinematic outings.
It’s therefore in that vein that Sony Pictures Animation is preparing to release “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” next year, a feature-length 3D-animated film featuring New York City’s wall-crawling crime-fighter. Polygon reports that a trailer has been put up online that had been receiving a lot of positive reactions.
For those who are worried about character dilution, given that the present live-action Spider-Man/Peter Parker (portrayed by Tom Holland) is reappearing in “Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018 too, “Into the Spider-Verse” avoids that landmine by making its main-character the other prominent Marvel character using the Spider-Man name nowadays, Afro-Hispanic teen Miles Morales (here voiced by Jamaican-American rapper-actor Shameik Moore).
Further details on the movie’s plot have yet to be divulged by Sony Pictures Animation, but “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” appears to be taking plot elements from two main sources. First is the now-defunct Ultimate Marvel comic book imprint, wherein Peter Parker dies in action as Spider-Man (2011) leading Miles Morales, who also received spider-powers from a different genetically-enhanced arachnid, to take up the mantle in Peter’s place.
The Ultimate line ran from 2000 to 2015, wherein Miles and several unique characters from the imprint were carried over as characters in the main Marvel comic universe, causing him to co-exist with a still-alive and older Peter Parker, and sharing his costumed identity.
Also providing material for this animated movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is the 2014 crossover storyline “Spider-Verse,” where Peter and Miles (still in separate comic universes at that point) along with a multitude of more alternate-universe Spider-Men (and Women) join forces in a desperate alliance to stop the inter-dimensional being Morlun from killing them all. This is quite reinforced by taglines from the trailer (“Enter a universe where more than one wears the mask.”) and the final scene where Miles incredulously asks another Spider-Man, “How many of us are there?”
Comments on the trailer have praised the detailed CGI animation, although some reviewers were leery of the intentional jerky frame-rate during character movement, though some would defend the style as trying to emulate comic-book frames, like Miles’s free-fall sequence. Commenters are near-universal though in declaring this preview of “Into the Spider-Verse” as being superior to Sony Animation’s more recent entries, the critically-panned “Emoji Movie” last July, and the November-premiering Christmas film “The Star” which earned mixed reviews.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” also stars the voice talents of Mahershala Ali (from Marvel-Netflix’s “Luke Cage”) as Miles’s uncle Aaron Davis/The Prowler, Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’s dad Jefferson Davis, and Live Schreiber in a yet-unrevealed role. Directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman, the movie is due to premiere one year from now, on December 2018.
Photo courtesy of gamespace.com

PHILIPPINES Wins Hosting of FIBA World Cup – for 2023 – with INDONESIA and JAPAN


The next FIBA World Cup, the World Cup of basketball, is not until 2019, less than two years from now. But already countries around the globe are clamoring to be accorded by FIBA, the international governing body of basketball as a sport, the honor to host the next, NEXT FIBA World Cup in 2023. This includes the Philippines, which had last tried to gain hosting rights back in 2015. While that effort was frustrated, the country is looking to make a comeback even if it has to split FIBA hosting duties with two other Asian nations in a joint bid. And it worked.
As ABS-CBN News tells us, the Philippines as represented by the national basketball sport association, the Samahang Basktebol ng Pilipinas (SBP), has joined forces with representatives from southern neighbor Indonesia and Japan much further north, in order to formulate a proposal for a three-way join hosting of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Their bid committee will be a ten-person team with the Philippines at its head, made their final hosting pitch to the FIBA Central Board last Saturday, December 9.
The FIBA World Cup, a quadrennial or four-year meet similar to other World Cups and the Olympics, is the top international basketball competition in the world. The 2023 Cup is the second FIBA tournament that the Philippines is trying to host (having last done so in 1978). Their bid for the 2019 Cup, led by then-SBP President Manny V. Pangilinan in 2015, was framed around the recently-document Filipino craze for basketball. The proposal was defeated by China, which touted that they were ready to host the World Cup even on the day after the host bidding event.
For the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the Philippine-Indonesia-Japan coalition faced competing bids from Argentina and Uruguay, both in South America. Ultimately the dream was fulfilled and the three Asian countries will be splitting the 32 games of the 2019 tournament among themselves. Venues for the FIBA World Cup games are the following: Philippine Arena, Smart Araneta Coliseum, Mall of Asia Arena and PhilSports Arena in the Philippines; Istora Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta, Indonesia; and Okinawa Arena in Japan. The Philippine Arena will serve as host to the semifinals and finals matches of the Cup.
As hosts of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan are automatically seeded in the tournament. Furthermore, the top eight teams of the tournament will automatically qualify their countries’ teams for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
Photo courtesy of news.abs-cbn.com

PAYMAYA Gets Even Easier to Use with FB MESSENGER Chatbox Support



In this big and sometimes-confusing world of online communication and wireless business transactions, we find it a wise choice to stick with the names of services we know best and trust. And when it comes to communications there’s no other name that utterly signifies quality and trustworthiness than PLDT; and through them, their wireless subsidiary, Smart.
And where Smart Communications is concerned, they are continuing their streak of trustworthy service through their own subsidiary, PayMaya Operations. They are the brilliant minds behind the hottest and increasingly popular online payment app service in the Philippines today, PayMaya.
Described as a “virtual payment card,” PayMaya is the new easy way to pay for online shopping, booking airline tickets and paying utilities and other bills. All it takes is a free download of the PayMaya app on both Google Play and App Store, and then it’s like you have a credit card in your smartphone.
One of PayMaya’s strengths is the number of varieties it might be utilized to pay or send money, from the app itself to even an actual physical Smart MasterCard. But the newest new thing with PayMaya is their team-up with THE Social Network, Facebook itself, enabling PayMaya users to access the payment service on their FB Messenger apps.
This must be the development that would put PayMaya ahead of the curve from any other payment apps available out there. True, for now the Messenger payment feature only available on Android devices. But even then this feature promises to make payments of bills, top up your mobile load and send money wirelessly.
Now, some things can only be experienced for yourself, so seeing as I have both the PayMaya and Messenger apps on my smartphone, I decided to test this new feature to pay my phone bill for the month. Opening the Official PayMaya chatbox on Messenger, you get the option to link your PayMaya account to the messaging app, or start an account if you don’t have one yet. I do, so I immediately got the list of payment options.
On the “Pay a Bill” submenu there’s a listing of all the major companies and utilities nationwide that accept payments via PayMaya (and there’s a lot). I just select my biller, type down the details on my phone bill (due date, account number, amount, etc.) then Submit the form. My PayMaya load wallet (at an upgraded account, I can hold P100000 max) will then pay out the amount in full. But if the load wallet has an insufficient amount, then it’s a simple matter of going to a Smart Padala outlet to pay the balance. That’s it. And as I’ve done this on the PayMaya app before, I’d say that the FB Messenger pay feature is just as speedy.
But that’s not the only thing PayMaya is busy with right now. They’ve also got this sweet raffle promo for all those PayMaya users who have linked their accounts on Messenger. On the Promos menu when on the PayMaya Messenger chatbox, you can send a special ad that you can share with your FB Messenger contacts to get into the PayMaya craze by opening their own accounts and linking them with Facebook’s messaging app.
For every Messenger friend who replies to your share by opening a PayMaya account on the message app itself, you as the sender will receive P50 each in your PayMaya wallet. And every friend in turn will have P50 added to their wallets as well. You can send this promo to up to 25 of your Messenger contacts, from December 13 to 19.
If you’re interested in trying your luck here, remember that only FB/Messenger accounts created before December 6, 2017 can join in the Referral promo. Other rules can be checked out at PayMaya’s promo page here: https://stories.paymaya.com/give50-get50/. This ought to be a good way for everybody to experience the ease of service provided by the PayMaya online payment app service, as well as get a start on loading up there virtual wallets. Here’s hoping you enjoy. Good luck!
 #PayMayaInMessenger #PayMayaMoNow

Monday, December 11, 2017

THE LAST JEDI World Premiere has Tribute to CARRIE FISHER While Film Stuns with Unexpected Twists



Photograph: John Salangsang/REX/Shutterstock

The full premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” across the US will be on Friday, December 15. But last Saturday, December 9, was the world premiere of that long-awaited second chapter of the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, an event centered on Los Angeles at Shrine Auditorium. All the main stars and production heads were present, with the premiere venue all dolled up in expected “Star Wars” fashion. The lucky 2,000 or so moviegoers were mostly in costume, and Imperial troops acted as honor guard for the whole event. Lastly, before the screening there was a small tribute to the late actress Carrie Fisher, for which “Last Jedi” was her final film appearance.
                                                 
While of course spoilers of details are still in force, the general opinion on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has been extremely positive. It is also being regarded now to be one of the darkest films in the entire franchise, echoing the serious shift in tone from 1977’s “Star Wars” (Episode IV – A New Hope) with 1980s “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.” Part of the elements being touted as making “The Last Jedi” a hit with audiences is the number of twists in the plot, many of which have been hinted in the trailers but grossly understated.

Another major point for the film was the acting chops of Mark Hamill, returning to the role of Luke Skywalker after his last outing in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Now significantly older, he has also experienced so much in the interim between the Original and Sequel Trilogies that he comes off as a different person at times. It’s also him who hangs a lampshade on just how differently the movie goes from the plot of “The Force Awakens” back in 2015. As his line in the trailer states: “This is not going to go the way you think!” And it does not! Or so the audiences who watched the premiere say. As a result, there are bets on whether or not Luke goes to the dark side.

The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson was at the head of the small tribute to Carrie Fisher before the film began, standing at the theater stage to address the moviegoers. “I know she’s up there right now flipping me the bird, saying, ‘Damn it Rian, how dare you bring the mood down and make this night a solemn tribute.’” He joked, adding, “So let’s all have a blast together for Carrie.”

Okay, but what about those twists? We’ll have to wait until the actual US premiere on Friday. Remember, it’s set for December 15. For the moment, you’ll have to contend with the rumors that have been going on in the buildup for “The Last Jedi.”

Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters