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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“FLASH” Stars Grant Gustin and Tom Cavanagh Headline Short Film “TOM AND GRANT”


Premiering in 2014 and now on its fourth season, “The Flash” on The CW is one of the most popular superhero TV series today, especially on the Warner Bros. and DC side. A great deal of its appeal could lie in its cast, particularly lead star Grant Gustin as Barry Allen/Flash and recurring actor Tom Cavanagh, who initially portrayed season 1 bad guy Reverse Flash, and various incarnations of said villain’s cover identity Harrison Wells as the show went on. It is no wonder the two have gotten along swimmingly beyond “The Flash”, as evidenced by their upcoming short film.
Entertainment Weekly reports that Tom Cavanagh and Grant Gustin have come together to collaborate on a quirky short comedy film called “Tom and Grant”, starring the two of them using their real names as character names, and with Cavanagh both writing and directing. The plot is pure wackiness in the making, about a duo of brave but intellectually-challenged small-time crooks looking to rob a bank. But there’s a problem or several where they’re concerned: they have no plan, they have no weapons for intimidation, and they have no idea what they’re even doing. Absurd hilarity and near-slapstick hijinks then ensue.
Cavanagh had this to say regarding the purposely thin storyline. “Part of the subtext to all of this thing that I wrote and directed is political, about the political times that we’re living in,” he said. “But the presentation is completely comic; it’s dark comic.” And dark comic is an apt way to put “Tom and Grant” according to the 40-second teaser that Gustin and Cavanagh have put up. One scene had them in a car, on the road, engaging in a conversation involving exaggerated shouting at each other. Did I mention they were headed towards a stationary car too?
The appeal being pushed by Cavanagh in the short film is the conceit of characters that see themselves as smart but are actually too dumb to both live long and die like they should. It is no wonder then that “Tom and Grant” is gunning for an R rating and family-unfriendly comic violence. It’s got blood and gun-play and heists and car chases,” expounds Cavanagh as he describes the action sequences. “And I think that it’s something that both Grant and I are phenomenally excited about putting before the public.”
“Tom and Grant” is currently under production, but is due to release sometime this year because of its length. More information can be found at tomandgrant.com, the film’s official website.
Photo courtesy of pinterest

Educational DLC for ASSASSINS CREED ORIGINS Enables Free Exploration of ANCIENT EGYPT


Released in October 27, 2017 by Ubisoft following a development period of four years, the action-adventure videogame “Assassin’s Creed Origins” was released to favorable reviews. Whether it was the storyline due it being the earliest chronological title in the “Assassin’s Creed” series, the superb voice talent and soundtrack, the improved gameplay or the superb masterwork of creating an open-world environment replicating Ptolemaic-era Ancient Egypt, there was a lot to love about “Origins”. Now, to cater to a portion of “AC” fans who would like to explore the game-world without being pestered by the game plot, Ubisoft made a special DLC.
As Gamespot tells it, Ubisoft has put together a neat DLC package to go with “Assassin’s Creed Origins” called “Discovery Tour”, released this Tuesday, February 20. What it does is add a new “game mode” to the basic “AC: Origins”, wherein the storyline, side-quests, time limits and even the hostile enemies are removed. What’s left then is the game environment of Egypt in the times of the famous Queen Cleopatra, replicated as accurately as possible by Ubisoft with some academic assistance. And the player is now free to either explore the land at his leisure, or take a guide tour.
Starting the Discovery tour on the game will greet the player with this message from the developers:
“With content curated by Egyptologists and hundreds of images sourced from museums and libraries around the world, we hope to share with you the passion that inhabited us for the four years it took to develop Assassin’s Creed Origins.”
And that’s no idle boast. The player can now roam the Egyptian city of ancient Alexandria to see the sights without worrying about soldiers trying to kill his character. The guided tour option can point out places of interest, which when approached will activate a documentary blurb describing the spot and its historical significance.
One more quirk in the Discovery Tour is the ability of the player to choose his avatar with which to explore the world. That mean they can choose from either the main Assassin characters Bayek and Aya, or the historical personages Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, who appear in the “Origins” plot as supporting characters. After taking in Alexandria, the player can then sail a boat up or down the mighty Nile River to observe epic monuments like the Pyramids of Giza, or even travel to them for a closer look.
Ubisoft describes the Discovery Tour DLC for “Assassin’s Creed Origins” as a “unique experience at the intersection of entertainment and learning” that could even be used as a teaching aid for History Class. The DLC is free for the game’s console versions, while PC owners on Steam or the Ubisoft Uplay store must pay $20 to download it.
Photo courtesy of gamingcentral.in

Last PYEONGCHANG RP Olympian ASA MILLER 70th in GIANT SLALOM


Four years ago in Sochi, Russia, the Philippines made sports history by becoming the first Southeast Asian and tropical nation to send an athletic delegation to the Winter Olympic Games. The country only had one contender, 17-year-old Michael Christian Martinez, competing in the men’s singles figure skating event. Though he did not medal, his performance was promising enough to have the Philippines support him for the 2018 Winter Games at Pyeongchang, this time with a companion, Fil-American Asa Miller in the giant slalom skiing event. Martinez bowed out of contention last Friday, and now Miller too fell short on Sunday.
ESPN-5 reports that the Philippines’ second outing in the Winter Olympics came to another medal-less end when Asa Miller failed to place high enough in the men’s giant slalom. The event, contested at Pyeongchang’s Yongping Alpine Centre February 18, pitted 110 competitors for a shot at Olympic glory on the slopes. Miller, age 17, got to run the giant slalom twice. The first time, he clocked a time of 1:27.52, about 19.25 seconds behind the fastest skier when he had his turn. For the first round he landed at 81st place, but that was enough to reach the medal round.
Only 85 of the 110 qualified to run the giant slalom a second time for the Gold, Silver and Bronze. While Miller did his best, improving from his first time with 1:22.43, the combined total of 2:49.95 with a 31.91 difference only managed to get him 70th place, out of the 75 skiers who managed to complete their giant slalom run for the medals. Ultimately the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics men’s giant slalom Gold went to Austria’s Marcel Hirscher with his combined time of 2:18.04. Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway (2:19.31) won the Silver medal while Frenchman Alexis Pinturault took Bronze (2:19.35).
Asa Miller, born in Portland, Oregon in 2000, is a Filipino citizen through his mother, a native of Santa Cruz, Manila. An early-bird skier since he was 1½ years old, Miller was competing since he was eight. His dual citizenship enables him to compete as an athlete representing the Philippines, and as early as 2016 Miller realized that he could be an Olympian in the 2018 Winter Games. He qualified for Pyeongchang by participating in multiple races to accumulate points set down by the International Ski Federation (FIS), and like Michael Martinez, he was sponsored by the Philippine Olympic Committee.
During the Parade of Nations in the Olympics opening ceremony, Miller carried the Philippine flag. While his teammate Martinez may be hanging up his skates for good after Pyeongchang, the Fil-American teen looks set to come back and represent the country in the next Winter Games at the very least.
Photo courtesy of Asa Miller’s GoFundMe page

Swimming, Golfing and Dining at BINTAN LAGOON RESORT


Planning to take a tropical holiday vacation in Indonesia but feel that Bali is a bit too far away for you? Perhaps you might want to consider something more to the north and west of the archipelago country. It’s remarkably accessible via a ferry ride from Singapore, itself a major destination for international tourism. After sightseeing at the Merlion nation, what better way to unwind than a trip to Bintan Island and its cozy getaway enclave of Bintan Resorts? And among the members of BR, your best bet for the freshest stay is none other than Bintan Lagoon Resort (BLR).
All the vacation destinations in Bintan Resorts are designed and constructed around a “green building” philosophy, the better to make themselves as one with the lush natural environment of northern Bintan Island and its lush seaside heading out into the South China Sea. But Bintan Lagoon is on another level in that it was the first Southeast Asian resort to receive an international certification for its green environmental development plan, part of its major 2009 refurbishment that has helped it maintain its edge as a frequently-patronized component of the BR area. Look for no further proof than their guest arrivals.

It’s not for nothing that BLR has its own dedicated arrival pier for the Singapore ferry, that is open for visitors coming to the resort outside of the monsoon season (during the monsoon starting January, the ferry from Tanah Merah must dock at the shared terminal at Bandar Bintan Telani for safety reasons). While Singapore tourists make up a sizeable portion of guests that come to stay at the Bintan Lagoon, know that they are a truly international resort and ready to treat everyone that comes to stay with a memorable Indonesian-themed hospitality.
The primary attraction of BLR is their pristine white-sand beach, stretching a goodly long distance just in front of the Nelayan seaside restaurant, the water sports center and, further inland, the resort’s selection of guest villas. The water feels very much alive, changing from calm at some parts of the day to being vibrant with waves at other times. For guests who prefer a more tranquil environment to swim in, there are two pools to lounge about at, one of them furnished with water slides and the other being a sweet infinity pool that, from one viewpoint, seems to blend in with the sea a stone’s throw away; it’s perfect for photos. If you’re lucky, you can float around the pool in time to see passenger aircraft passing by overhead on a sunny day.
If land activities with view of the ocean are more your thing, Bintan Lagoon has it covered too. They offer quad-bike ATV guided tours along the beach and the woodland areas farther in from the shore. And BLR is also a golfer’s paradise with no less than two full 18-hole courses with contrasting environments. The Jack Nicklaus course hews closer to the main resort buildings and the sea for magnificent vistas, while the Ian Baker Finch course wends into the forested environs surrounding the resort, with picturesque ponds frequented by exotic waterfowl along with the occasional squirrel and Komodo dragon sightings. After a day out in the links, golf enthusiasts can retire to the clubhouse and chow down at Haskell’s restaurant.

Of course, no major international resort is complete without superb service, especially in the line of dining. Bintan Lagoon offers a wide range of cuisine choices with their various in-resort establishments. The Nelayan boasts an Indonesian and international seafood menu. The infinity pool is serviced by Ripples, a cocktail and snack shack that serves light dishes either to swimmers at the water-level bar, or hand-delivers beverages to customers at the poolside lounge chairs. Vegetarians can get their healthy cravings fixed at Veradah, the restaurant serving the water slide pool.
More food options can be had at the main resort building. Miyako offers an indoor Japanese and pan-Asian eating experience; alternatively, guests can go for Chinese at the Chop Chop, Bintan’s Chinatown dining spot. Sports buffs can gather round in the Terreace Sports Bar to watch the latest sporting events while nursing the drink of their choice. Caffeine fiends can count on Mojo Café to serve up fresh brews and light snacks to go with them. As for dessert, the Mangia! Pizzeria specializes not just in Italiano, but pastries too. But all these choices and more are gathered together all day at Fiesta, the buffet centerpiece in the middle of them all, offering guaranteed Good Mood Food selections from all of these, for breakfast, lunch and dinner too.
There is so much more to see and experience in BLR than what I’ve listed up here. It’ll take more than a 2D1N overnight stay with them in their well-furnished and comfy deluxe rooms to explore everything that Bintan Lagoon has to offer. But even at such a short time, you’re bound to fall in love with the place, enough to make it an annual pilgrimage if you can get away with it. That’s the Bintan Lagoon guarantee; you will want to return, and they will remember you too, looking forward to make your future visits even more memorable than the last. Make it a point to visit BLR’s official website at http://www.bintanlagoon.com to read up for yourself what more you can get to experience with them. I am willing to bet you will be inspired to save up for it.



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Revolution in Marvel Movies: The Power of “BLACK PANTHER”


Some would say that no other movie ever released has been saddled with the same level of hype – and responsibility to live up to that hype – like the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie of 2018 released by Disney and Marvel Studios.  It chronicles the solo adventure of a character from Marvel Comics that first appeared in the MCU during the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”; a character that initially was perceived as potentially having difficulty headlining a major motion picture for the fact that he, his supporting characters and narrative corner in the universal setting has been perceived on film as a so-called “minority”. Well, “Black Panther” has begun premiering all over the world through the middle of last week and, having seen it over the weekend, I can chime in with so many online who would proudly say “The King is Here” and “Long Live the King”.
It’s no hyperbole to say that there have been astronomically high and very specific expectations going into the production of “Black Panther”, based on a superhero from Africa. Naturally the character would be portrayed on Hollywood by an African-American actor, the cast is predominantly black of several countries of origin, and even the director is African-American. Ryan Coogler has been on the helm of seven films, only three of which are feature-length. But his 2015 work “Creed” was a critical and box office darling with some major film award nominations. “Black Panther” is his third film, and it has now become the biggest box-office debut for an African-American director. But more on the movie he was on the helm of.
Marvel Studios’ MCU has been one of the most astounding developments of contemporary cinema: a series of interconnected movies (and TV series) following a general stable of characters in a carefully laid-out universe. More recent installments of which have been really selling the woven overall plot (in preparation for the next “Avengers” film later this May, but more on that later). What makes “Black Panther” refreshing is that, while the titular character made its MCU debut as part of an ensemble cast, his solo outing here (not strictly an “origin story” like the first films in the verse, more like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” last year) dials down on the greater plot points from past installments, providing a self-contained narrative that while springing from its predecessors manages to stay coherent by itself.
In “Captain America: Civil War” T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Prince of the isolated African kingdom of Wakanda, becomes King following the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani). But already he carries the mantle of the Black Panther, the Wakandan hero-figure and protector, whose title is usually held by the king and passed down to his heir. After his brief involvement in the Superhero Registration Civil War, T’Challa returns to his homeland to be crowned, and here the true wonder of Wakanda is revealed to the MCU audience.
Far from its outside appearance as a Third World nation, Wakanda is actually a highly-advanced hidden power, whose entire tech development and infrastructure runs on Vibranium, a wonder-mineral metal mined from a meteorite that crashed into their land millions of years ago. The presence of vibranium under the soil has enhanced the vegetation and animals of Wakanda, such as the “heart-shaped herb” that is the source of the Black Panther’s superhuman physical abilities. The country of Wakanda itself is a showcase of Afrofuturism, in that while its civilization is high-tech, the people still hold to tribal allegiances and traditional cultural mores. T’Challa for instance must first face challengers to his ascension in ritual combat before affirming his kingship, like he does with dissident chieftain M’Baku (Winston Duke).
Anyway, once his rule is secured, T’Challa’s next concern is the mercenary Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who has long ago stolen samples of vibranium in Wakanda without ever being caught. Hoping to bring him to his nation’s justice, T’Challa pursues him to South Korea with the help of a surprising ensemble of powerful and fully-realized female characters. There’s Okoye (Danai Gurira), head of the all-women royal guard the Dora Milaje; Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a Wakandan “war-dog” or spy in the outside world (and T’Challa’s “ex”), plus the King’s own little sister, the teen super-genius Shuri (Letitia Wright) who develops her brother’s equipment and makes his “swag” vibranium-mesh costumes.
But Klaue’s schemes may be more complex that it initially seems. From information provided by T’Challa’s reluctant ally CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), it is revealed that a former US special-forces operator is also involved: Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) alias “Killmonger”. But behind Erik’s “angry black dude” demeanor is a connection to Wakanda that takes T’Challa by surprise, and a plan that’s rooted in some relevant social issues pertaining to the African diaspora that’s going on to this day.
Producer Nate Moore gave a simple description of the plot of “Black Panther” as “The Godfather” meets the James Bond movie franchise. That does quite capture the gist of it, with the leader of a family with authority over a secret group hidden from the mundane world, facing the upheaval wrought by somebody coming in with new ideas on how things must be done. Ryan Coogler must be given a lot of respect for his deft hand at controlling how the themes in his movie are treated. There are so many shout-outs to the perceptions regarding the place of a “black man” in the world, but it never gets preachy, nor does it feel like a socio-political agenda being pushed.
Another element of the movie that is something of a stamp for the MCU as a whole is the humor. Detractors of the franchise have decried the “executively mandated” insistence of putting funny scenes in an otherwise serious movie about superheroes, and individual MCU directors have to decide how much laughs each movie really needs. Thankfully, producer Moore was proven right in his other statement that any comedy in “Black Panther” will be less blatant than can be found in, say, “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok”. The reined-in take works.
Finally, there’s much to be said about the film’s soundtrack. Playing on the multi-diversity angle, “Plack Panther” features background music rooted in African tribal song and dance one moment then shifting to some cool tunes from the African-American music scene. All this can be credited to composer Ludwig Göransson, who handled the instrumental score, and Kendrick Lamar, who curated the songs which then went into the official “Black Panther” soundtrack with music “from and inspired by” the film. Serving as the key lyrical song of the soundtrack is “All the Stars” by Lamar and SZA.
In closing, “Black Panther” may, under a critical and unbiased eye, may not have completely embodied the ideals that were put forth about it before its premiere; some of the CGI effects came off as less polished compared to its MCU fellows for instance. But in a way, no other movie really could have handled the pressure this movie, its cast and its director have been through in order to resonate with the global audience. Not only did “Black Panther” deliver, it delivered beyond everybody’s expectations. It’s great. Wakanda Forever.
Photo courtesy of marvel.com

First TEASER for YOUTUBE RED’s “KARATE KID” SEQUEL Series “COBRA KAI” Released


Go back to the most famous film franchises of the 1980s, and you will most likely run into the “Karate Kid” series by Columbia Pictures. It made to do something different in the then-wave of sports-themed movies by having it about an Asian martial art. It gave the meme community “wax on, wax off” and is credited with making karate popular in the US (after the Kung Fu craze in the 70s). The first film in 1984 led to two sequels, a spinoff, a 2010 remake, and a web-series on YouTube Red featuring the original main character and his rival.
The Verge reports that YouTube Red, the paid subscription streaming service of video-sharing giant YouTube, has just released the first teaser of “Cobra Kai”, a drama-comedy series serving as a distant story sequel of the first three “Karate Kid” films. YTR had first announced that it has ordered the show from Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television (for which Columbia is now a subsidiary). “Cobra Kai” has been set for an inaugural season of 10 half-hour episodes, starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprising their respective characters of Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence, some 30 years after the first film.
Running at under a minute long, the first teaser for “Cobra Kai” takes a nostalgia approach to introducing the old-made-new setting, with an aerial view of the San Fernando Valley and shots of the stadium where the All-Valley Karate Tournaments of the original and third films took place. There are even framed newspaper clippings of Mister Miyagi and the young Daniel-san shown in close-up. From there the timeframe moves to the present day, with Johnny, described in YouTube Red’s blurbs to be down on his luck, deciding to reopen the Cobra Kai Karate dojo, and everything that comes with it.
Anybody who has watched the old “Karate Kid” films know just how over-the-top in meanness the Cobra Kai dojo is, with their conditioning of students to be active bullies. Another snippet from the trailer reinforces that notion. While Johnny appears to have made peace with Daniel after their championship fight, still hangs on the aggressive message of his style of karate even with his quest to better himself.
In the meantime, Daniel has become the successful sensei of his own dojo, but is apparently feeling adrift now that his sensei has passed away. When a former bully seeking redemption meets a master on the verge of losing his way, it is as the tagline of “Cobra Kai” says: Some rivalries never end.
“Cobra Kai” also stars Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Mary Mouser, and Tanner Buchanan. The series is created by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald, but no premiere date on YouTube Red has been given as of now, other than that it will release this year.
Photo courtesy of Youtube

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ FAILS to Advance in PYEONGCHANG 2018 Men’s Skate Prelim


The Philippines couldn’t help but cheer for Michael Christian Martinez when he became the first Filipino to be an Olympian in a Winter Games. That was the Olympics held in Sochi, Russia back in 2014. The sole athlete representing our country, he fearlessly challenged other international athletes in men’s figure skating, passing the short program before finishing below the cutoff during the free skate. Since then Martinez has trained diligently and honed his skill in more competitions for four years, in order to return to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang 2018. Unfortunately, his second outing ended quicker than the last.
ABS-CBN News reports that Martinez, 21, was eliminated during the short program phase of the figure skating – men’s singles event that was contested on Friday, February 16. Despite what has been described by observers as a graceful performance, Martinez’ score did not manage to break through to the Top 24 of the competition, which would have at least allowed him to participate in the free skate phase. He was the sixth performer in the qualifying round, and was knocked out of ranking with only three more skaters left to take their turn. As stated, he did better back in Sochi.
For his short program in the men’s singles, Michael Martinez decided to momentarily eschew the new freedom accorded to Olympic figure skaters, that of performing to lyrical music, a ruling that most of Pyeongchang’s Olympians took to wholeheartedly. Rather, he skated to the instrumental tune of “Emerald Tiger” by violinist Vanessa-Mae. With a component score of 29.52 and technical score of 26.04, Martinez racked up 55.56 points, finishing 28th place out of 30 competitors. He would have been able to perform to lyrical song “El Tango de Roxanne” from “Moulin Rouge!” had he at least made it to free skate.
It was a dramatic turn of events for Martinez considering he was not supposed to make it to Pyeongchang after not making the cut at the last Winter Olympic qualifier, the 2017 CS Nebelhorn Trophy. It was only when qualifying country Sweden withdrew that he, as first alternate, was given a chance to compete, leaving him with not as much time to train and prepare as his competition. Martinez had in fact been making plans to retire from figure skating by that point and transition to body building, forcing him to take a crash diet to return to skating form.
Despite the results, Team Philippines chef de mission Tom Carasco assures the Filipino people that, given his condition and circumstances Michael Martinez gave his best performance possible, according to his coach Slava Zagor. Japan was on top of the men’s singles short program, with defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu (111.68).
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

SPACEX Close to Starting Their SATELLITE BROADBAND NETWORK in SPACE


Whenever SpaceX gets brought up, the first thing in mind would most likely be their being a proponent for the development of recyclable launch rockets. This was a dream they have achieved with their Falcon-series delivery system, the rockets of which have been stars on online videos depicting them touching down vertically, bottom-first, after successfully getting their capsules, usually filled with supplies and cargo, headed for the International Space Station (ISS). More recently they introduced their Falcon Heavy rocket, demonstrating its lifting power by sending a Tesla roadster space-borne. But they’ve gotten even more projects left to launch, like this.
As USA Today tells it, the revolutionary aerospace developer and private space transport service provider is seeing a condition on the verge of being cleared towards one of their other dream objectives: the launch of a network of satellites that would provide broadband internet connection all across the United States. This Wednesday, February 14, Chairman Ajit Pai of the Federal Communications Commission sent a proposal to his fellow commissioners to push for giving the green light to SpaceX in order to get their planned satellite broadband network up and running. And the launches involved in this project are certainly notable.
If SpaceX, founded by visionary CEO Elon Musk, will be allowed to proceed, then in 2019 they will start launching mini-satellites into low Earth orbit. The number of broadband satellites is an astounding 4,420. As expected from that figure alone, SpaceX is going to be taking years in implementing their proposed broadband network, with full deployment estimated to be sometime in 2024. From their low-Earth orbit, the mini-satellites will be able to deliver broadband internet signals on almost every reachable corner of the US, with speeds matching conventional net service providers. All this was laid out in SpaceX’s company testimony to the US Senate about their project last May 2017.
The benefits of having internet service reaching remote areas due to not being affected by terrain have been calculated as invaluable. FCC Chairman Pai notes in a statement he made Wednesday, “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.” Initial projections by SpaceX have it that their satellite broadband can service 40 million subscribers, many of them in rural areas, with $30 billion in revenue by the time the service is fully implemented in 2025.
Said revenue from SpaceX’s proposed satellite broadband internet access will go to further R&D and funding for the first serious space missions to planet Mars and, ultimately, kick off the beginnings of a permanent human habitation on the Red planet.
Photo courtesy of autoblog.com

Monday, February 19, 2018

PESO Value of P52.12 LOWEST in 11 YEARS, 7 MONTHS


There had been a time when the Philippine Peso was pretty close in value to the US Dollar; being a former colony of the latter country was part of the reason. However in the years after complete independence the Peso began to devaluate, especially when it was made a floating currency, tied to the domestic debt and the people’s perception of both the government’s stability and ability to pay said debt. Over the decades the Peso lost about 99% of its original value in 1903-1949. At the very latest, the currency is now at its weakest value in over a decade.
The Manila Bulletin reports that on Wednesday, February 14, the Philippine Peso slipped even further in value to close that day’s trading at P52.12 to the US Dollar. In doing so, it broke the year-long Peso-Dollar valuation assumption by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), leaving the currency at its least valuable in 11 years and 7 months. Going back to that time, 2006, the Peso was at a P52.16 low. That degree of devaluation was called by analysts from Metrobank, based on data from the Philippine Dealing System. It has cemented the Peso’s reputation as Asia’s worst-performing currency.
Other analysts are in agreement over the root cause of the Peso’s stark devaluation: the current trend of excessive importing. Following a rise in the amount of infrastructure being developed to raise economic growth, government and business are resorting to more importation of materials for their infrastructure projects. The ANZ Banking Group’s Head of Asia Research Khoon Goh noted to Rappler that this trend has produced a significant trade deficit with imports far outweighing exportation. Analyst Riche Lim of BPI Securities concurs, expecting further decline in the Peso with the continued infrastructure spending, as he notes on ANC’s “Market Edge”.
Despite that, government officials are of the opinion that the P52+ Peso-Dollar value is no portent of economic doom. (BSP) Governor Nestor A. Espenilla Jr. assures the currency market that their economic fundamentals have not been compromised by the latest devaluation. Adding his input is Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, who says that a weak Peso does not automatically mean a weakening economy. He further elaborates that the government has seen this slide coming and has already made the necessary adjustments to their medium-term economic strategies. In a press conference, Diokno says that the best Peso status is competitive, not strong.
Towards the end of 2017, the Pesos had been playing around $49 to the Dollar, only to begin its latest decline in 2018, falling from P49.95 to P51 by January.
Photo courtesy of news.abs-cbn.com

NETFLIX Gets $300M EXCLUSIVE Contract with “American Horror Story Creator” RYAN MURPHY


You’ve got to hand it to Netflix; they have a sharp eye for television programming talent and the sense of initiative to bring these brilliant minds under their production umbrella. Maybe they’re simply looking for fresh input in creating original content for their streaming platform. Maybe Netflix is trying to compensate for Disney planning to remove their content from the library, plus the fear that their MCU-Netflix series might get canned as a result. Whatever the reason, the global king of streaming is aggressively recruiting some heavyweight TV writer-producers, and the latest in their new acquisitions: Ryan Murphy.
Entertainment Weekly has it that Netflix has snapped up Ryan Murphy, creator of a myriad of television series like “Glee”, “9-1-1”, “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story”, for an exclusive producing deal to help develop some new original programming for their streaming platform. This comes in the wake of a former overall deal Murphy had with both 20th Century Fox and FX to create content for their studios. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has high praise for Murphy’s series creations for being genre-reinventing and history-changing, TV-wise.
“His unfaltering dedication to excellence and to give voice to the underrepresented, to showcase a unique perspective or just to shock the hell out of us, permeates his genre-shattering work,” Sarandos add. “From ‘Nip/Tuck’ — our first licensed series — to ‘American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson’ and ‘American Horror Story’, we’ve seen how his brand of storytelling captivates consumers and critics across the globe.” The overall deal with Murphy boldly underlines how much they value his creative input; he is getting $300 million for exclusivity. His four-year deal with Fox from back in 2010 was only a paltry $24 million in comparison. He will start work for Netflix after his current contract expires on July 1.
Ryan Murphy’s statement announcing his new streaming service home makes note of the historicity of the moment. “I am a gay kid from Indiana who moved to Hollywood in 1989 with $55 dollars in savings in my pocket,” he says, “so the fact that my dreams have crystallized and come true in such a major way is emotional and overwhelming to me.” The writer-producer then expressed his gratitude towards Netflix for believing in him and the work of his production company, also promising to continue his theme of championing women, the LGBT and minorities in his shows.
Aside from Murphy, the other major creative force gotten by Netflix is Shonda Rhimes, who back in 2017 was enticed by the streaming service to a similar exclusive creative deal from her original home at ABC, where hits such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” aired.
Image courtesy from Twitter

AMAZON Does EMPLOYEE DOWNSIZING Even with HQ2 Still Not Announced


Once again, those who have been keeping close tabs on global online retailer Amazon and its quest for a city to build their “HQ2” in would have to endure the ongoing news blackout on the most recent developments to that effect. Some might have jumped onto the mention of Austin during the Amazon commercial for their Alexa smart speaker shown during Super Bowl LII was a hint that the Texan city was “The One”, only to be shot down by the company itself. But now a new event at Amazon’s workplaces has got people wondering: What’s with the massed lay-offs?
CNN reports that Amazon has begun a phase of employee downsizing. Most of the employee’s about to be laid off are from the online retail platform’s primary home in Seattle, HQ1 as it were; however there may be some Amazon staff in other offices worldwide that might get the work termination notices that are being passed out now. Amazon itself confirmed the downsizing in a statement sent to CNN itself. In further detail, the affected company employees are from their online retail operations teams, which have been termed “mature” areas of Amazon’s overall international business.
Why is Amazon letting some of its people go? The statement explained that it is part of Amazon’s corporate planning process that goes on about once every year. Their more restrained description of the layoffs is that they comprise a “headcount adjustment” of their employees. And it’s not as if the affected Amazon people are instantly out on their ear; the company assures that anybody who loses their spot because of the downsizing will be given a chance to be reassigned to certain sectors of the international retailer where they are currently hiring, and aggressively at that. It’s because the layoffs’ objective is not to reduce the total employee headcount.
At present, even as the headcount adjustment goes on in Amazon HQ1, said corporate headquarters – even before the start of the layoffs – has opening listings amounting to some 3,900 corporate-level jobs. In the rest of the world, Amazon has no less than 12,000 job vacancies that they seek to fill through their aggressive hiring approach. In fact, the company notes that last 2017 they have added 130,000 job positions filled, and that does not include their mega-deal acquisition of Whole Foods. They ended the previous year with a global workforce and staff number 560,000.
In the end, Amazon is emphasizing that the layoffs are small potatoes even when compared to the possible 50,000 jobs that will open, along with HQ2, in a lucky North American city. But we don’t know which city it will be yet. The story is not yet over.
Photo courtesy of money.cnn.com

PYEONGCHANG OLYMPIC Figure Skaters Revel in New Rule Allowing Routines Set to LYRICAL MUSIC


The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea will almost reach its first week of competition, and already a number of interesting developments have taken place on the rinks. One very prominent example is in the figure skating events. Normally one might picture a figure skating routine to usually vibrant orchestrated music or instrumental tunes. But a landmark ruling by the sport’s global governing body has opened up a world of new possibilities, and multiple Olympic skaters are exploiting the new change for all its worth, resulting in some attention-grabbing routines that are ripe to be social media topics.
As Entertainment Weekly puts it, the International Skating Union (ISU) has made a landmark decision to modify its rules for use in Olympic competition only weeks ago. From now on, skaters will be able to perform routines set to music with lyrics. So for sports watchers turned off by yet another round of spinning and jumping to the airs of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven, it’s time to clear out your ears and pay attention to the action. Thanks to this new ruling, figure skating has gotten very interesting, with contestants for the Olympic events making some awesome mixes for their acts.
Just to illustrate the popularity of this motion, social media (looking at you, Twitter) is now getting flooded with video snippets of figure skaters singles and pairs in action at Pyeongchang, all of them grooving to some ear-pleasing accompaniment to their figure-eight’s and axles. A French female solo figure skater was captured on camera doing a Biellmann spin to “Run the World (Girls)” by Queen Bey, Beyoncé herself. Her pair compatriots in Morgan Ciprès and Vanessa James went with “Make It Rain” by Ed Sheeran. Not enough for you? How about the South Korean pair of Yura Min and Alexander Gamelin, gliding across the ice to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s 2017 winner “Despacito”.
It does not take a genius to figure out that the ruling for lyrical music in Winter Olympic figure skating is a pragmatic step. While some traditional skaters and coaches are concerned over the potential of making the sport appear “corny”, using songs with words for skating routines has been touted as a sure-fire way to make the event appealing to younger audiences, especially considering that all music genres are allowed as per the new ruling.
Interestingly, Russian Olympian Evgenia Medvedeva, who in a past competition skated to the theme from the “Sailor Moon” anime (in costume), had her Pyeongchang short program be set to a piece by Frederic Chopin, with a routine theme based on “clinical death”. It got her a 81.06, the highest score ever given to the ladies’ short program for figure skating.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

CELINE DION July 19 CONCERT at MOA Arena Gets SECOND NIGHT


About a month ago, Filipino fans of long-runner Canadian diva Celine Dion were delighted to learn that her latest concert tour will take her to the Philippines, the first time she would ever perform in the country. The Celine Dion Live 2018 tour would see her singing to adoring audiences in seven venues on seven countries, and her local stop here would be at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay this coming July 19. Celine’s first concert in the Philippines should already be enough cause for joy by itself. But no it gets better: she’s performing two nights.
CNN Philippines reports that Celine Dion’s concert tour stop at the MOA Arena has been given an additional night. Now fans of the international idol who counts among the most powerful vocalists in the world will be pleased to know that Celine is booked here for July 19 and 20. And it’s all, to paraphrase one of her hit songs, “because you loved her”. The general pricing trend for foreign concert performances are known to be steep in Philippine Pesos, but that didn’t stop Filipinos from pouncing on the concert tickets for sale that the original single-night performance sold out.
So Ovation Productions, the organizers for the Philippine leg of Celine Dion Live 2018, announced on Monday, February 12, that the Canadian voice will have a back-to-back concert night, in order to give Celine fans that didn’t get lucky with the tickets, to be able to see her perform. Starting Thursday, February 15, tickets for the July 20 concert date will go on sale, prices ranging from P 2,640 to P35,380 according to seating. However, members of Celine’s official Philippine fan club Team Celine will get an early bird presale opportunity to score tickets this Tuesday, from 10AM to midnight.
Celine Dion Live 2018 is the fulfillment of a promise by the singer, age 49 now, after her original concert plans in Manila back in 2014 fell through due to the declining health of her husband and former manager Rene Angelil, who died of throat cancer in 2016. Finally Filipino Celine fans will get to hear her belt out her numerous familiar songs “Because You Loved Me”, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and – of course – “My Hear Will go On” fully live and loud. This is perhaps the biggest concert event in the country this year.
Aside from the Philippines, other stops in Celine’s concert tour include Tokyo (where the tour starts), Taipei, Macau, Jakarta, Singapore and Bangkok.
Photo courtesy of SMtickets

Monday, February 12, 2018

KZ TANDINGAN Beats JESSIE J in Week 5 of Chinese Reality Contest “SINGER 2018”


There’s always a dramatic story element whenever a person overcomes somebody he or she considers to be an idol in a competition, real life or fiction. Surely Filipina jazz idol KZ Tandingan must have felt this to be so when she beat out British sensation Jessie J on a Chinese reality singing competition which episode was broadcast Friday last week.
According to CNN Philippines, on the February 9 second-round knockout episode of “Singer 2018”, which pits famous celebrity singers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong along with international performers, KZ Tandingan emerged supreme when her jazz-styled cover of Adele’s signature song “Rolling in the Deep” got her voted first place that week. Just behind her, stuck on second place for the second week in a row now, is Jessie J, who looks to be taking a stumble in the competition after coming in first for the first three weeks of the show.
The competition format for “Singer 2018” is interesting in that it starts with seven contestants and weekly elimination, but with the eliminated singer being replaced the following week by a newcomer entry. Jessie J had originally out-sung the other contestant since the January 12 premiere of “Singer 2018” until the 26th. On February 4 however, she was knocked of the top spot by replacement contestant Hua Chenyu, and had hoped to regain the ranking on the 9th, when KZ Tandingan made her contest debut replacing eliminated Taiwanese singer Sam Lee.
For Tandingan, it was a chance of a lifetime to interact with Jessie J, whom professes to be a solid fan of. Their first meeting, shown in the behind-the-scenes segments of “Singer 2018”, was a crowning moment of heartwarming when the 25-year-old Davaoeña (del Sur) singer-songwriter related that it was listening to Jessie’s songs in high school that encouraged her to keep singing at a time when she considered quitting due to changes caused by a polyp in her vocal chords. The ensuing hug between the two was pretty epic in proportions.
It certainly spurred them into giving their all last Friday. Jessie J sang “Ain’t Nobody” for her piece, but was visibly supportive when Tandingan took her turn on the stage and belted out “Rolling in the Deep”. The resulting studio audience votes kept Jessie from regaining her number 1 rank, but she was appreciative of her fan’s efforts. Tien Chong of Hong Kong was booted instead. The two are expected to return for more singing action Friday this week, February 16.
Both KZ Tandingan and Jessie J are involved in reality singing contests in their respective countries as well. KZ is the first winner of “X Factor Philippines” in 2012, while Jessie has served as coach and mentor for the UK and Australia editions of “The Voice”. “Singer 2018” is broadcast throughout China on Hunan Broadcasting.
Photo courtesy of news.abs-cbn.com

The CW’s “ARROW” Season 6 Reveals Possible Main Season BAD GUY


There may have been an increasingly vocal audience group that thinks that the first DC Comics TV superhero series on The CW has finally “failed the viewers”, but that has not stopped “Arrow” from becoming a long-running show on the network, with its sixth and latest season airing since October of 2017. The start of season 6 was one roller-coaster ride of twists in the story, especially since it plays off the apparent death of the cast in the big boom of the season-5 finale. After 12 episodes, the 13th drops another bombshell in that the assumed season main villain…isn’t.
As Entertainment Weekly tells it, this Thursday’s episode, “The Devil’s Greatest Trick”, turns everything that both the crew of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and the viewer knew on their heads. Hacktivist turned terrorist Cayden James (Michael Emerson) has been spending the better time of season 6 hatching a master plan to both kill Green Arrow and destroy Starling City, as vengeance for his son Owen whom he believed was killed by Arrow’s actions. After a race against time, Oliver presents Cayden with proof of his innocence, along with the suspicion that one of the latter’s associates had framed the former.
So Cayden calls off his city-destroying plot and tries to hunt down his three accomplices to determine the truth. But the real mastermind behind Oliver’s bad rap strikes preemptively and kills off Cayden, his former boss. Said puppet-master turns out to be Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Alvarado). Fans of “Arrow” who also happen to follow the original story source of DC Comics would know that Ricardo Diaz is the latest iteration of classic DC character Richard Dragon, whose more famous iteration is as one of the comic brand’s ultimate martial arts masters, and sensei of several physical-fighting superheroes like The Question.
In fact, the characterization of Alvarado’s role of Diaz is lifted from the character’s background in the 2011 DC Comics universal reboot. The comic Ricardo Diaz is the son and namesake of a drug kingpin; so far so good. His father was killed by someone posing as Green Arrow in the story. The CW revises the narrative by flipping the death from father to son, and then giving that backstory to Cayden James, leaving only the drug kingpin characteristic to the TV show’s Diaz/Dragon. As to why Diaz hatched a complex and winding plot to both discredit Oliver/Arrow and set up Starling City for his takeover, we’ll have to wait for the remaining episodes to find out.
Arrow airs every Thursday, 8 p.m. ET on the CW. As of February 8, the latest season is halfway through.
Photo courtesy of EconoTimes