Thursday, September 29, 2022



Perhaps, if the heyday of your life was in the 1990s, you might have encountered a drama film in 1995 produced by now-dormant Disney label Hollywood Pictures. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, “Dangerous Minds” is a loose adaptation of the memoirs of ex-Marine-turned-high school teacher LouAnne Johnson, and her experiences teaching in a low-income and racially-tense setting. If you know nothing else about this movie, you probably at least heard its theme song “Gangsta’s Paradise”. This rap anthem, vibrant in spite of its bleak subject, was performed by rapper Artis Leon Arvey Jr., better known as Coolio. He has just passed away.

Entertainment Weekly reports to us that recording artist Coolio has died Wednesday, September 28. He was 59 years old. The news was broken by his manager Jarez Posey, who related that Coolio was found unresponsive by responding paramedics at the bathroom of a friend’s house in Los Angeles. Although an official cause of death has yet to be revealed, Posey opines that it may have been a cardiac arrest and that no foul play was suspected. Another manager of Coolio’s for Trinity Artists International released a statement confirming the death.

"We are saddened by the loss of our dear friend and client, Coolio, who passed away this afternoon,” Sheila Finegan of TAI announced. “He touched the world with the gift of his talent and will be missed profoundly. Thank you to everyone worldwide who has listened to his music and to everyone who has been reaching out regarding his passing. Please have Coolio's loved ones in your thoughts and prayers."

Born 1963, Coolio joined the rap scene in the 1980s, eventually becoming a prominent voice in the gangsta rap subgenre. He first drew the spotlight in 1994 with the album “It Takes a Thief”, headlined by the single “Fantastic Voyage”. Only a year later, his song “Gangsta’s Paradise” spent three weeks atop the Billboard Top 100, eventually eclipsing the movie it served as theme to. Other notable soundtrack contributions during 1996 were “Aw, Here It Goes” for Nickelodeon sitcom “Kenan and Kel” and “Hit ‘Em High” (alongside B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Method Man and LL Cool J) for Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam” starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny.

Coolio also became a reality TV regular. His participation in “Celebrity Big Brother 6” (UK, 2009) revived popularity for “Gangsta’s Paradise” there, like its global peak in the US, Europe and Australia/New Zealand. He is survived by six children from a 1996 marriage, which ended 2000 in divorce.

Image courtesy of NY Times

Monday, September 19, 2022

MISS UNIVERSE 2022 Pageant Night Set for NEXT YEAR JANUARY 2023


When an annual institution has been going on long enough, not even crises like a worldwide pandemic could keep it down permanently. This includes even events such as beauty pageants, in particular any one of the current “Big Four” competitions. For Miss Universe, the worst it did was push the pageant date, usually held around December of its year, to January instead; and that was for the 69th edition in 2020: pandemic year 1. Miss Universe 2021 returned to December of its year, but for 2022 no word on the date came up as the year begins winding down. Finally, the organization announced when it will happen, with some extras.

According to the Philippine Star, the 71st Miss Universe pageant will go a bit over the usual period again with the announcement of coronation night next year. Miss Universe 2021, India’s Harnaaz Sandhu, will crown the winner this coming January 15, 2023 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana USA. It would have to be one of the most vibrant locations for a Miss Universe pageant yet. Not even Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has completely destroyed the city’s image as the unique blending of French trappings and the American South, with the Mississippi River, Creole cuisine, Cajun culture and Mardi Gras among its most iconic imagery.

In addition to the official venue confirmation, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) has also laid down some new rules on eligibility for contestants in future pageants. Rest assured: the new changes call for more expanded criteria with entries. Yes, they must still fall within the age bracket of 18 to 28 years old. But starting from pageant 72 (2023), a hopeful Miss Universe need no longer strictly be a “Miss” (single). Are you married or a single mother? You can be the next Miss U, if you work for it.

Miss Universe 2022 will be fielding around 75 beauties, all either winners of local pageants with the MUO franchise, or chosen by their organizations to represent. At the latest 67 contestants have been confirmed. Notable is the debut of a Miss Bhutan, model Tashi Choden who is among the first Bhutanese to openly profess being LGBT following the relaxation of the country’s homosexual crime laws.

As for the Philippines, Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi, who won the title last April, is already busy undergoing beauty camp training for next January. That may mean going light on the usual Christmas Holiday feasting by December. Interestingly, Miss Cambodia Manita Hang is apparently holding her own beauty camp in this country, having been spotted in Quezon City.

Image courtesy of TripAdvisor

Sunday, September 18, 2022



Before going all-in with expansive shared cinematic universes, major movie studios approached superhero filmmaking with the idea of following just one hero (or one team) across several sequels or one-off productions, depending on their box office clout. Popular superhero characters can see multi-picture deals like “Spider-Man” or “X-Men” for Marvel, and “Batman” for DC. Others might get only a one-and-done like 2005’s “Constantine”, based on DC’s “Hellblazer”. The movie starred Keanu Reeves as the titular cynical bounty hunter treading the living world between Heaven and Hell. After several animated appearances and even a one-season live-action series, John Constantine is coming back to the big screen, with Reeves in tow too.

Deadline tells us that Warner Bros. Pictures are looking to develop a sequel to their 2005 supernatural superhero film “Constantine”. To do so, they are reuniting original director Francis Lawrence and star Keanu Reeves, to work on a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, who is co-producing with J.J. Abrams via their respective labels Weed Road Pictures and Bad Robot Productions. Announcement of “Constantine 2” comes about 17 years following the premiere of the original, which made some $200 million in the global box office well before emerging superhero cinematic universes began routinely breaking the billion-dollar mark.

The return of John Constantine to live-action has been a dream for many comic-book fans of “Hellblazer”, given that the character has risen to become one of the pillars of the supernatural side of the DC superhero multiverse. Warner Bros. Pictures co-chairpersons Michael de Luca and Pam Abdy look to finally help Constantine fans scratch that silver-screen itch, particularly as interpreted by Reeves. A Goldsman screenplay is also a matter of interest, given that he is a DC superhero veteran with credits for the Joel Schumacher “Batman” movies among others. He also co-developed the “Titans” streaming series on HBO Max.

“Constantine” and its source comic “Hellblazer” follows John Constantine, an occult detective and exorcist. In the first movie, Constantine is a cynic driven by how his ability to see supernatural phenomenon and beings led him to commit suicide in his teenage years. Although miraculously resurrected at the time, the fact that he killed himself meant he was doomed to go to Hell if he should die again. Nevertheless, he strives to do the right thing even if his methods are questionable. There is no further information yet on the sequel, and when it might release.

Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter



Spanning most if not all of the coastal regions in the Pacific Ocean is a region famously known as the Ring of Fire. Heavy plate tectonic activity within this zone has been the perennial cause of various natural disasters in the nations that fall within the ring. As the name implies, the primary natural disaster wrought by the Ring of Fire are volcanic eruptions; it does contain about two-thirds of the world’s total number of volcanoes, after all. But aside from that, the ring also triggers powerful earthquakes sometimes accompanied by tsunamis. The former actually visited Taiwan this past weekend.

Reuters has it that a series of earthquakes struck southeastern Taiwan last September 17 and 18, 2022. The first occurred Saturday and measured 6.4 in magnitude, followed by a stronger 6.8 magnitude tremor on Sunday. The epicenter according to the Taiwanese central weather bureau was in Taitung County. The tectonic activity most likely responsible is the convergence of the Eurasian Plate and Philippine Plate, with Taiwan lying near its boundary just northwest. While no casualties were reported in the first quake, the second racked up several injuries, one death, hundreds stranded and various infrastructural damages.

In nearby Yuli township, a three-story building housing a convenience store collapsed, with four people evacuated from the ruins. Yuli also reported the first fatality of the earthquakes, a cement factory worker. At Dongli train station in eastern Taiwan, the platform canopy partially collapsed, causing six railway carriages to derail. Furthermore, road damage led to around 600 tourists and locals being trapped on the scenic Liushshi and Chike mountainous areas. Tremors also led to electricity and telecommunications being knocked out in Taitung and neighboring places. Miraculously the toll in casualties has been remarkably low. The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued warnings, but it has since been rescinded. The Japan Meteorological Agency also gave (and repealed) similar warnings to Okinawa.

Central Weather Bureau noted that the earthquakes were felt further inland, with tremors being recorded in Taipei. West of Taipei, in Taoyuan, a sports venue shuddered significantly enough to send athletes inside scrambling when part of the ceiling collapsed, causing one injury. Still, science facilities in Kaohsiung and Tainan, both in southern Taiwan, reported that the quakes did not hamper their semiconductor factory operations. At latest report, aftershocks continue to be felt across Taiwan, but for the most part the worst seems to be over.

Image courtesy of Fox News

Saturday, September 10, 2022



Some world leaders have stood at the heads of their respective nations for so long, that they are identified with their position more likely than their predecessors and even successors. This is especially true for hereditary heads of state who stay that way for life, especially if they become rather long-lived. When John Paul II died in 2005 after serving over 26 years as Pope, many Christians could not quite remember anyone else in the post. But there are other monarchs with longer reigns than that. Look no further than Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Sadly, pop-culture joke assertions of her seeming immortality proved false this past Thursday.

BBC reports that Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, died September 8 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was 96 years old, just 70 years of which she lived as Monarch of the UK and Head of the Commonwealth of Nations which includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand and more countries formerly part of the British Empire. An initial update this past Thursday noted the Queen as being put under medical supervision in Balmoral, but that she was in comfortable condition. Only later did the news break out.

Elizabeth survived her husband and Consort, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, for a year following his death in 2021, but her last days seemed to have been short and abrupt. Only Tuesday, September 6, the Queen appointed Liz Truss, who turned out to be her final Prime Minister. While many of Elizabeth’s family managed to get to Balmoral Castle in time to bid her farewell, her grandson Prince Harry arrived minutes after her passing. Her death triggered the start of an elaborate Royal Funeral plan codenamed Operation London Bridge. At the same time, various world leaders joined the world public in paying her tribute. Even the Presidents of warring Russia and Ukraine found time to pass on their condolences.

Born in 1926, Elizabeth found herself on the path to Queenship upon the accession of her father as George VI following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in December 1936. During World War II, the then-Princess Elizabeth was an inspirational figure. She and Philip Mountbatten, by birth a Prince of Greece and Denmark, married in 1947. They would be blessed with four children. Upon the death of King George in 1952 Elizabeth became Queen.

Following her death, Elizabeth’s firstborn son Charles, Prince of Wales, was proclaimed King of the UK as Charles III just this Saturday, September 10. His own son Prince William along with his wife Catherine, have been elevated as Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Cornwall. The title of Prince of Wales must be formally invested by Charles to his heir at a later date. The same goes for the Coronation of Charles, which must wait until after the Royal Funeral for Elizabeth II has concluded.

Image courtesy of Forbes

Saturday, September 3, 2022



This late August and early September saw the return of epic medieval fantasy series to the center stage. Fittingly, both are spinoff prequels to more famous predecessor productions. HBO’s “House of the Dragon” builds in the historical backstory serving as background to their epic 8-season cash cow “Game of Thrones”. Amazon Prime Video in the meantime has fielded “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”, itself making a narrative out of the mythical history of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, particularly as seen in the legendary film trilogy from New Line Cinema. Both shows already have two episodes out, and from these some casual impressions on the series can be made.

“House of the Dragon” looks back on the earlier history of Westeros as depicted in George RR Martin’s universe, in turn adapted as “Game of Thrones”. Fittingly, HBO sees fit to bring back many old hands in the production including composer Ramin Djawadi who game us the iconic “GoT” theme. The setting is the Seven Kingdoms during the reign of Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine). After his wife and infant son die in childbirth, he names his sole surviving daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) as heir to the Iron Throne. This upsets Viserys’ brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who has ambitions to inherit. But some more problems complicate this fragile situation.

The Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), sets his daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) to seduce the widowed Viserys. When the King announces his intention to remarry to Alicent, lines are drawn and alliances made. If Alicent could bear Viserys a son in marriage, Rhaenyra’s position as heir would be endangered. To those who have read Martin’s source book “Fire and Blood”, that is exactly what happens, leading to the Targaryen Civil War called the Dance of the Dragons.

“The Rings of Power” on the other hand looks at the story behind some of the more senior supporting characters in base “Lord of the Rings”. Fans of the movie might recall the mighty dignity offered by Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as Elven monarchs Elrond and Galadriel respectively. “Rings of Power” shows us these two as their younger, less “perfect” selves (Robert Aramayo and Morfydd Clark), as they make their way across Middle-Earth in the centuries after the transition from the First to Second Ages. The original Dark Lord Morgoth has been defeated and banished, but his second-in-command Sauron remains at large and resolved to finish his predecessor’s plans.

But as Sauron hides and bides his time, life on Middle-Earth goes on. Tensions arise between elves and men, as the former sees the latter as tainted due to their ancestors fighting for Sauron. Those humans who did fight for good currently live in their island kingdom of Numenor, ruled by Queen Miriel (Cynthia Adlai-Robinson). In parallel to Aragorn and Arwen, the elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz) is in love with Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human healer and single mother. Political games also abound courtesy of Elf High King Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) and Dwarf Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) of Khazad-dum.

One notable common production aesthetic between “House of the Dragon” and “The Rings of Power” is how relatively “clean” everything looks. The settings of “Game of Thrones” and “LOTR” looks rather weathered and dusty in comparison. It is understandable seeing as both series are showing their respective settings in arguably their past golden ages, where everything just becomes worse from that point. Visual-wise, both shows can be considered improvements. “HOD” can be said to have made the near-identical dragons from “Thrones” into distinctive individual creatures. “Rings” choosing to shoot in New Zealand like the original films also works wonders for how their locations look onscreen.

That being said, there is still some ways to go in terms of episodes before both series really get into the meat of their stories. The factions that will fight the Dance of the Dragons have yet to form. Sauron has yet to deceive the Elves into helping him forge the titular Rings of Power (even before he makes THE One Ring). Longtime fans for either Martin or Tolkien would have already gone over the details in the original print media, so TV fans will have to wait until the respective shows can catch up.

“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays on HBO. “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will premiere a new episode weekly as well on Prime Video, with the September 1 dual-episode premiere being a special case of sorts.

Image courtesy of The Wrap