Posted in Mi Vida, Nurse Z's life

Year-End Graduation and Closing Remarks

After taking a break from volunteer teaching for 2 years, I went back to it last January at a Filipino-owned learning center as a Nursing Assistant instructor. And so far, I have produced 3 batches of graduates this year. It felt good to serve the Filipino community this way, plus I always wanted to be in the academe (I was a school nurse/educator before in PH).

It makes me both proud and a bit stressed (but in a good way as in Eustress) because I finally have to let go of my students into the world and wherever life takes them. Graduations are always emotional because many of my students are housekeepers and nannies who want a better life and opportunities. And I have witnessed their sacrifices and even met them halfway (giving them exams in cafes or extending classes, etc.) to support them in their journey. Yes, mother hen me’s heart is full.

Me and 2 of my graduates

We held the commencement exercises at the lovely Abu Dhabi Country Club on December 11th – a joint ceremony between 2 sister schools. Now, somebody volunteered my name to give the closing remarks. Even though I was informed of this two weeks before the graduation, I only drafted my speech two days before the event. It’s not a good habit, but my brain was designed to work best with constant pressure since high school.

I was a bit surprised at the rapt attention I received while delivering that speech. Because let’s face it when it’s time for the closing remarks, people are already antsy to take photos on the stage with their friends or busy craning their necks at the buffet table offerings. But yeah, they were all ears and it made me happy – my Karak Chai-fueled writing was worthwhile.

Anyhow, here is my closing speech for the said event:

To our school directors, our distinguished guests, esteemed colleagues, families, and friends, and to our dear graduates, a pleasant afternoon.

Today is a significant day for our graduates and their families because it marks the culmination of their hard work and dedication. Despite the challenges, you faced in the duration of your studies, such as juggling work while memorizing concepts and steps in procedures, missing sessions because of sudden work schedule changes, or even financial matters. You still managed to finish your courses – some on time, some a few weeks delayed. But here you are, dressed in your academic gowns and receiving the fruits of your labor – your completion diplomas and special awards. I am immensely pleased to tell you that we are all proud of your achievements.

I, together with my fellow instructors, wish to thank you for your eagerness to learn as shown by your efforts. Give yourselves a round of applause. Likewise, for demonstrating camaraderie towards teachers, management, and amongst yourselves. The wonderful memories we’ve made together in the months you’ve spent with us will surely remain in our hearts even after leaving the walls of our institutes.

Our school does its best to equip you with not only the required knowledge and skills but most importantly the right attitude. For those who took up courses to start anew in another country be it in the UK, Finland, Canada, or wherever in the world it may be; or restart their careers by forging a different path, do know that it won’t be easy and there will be obstacles along the way. But don’t fret, don’t be discouraged, just hold true to your vision, to your purpose, to your ‘whys’. And regardless of your religion, never forget to seek Divine guidance when weathering the storm. After all, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Just have faith.

We would also like to thank all our instructors for their fervent commitment to helping our students become better, if not the best in their studies. Your enthusiasm and selflessness have inspired our learners to also persevere. You are instrumental in producing the graduates of today. May we keep the fire burning as we continue to teach, touch and transform more lives.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people behind today’s successful event – to all the committees involved in the preparation of the program – our guest speakers, our emcee, the coordinators, the technical team, and everyone, your hard work is greatly appreciated.

Cliché as this sounds, this commencement exercise is not an end but just a stepping stone in the realization of your dreams. We hope that you will become good ambassadors of our school and will not allow selfish interests to tarnish your integrity. Always choose to be kind to the people you will encounter as you pursue your careers or chosen fields.

And so, on behalf of (insert learning center names), we wish you well in your future endeavors, and may the odds be ever in your favor! Thank you very much!

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My September Watch List

Back in September, I was totally busy with my teaching stint and accepted more loads during weekends. Which made me want to watch more movies or series to let my mind rest and enjoy some “me time.”

In addition, I had offers to collaborate with short film projects and I penned a screenplay shot last October. I’m excited about how this will turn out and looking forward to the final cut. But for now, here’s the stuff I watched in September:

MOVIE

Title: Lightyear (2022)

Where to watch: Disney+

Synopsis: Legendary space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) embarks on an intergalactic adventure alongside ambitious recruits Izzy, Mo, Darby, and his robot companion, Sox. As this motley crew tackles their toughest mission yet, they must learn to work together as a team to escape the evil Zurg and his dutiful robot army that is never far behind.

My Thoughts:

Toy Story is one of the well-loved Disney films, and Lightyear was a fun watch for all ages. It was nice to see the origin story of the fictional Buzz Lightyear – the one Andy saw in a movie and whose action figure he loved.

In contrast to the previous films, Buzz this time has a Captain America vibe to him – well, he’s voiced by Chris Evans after all. The story itself is a generic hero movie: defending the Earth from robot invasions while inspiring competence and confidence in a band of misfits. But there were also a number of lessons shared without being too preachy. It was inclusive by showing an LGBTQ+ relationship and a cast of diverse ethnicities.

I love Sox the most in here – because he’s so hilarious and he’s a cute robot cat. It was also fun spotting Buzz speaking phrases that were said by his action figure. And Evil Zurg’s real identity was quite a revelation – not spoiling anything, watch it.

The animation was great and brought a level of familiarity. It’s a colorful action-packed film that would look great when watched in iMax, but somehow it is forgettable.

SERIES

Title: Hometown (2021)

Where to watch: Netflix & iQiyi

Synopsis: In a small town in 1999, a series of inexplicable murders happen in random households through a mixtape that induces hallucination and hypnosis among its victims. During the investigation, Detective Choi Hyung-In (Yoo Jae-Myung) teams up with Jo Jung-Hyun (Han Ye-ri), the sister of a convicted terrorist to find her missing niece. As the mystery unfolds it seems that their fates are all intertwined.

My Thoughts: Hometown is not for everyone. It’s a slow-burn mystery crime thriller that needs your full attention when watching. But I love the intriguing storyline for the unexpected twists and turns in the series that left me hooked.

There were many curious elements in the series. An example is an eerie mixtape featuring cut-ups of a woman in white hiding her face and ominous sounds reminiscent of The Ring videotape. The audio mixtape is creepy to hear it gave me goosebumps every time. The cinematography is superb and immerses you in a certain kind of darkness that gives the thrills.

In addition to its compelling plot, the series has an outstanding cast. I’ve long been a fan of actor Yoo Jae Myung (he’s amazing in other K-drama series such as Forest of Secrets and Life). I was also impressed by Uhm Tae Goo playing the hypnotist terrorist Cho Kyung-Ho. The guy seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies whenever he looks at the camera and speaks in a low voice! He absolutely gives off a serial-killer vibe.

Hometown is a well-written thriller drama for those with patience, and true crime enthusiasts. Just don’t get too technical with the hypnosis aspect and you’ll enjoy this one.


P.S. They also have a fantastic soundtrack.

Title: Sins of Our Mother (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: When Lori Vallow’s kids vanished, the search for them unearthed a trail of suspicious deaths, a new husband who shared her doomsday views – and murder.

My Thoughts: The documentary chronicles the descent of a wonderful, loving, and devout mother into a delusional monster. Lori Vallow met Chad Daybell – another delusional man who thinks his self-published books are akin to the scriptures and that he is the next messiah. And together, they believed to be the next saviors of humanity in the coming doomsday prophecy.

There was no doubt in Lori’s mind that she could tell which people or spirits were good and which were evil. Tragically, she saw that two of her young children were among the dark entities that needed to be liberated by ending their lives and then hiding their bodies. This ghastly crime became widely publicized, and the case is still ongoing, with Vallow’s trial slated for 2023.

Since everything is still fresh in this case, certain details were withheld by the authorities to give us a complete picture of what really happened to those involved. As a true crime fan, I find this story ordinary but only sensationalized by the media due to its religious/cult-like tone. It breaks my heart to think of the children whose mother’s mental health was deteriorating while they were left in her care without any protection. If someone had just listened to their cries for help, their deaths – including their father’s – could have been prevented.

The series has direct yet heartfelt storytelling, with Colby (Lori’s eldest son) as the sympathetic narrator. It’s a sad yet baffling tale of a family torn apart by someone whose mind could justify “righteous actions,” even if it meant blood on her hands.

Title: Bee and Puppycat (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: On a charming magical island, the impulsive unemployed Bee lives a normal life until her grumpy furry pal Puppycat arrives and they have all sorts of adventures while working for an intergalactic temp agency.

My Thoughts: Bee and Puppycat characters have been appearing on my social media feed for a while, but I had never seen an episode until it was streamed on Netflix. My brother watched the original on YouTube and persuaded me to see it… no regrets, and I love it!

Visually, it’s a treat, thanks to the dreamy and sweet animation style! The characters were quirky, and despite being cartoon characters, they got fun personalities and backstories. I adore Puppycat’s bluntness and banters with Bee – it’s funny and weird. Its plot may also seem endearingly simple, but I find it profound and even inspiring. Take Deckard for example, who is awful at cooking yet goes to culinary school to learn more – a reminder that ambition can translate into action. There are more characters that I personally relate to and that made me reflect somehow.

Soundtrack-wise, it’s also cute and mellow that you can’t help but get relaxed with each episode. There were some songs sung by Puppycat in his weird pseudolanguage. It sounds kinda absurd but still wins you over. The beat takes you to a calming study lo-fi feel.

My cosplay community friends have been raving about Bee and Puppycat before, and now I understand why. I’m a bit late to the party, but it’s a charming watch that even adults can enjoy late at night while sipping hot cocoa. You should definitely catch this!

Title: Thai Cave Rescue (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Twelve members of a Thai youth soccer team and their assistant coach Coach Ek (Papangkorn Lerkchaleampote) are trapped within Tham Luang Cave, near Chiang Rai, Thailand, sparking an international rescue effort as the water level slowly rises and threatens the boys’ safety.

My Thoughts: As the world has watched with bated breath the fate of the 13 young people trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand, filmmakers have been eager to make a movie about their story. And their critical yet successful rescue made it a perfect Hollywood film material.

Many have attempted to tell the story – a NatGeo documentary focused on the technical aspects of the rescue, a Ron Howard film based on the stories of two rescue divers, and now this series. However, Thai Cave Rescue differs from the aforementioned because Netflix told the story through the soccer team’s perspective.

The series showed cultural nuances and the efforts of the Thai government, Thai Navy SEALS, and the others involved including the boys’ family and friends. Consequently, giving the story a more melodramatic and humanistic feel. A brief episode also focuses on the only casualty: Saman Gunan, aka Ja Sam (Suppakorn “Tok” Kitsuwan), which was bittersweet and executed well with heartbreaking cinematography.

And although some were not impressed with the raw acting, I do admire the Thai production including the director, and even getting Thai non-actors as extras to give it some authenticity. It was sad to learn that Papangkorn Lerkchaleampote passed away while the series was still in post-production. He played the role of the charismatic Coach Ek so well.

It’s good to see stories like this being told genuinely and avoiding the white savior tropes. Although the foreign divers were crucial to their rescue, let’s not forget about the locals involved. Thai Cave Rescue beautifully captures the heart and soul of the people, making it a fitting tribute to those whose story isn’t fully told in all the movies about this rescue.

Seen any of these? What are your thoughts?

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My August Watch List

It’s been a year since sharing my first watch list post last August, and I will keep at it despite my late posting. (Gomen ne~) I’m still a busy bee – yes, a lazy ass – yes, but somehow I have some friends who ask me for my Netflix recommendations and I get to give them a link to my blog to see my Watch List posts.

Anyway, these are the stuff I’ve seen:

MOVIES

Image: IMDb

Title: Lockdown (2021)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Six strangers coming from different walks of life are thrown into a forced isolation together at a hospital in Lagos for 21 days after a patient tests positive for a deadly but fictional disease Holo virus. As the tensions rise of their unfortunate circumstance, their stories intertwine.

My thoughts: I started watching Nollywood films on Netflix courtesy of my cinephile landlady, and I find their movies likable. So when this film became available, I watched it for 2 reasons: 1. it’s Nollywood and 2. it’s supposedly a medical movie. Despite some of its logical flaws, it was enjoyable at some point.

The story centers on 6 people who ended up in the hospital at an unfortunate time- a compassionate groom (Ben Touitou) and his business partner/best man (Jidekene Achufusi) who brought in a hit-and-run victim, deliveryman Uche (Tony Umez) who brings his last parcel so he can collect his paycheck to buy medicine for his dying wife, Sunny (Josh2Funny) who got injured after he wins a ticket out of poverty, Amokachi (Deyemi Okanlawo) a cheating spouse whose wife is on labor at the hospital, and the desperate jobseeker Angela (Ini Dima-Okojie) needed to get a medical report for her interview. Different people with strong motivations to get on with their lives outside. And then there’s the threat of the deadly disease whose symptoms are as lethal as the Ebola virus.

As a nurse, I noticed that there are many questionable choices or actions by the Medical Director such as seeing patient zero wearing inadequate PPE. More so, the isolated people’s intense desire to get out of the hospital overrides the possibility that they could be infected and spread the disease to others or die from it! Well, except for Uche’s understandable plight, the rest of their concerns are inessential and can actually be negotiated given their present circumstance.

I did say that it was enjoyable courtesy of comedian Josh2Funny’s humor, although he can be a bit over the top at times. There are also some lines and cultural nuances I’m yet to understand, but the acting, cinematography, and soundtrack worked for me.
It may not be a perfect medical drama, but it taps into the human story that makes it relatable. So yeah, it’s still a fun watch, minus the accuracy of infection control protocols.

SERIES

Image: IMDb

Title: The Sandman (2022)

Where the watch: Netflix

Synopsis: After a century of imprisonment, Morpheus aka the King of Dreams (Tom Sturridge) embarks on a journey across worlds to find what was stolen from him and restore his power in order to undo the chaos brought by his absence.

My thoughts: I LOVE IT!!! I watched and rewatched this series in four different languages – English, Japanese, French, and Spanish. I just couldn’t get enough of this series! I read the first volume of the comics years back, so I was really looking forward to the live-action adaptation by none other than the original author himself – Neil Gaiman.

The story itself is way ahead of its time (given it was published in the 1980s). It spans religious narratives, familiar fairy tales, and modern DC storylines. The Sandman universe is populated by anthropomorphic concepts, deities, mythological creatures, talking animals, and Biblical entities, alongside famous historical figures and everyday people. All tied together by its main character Dream.

While some parts are written to accommodate the present time and sensibilities, it is still beyond my expectations – the rich production & sets, the intricate props and costumes, everything about it is gorgeous! And don’t get me started with the amazing cast headed by Sturridge, who embodied Dream to the bone! His speaking voice is how I imagined the comic Dream would sound in real life. The rest of the cast also spectacularly fleshed out the other characters namely Jenna Coleman (Johanna Constantine), Gwendoline Christie (Lucifer), Boyd Holbrook (The Corinthian), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death), and Mason Alexander Park (Desire), to mention a few.
If you could get past the morbid 5th episode “24/7” (also played superbly by all minor characters), you’ll get rewarded with the warm and lovely 6th episode “The Sound of Her Wings”, which was faithfully lifted out of the comics. And the bonus 11th episode is such a treat! It has animated ginormous cats, and the Prophet was voiced by Sandra Oh.

I could go on and on about why I am enamored by this series, but don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself if you love fantasy series and tales.

Image: IMDb

Title: The Indian Matchmaking Season 2 (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Matchmaker Sima Taparia guides clients in the US and India in the arranged marriage process, offering an inside look at the custom in a modern era.

My thoughts: I watched the first season in 2020 and thought this was an interesting glimpse of modern-day matchmaking. Of course, I understand that this doesn’t represent the entire Indian population in their native country or the expats living in the US. But simply a show of how Sima Aunty does her job as a respected professional matchmaker.

I laughed hard with the first season because I strongly identified with some of the ladies in the show – women with thriving careers past their 30s and are now ready to settle down. However, they’re having difficulty finding life-long partners because they can demand qualities worthy of their status and lifestyle. That is so me and probably the reason why I’m still single in my mid-30s. hahaha

Season 2 was a fun watch to see familiar casts – the headstrong lawyer Aparna and the beautiful Nadia. Sima’s clients may be too demanding, making their matches impossible, but it also made me reflect on my own dating philosophy.

Despite its mixed reviews and criticisms, I think this series is a worthwhile watch and best seen with fellow single friends – the more, the merrier!

DOCUMENTARIES

Image IMDb

Title: Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Jimmy Savile was one of the United Kingdom’s most beloved eccentric TV personalities. Shortly after his death in 2011, an investigation prompted more than 450 horrific allegations of sexual assault and abuse, with victims as young as 5.

My thoughts: The show starts off building how Savile became a darling of the crowd with his odd antics and charisma. His popular shows “Bill’ll Fix It” and hosting “Top of the Pops” catapulted him to immense popularity and adored by the hundreds. He was also good at making connections with high-profile people including members of the British Royal family. He simply had it all: an untouchable living the life.

But beneath such exterior is a monster who preyed on the young and vulnerable. He is a pedophile commiting his crimes in the shadow. Although this two-part series was met with criticism and viewed as an ‘apology for Savile’, I think the documentary painted the picture of how he was able to manipulate people and enabled him to do his crimes. It is appalling how he actively disguises his evil deeds towards his young victims with charitable works and winning the adoration of the British nation.

I applaud the survivors for speaking out despite the huge pressure and challenges they faced in doing so. And the same goes for the hardworking investigators who pieced together the puzzle with evidence and testimonies. The second part of the documentary was hard to watch for its graphic description of how he committed such crimes and the heartbreaking stories of his victims.

It’s a compelling watch but I think it’s for mature audiences. The biggest takeaway for me is that while power corrupts and wrongdoings may prevail, but no secret will ever be kept forever if only someone takes the courage to speak out.

Image IMDb

Title: Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: The twisting, turning, stranger-than-fiction true story of the Brobergs, a naive, church-going Idaho family that fell under the spell of a sociopathic neighbor Robert Berchtold with designs on their twelve-year-old daughter, Jan Broberg.

My thoughts: Exasperating watch. Yes, I believe that criminals are always at fault, but in this case the parents are also part of the problem. I mean seriously, why would you allow a grown man to sleep with your children (a tween girl at that!) and allowing them to go on trips alone? I would understand if that person is a family member or a close relative but just a neighbor? It’s preposterous!

I can’t blame the child because she wouldn’t be in that situation had her family checked on her and basically didn’t give in to the demands of that madman. For a child to be manipulated to believe in things through fear and intimidation, he/she is expected to act how the perpetrator want them to be. But for grown adults and parents to be repeating their mistakes is infuriating. And that was how I felt watching this documentary.

I feel bad for the girl but not for the parents. The guy may be a sociopath but Jan’s parents allowed themselves to fall prey too. Parents are supposed to protect their children and they failed to do that with her because they too have their own misdeeds involving Berchtold. I had to pause this film a couple of times to lower my blood pressure because of all the bad choices her parents did during the course of her abduction and that happened twice… twice! Like I kennat…

If there’s little consolation, is Jan’s advocacy to speak her story for parents and children to be aware of sexual predators like her abductor. Education is indeed important in keeping kids safe while adults also need to be sensitive in listening/observing any hint of a possible sexual assault or abuse reported overtly or not by children.

This documentary is not for the faint of heart and I mean that really. So, watch at your own risk.

Have you seen any of these shows? What do you think?

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My July Watch List

I always look forward to July every year since it’s my birth month plus many of my loved ones and friends celebrate their birthdays too. So I spent a lot of time going out with people and catching up. Plus, I was still busy with my research and book writing so I’ve only managed to watch a few series on Netflix and Disney+.

SERIES

Image: IMDb

Title: God’s Favorite Idiot (2022)
Where to watch: Netflix
Synopsis: Clark Thompson (Ben Falcone), a midlevel tech support employee, finds love (and at the same time becomes the unwitting messenger of God. He’ll need the help of his office crush and friends to help spread the word and save the world from evil.

My thoughts: Stories that touch on religion aren’t new, so I don’t really have high expectations for this series. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the hilarity of the characters (love Melissa McCarthy here), and the situation they’re dealing in, and I’m now looking forward to season two (hopefully). It’s outlandish, and as far as God vs. the Devil battle is concerned, it gives us a ‘what if?’ scenario of being called to be God’s champion in today’s context. The series even gives us an average corporate setting complete with mixed-nuts workmates and an HR officer from hell -which in this case was actually from above!

I think it’s a fun adult buddy adventure filled with doomsday elements you can binge-watch on a weekend. Though some may find the humor too smart, this series is something you can enjoy without taking it seriously. And somehow left me with a feeling that despite my ordinariness, God loves me just as He favors someone like Clark but just spare me the lightning strike.

Image: IMDb

Title: Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 (2020)
Where to watch: Netflix
Synopsis: After a global financial crisis, the world is engulfed in an AI-driven war, and it’s up to Section 9 to counter new forms of cyber threats.

My thoughts: Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is one of the earliest anime films I’ve watched as a kid and I fell in love with it. I have conflicting feelings after watching this series mainly because I wasn’t sold on the animation. After all, it looks too cartoony. It was the beautiful animation and haunting music that got me into GitS. And it was gone from the series. It’s more CGI stuff and fancy lighting effects which I’m not a huge fan of.

The story is intriguing enough to let me finish the 24 episodes – though not diligently. It’s still revolving around the same lines of futuristic wars between greedy nations and using AI-cybernization as their tool in gaining world domination??? The series got a lot of critics; at times I agree with them. Even so, I enjoyed the side stories/fillers and the new characters they got (the cute-sounding Tachikomas!). It may not hold a candle against the original material but if you’re looking to kill time with machines and cyber humans going against machines and viruses incarnate of sorts, then why not give this a shot?

Image: IMDb

Title: Moon Knight (2022)
Where to watch: Disney+
Synopsis: Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. He discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.

My thoughts: I’ve watched many MCU movies and series and this by far is my favorite! I’m a big reader of Egyptian mythology and one of my Nursing strengths is Mental Health Nursing… so this limited series is like a huge slice of gooey decadent chocolate cake to me! As a stand-alone series, I don’t have to watch other titles to understand the story, unlike other MCU ones. Moon Knight is one thrilling twist to another while giving enough room for the characters to take space. The ending is hanging of course, but quite satisfying for its season. I haven’t read the comic books so I came into this series with fresh eyes.

The casting is also phenomenal – Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke were both brilliant in portraying their characters and I also enjoyed the badass heroine Layla played by May Calamawy! The visuals and the effects are always top-notch as expected from Marvel. It was beautiful to see how much effort was put in during the making of the film sets, plus the music choices are on point.

Oh, and I guess I might be a bit biased with this since I was able to attend the MENA launching of Disney+ in Dubai Opera last June. And Moon Knight Director Mohamed Diab was there to talk about the series and gave some encouraging words for aspiring filmmakers/writers about telling their own stories – putting him on my fave directors list now!

Talking about stories, I hope to see more of Moon Knight. It’s truly deserving more seasons.

So, have you seen any of these series? What are your thoughts?

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My June Watch List

June came by, and it was great that I spent more time with my family. And I also had fun with my fangirling activities. So I couldn’t watch much Netflix and stuff, but I did saw some emotional quality ones.

MOVIES

Image: IMDb

Title: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Where to watch: Apple TV, iTunes

Synopsis: An aging Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) is swept up in an insane adventure, in which she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.

My thoughts:

Hands down, one of my favorite films of all time! I believe in the existence of multiverses and the possibility of having a version of me in those. I mean who knows? I might be a princess in another universe married to Chris Evans. So, this movie slid into my heart effortlessly.

I was truly impressed by the storytelling from the Daniels coupled with the stellar performances by Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee-Curtis, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, and James Hong. It was refreshing to see an imperfect female protagonist coming from an unlikely background – a middle-aged immigrant on the brink of divorce and full of family issues. I loved Michelle’s performance, and she deserved all the awards! Plus, it’s interesting to note that the directors had only a modest budget of USD25 million, and utilized practical effects with only a five men VFX team to create this unforgettable movie.

In the 2 1/2 hours, amidst the sci-fi layers, are relatable topics like self-identity, generational traumas, mommy issues, etc., which I laughed, cried, and connected with in spite of the weirdness. Speaking of absurdity, there’s a lot in it: people with hotdog fingers, soul-sucking black bagels, verse jumping, Raccacoonie, and dildo-whacking fight scenes. Yet crazily enough, it reminded me to cherish moments – both good and not in my life.

Some critics may think that the movie’s “going back to family and love” ending is cliche. However, at the end of the day, we will always have those to fall back to. I hope this film will be available for streaming soon because it deserves to be seen and loved by people. 

Image: IMDb

Title: The Starling (2021)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Married couple Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) were struggling to come to terms with their tragic loss. As Jack recovers at a psychiatric facility, Lilly deals with her grief through a veterinarian cum psychologist (Kevin Kline). All these while dealing with an aggressive territorial starling in her rural backyard garden.

My thoughts:

I’m not a big fan of sad movies because I cry at the slightest provocation of melancholy. When I watched this film with my landlady, I had no idea it had themes of loss and grief. But somehow, I found myself drawn into the story and I was also curious about how the bird fits into the story. And even though I shed some tears during moving moments, I appreciated the little humor which lightened up the mood without undermining or diminishing the subject matter.

Some critics gave it a negative review and claimed it was melodramatic or trying too hard to emotionally manipulate the audience. There were also comments on the bad CGI on the starling (which I do agree with). Despite its flaws, the performances, script, direction, cinematography, and interwoven storyline of how the starling bird impacts human drama are excellent.

My takeaway is that there is no quick fix to grief, loss, or personal weakness – you need to keep fighting and be determined to stay upright to get through, step by step. This movie reminds us that we go through our sorrows uniquely, but through it all, we always cling to hope.

SERIES

Image: IMDb

Title: Kotaro Lives Alone (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Kotaro Satou, a highly independent little boy moves into an apartment building all on his own and makes friends with Shin Karino, the broke manga artist who lives next door. Kotarou is an odd kid: he speaks in an extremely formal manner, and he lives alone in his apartment—no parents or relatives in sight. But Kotarou neither seems to mind nor wants to rely on people. Karino, along with the other residents of the apartment complex grows fond of Kotaro and his antics. At the same time, Kotarou himself might have found something akin to a family in his unique neighbors.

My thoughts:

It’s been a while since I’ve watched an anime series, and I was looking for a good one that’s not mainstream or too flashy. Kotaro Lives Alone was the answer to that wish. The premise is catchy and somewhat disturbing: how come a four-year-old child lives alone?
The ten-episode anime adaptation was based on the 2015 manga illustrated and written by Mami Tsumura. It has simple animation that reminded me of old-school anime but effective and evocative.

We follow through Kotaro’s daily life and growing interaction with his new neighbors. We never get to know what circumstances led him to live alone, but we get glimpses of his past. Throughout the episodes, there were darker themes, like child abuse/abandonment, domestic abuse, etc., but they were handled in a nuanced way. And we also root for the people surrounding Kotaro, who serves as his newfound family.

During the series, there were several points where I shamelessly wept, and I was also reminded of one valuable aspect: kindness towards others. It is a timely reminder that small gestures of compassion can make a huge difference in people’s lives.

DOCUMENTARY

Image: IMDb

Title: Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: The documentary centers on the story of two female college students, a group of journalists and the cybercrime police officers who chased down the “Nth Room”, an online sexually exploitative crime network. Through interviews, archives, animation and reenactments, the film reveals how women and girls were coerced into uploading explicit materials of themselves to Telegram chat rooms, which ringleaders charged fees in cryptocurrency for tens of thousands of users to access. This is the story of one of the most devastating digital crimes that gripped the region, the age of digital anonymity that allowed it to thrive, and the victims who spoke out to help bring it down.

My thoughts:

As a woman, this is one of the most unpleasant topics to see but highly relevant and something we should be aware of. Digital sex crimes are nothing new, and we’ve heard already of so many cases of women and children sexually exploited around the world. I find it surprising that despite today’s technological advances, this phenomenon continues to persist instead of being prevented.

In this documentary, it’s even more horrific to realize that the perpetrators of such a despicable crime are technically teenagers. And what’s more appalling is that they hold thousands of members in their chatrooms – all equally guilty as the ringleaders Baksa and godgod. I hope that tougher legislation on cybercrime laws will be implemented so that we can avoid repeating history.

But most importantly, this documentary also tells us that the victims are NEVER TO BLAME. They were only lured by false promises and sweet ambition. And despite the questionable choices these ladies or kids made, they shouldn’t be shamed. Adding to their suffering and anguish, society’s judgment of them is quite unfair. After all, nobody deserves to be victimized by crimes like these.

In spite of its hypertension-inducing moments, this story deserves to be out there. It is scary and real… and it can happen to anyone.

Posted in Reviews, Theatre and more

Blind City: An Emotive Dubai Theater Experience

Last Saturday night, I watched a play through an invitation from Von Reiner, one of the performers (who I consider my little brother at heart). You see, I enjoy watching live performances in Dubai Opera or other events by myself so that I can relish and be lost in the moment of art. It was nice to be back at doing things I love to do on my own, especially after the pandemic. 

My budding actor lil’-bro-at-heart Von Reiner

The play Blind City was adapted from the literary classic Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. The story centers on Steve, a male nurse who witnessed a blinding flash of light and found himself in the company of Beatrice, serving as his guide as they traverse through hell and eventually reach paradise. 

Watching them pass through the nine circles of hell, we meet lost souls who have also been affected by the “flash” and the stories they tell, which are both unsettling and heartbreaking because they echo the stories we know. Even I can relate at some point. Blind City is crafted to be immersive as there is a part wherein the actors come close to the theatergoers while delivering moving performances. Plus, the lines were peppered with tidbits about the locality to tease and connect with the audience, which I find engaging and funny. 

Kudos to the writer-director Alex Broun for making a remarkable story that takes a timeless literary piece into something poignant and relevant to its audience. I also applaud the amazingly talented cast of over 40, particularly the ones who played Steve, Ros, the female refugee, the cheated-on spouses, the boots-loving lady, and the serial killer Leonard. Their stellar performances kept me reeled in and absorbed in a rollercoaster of emotions – from quips of humor to empathy for the cheated ones’ pain to the sorrowful plight of displaced people and the twinge of fear peeking into a mind of a serial killer. 

Overt or not, I admire works of art that share a truth. And yes, these shards of truth embedded in my soul as I sat throughout the performance. I came in unassuming of anything and left with a profound sense of gratitude and renewed compassion towards others. 

Overall, I highly recommend you catch this limited run of a gem. True, many people feel uncomfortable when confronted with truths we shy away from because we do not want to feel sad, angry, or frustrated. But it is through these emotions that we cherish joyful moments and turn our anger and frustration into love and compassion. It can be a bittersweet pill to swallow, but this is what I found in Blind City. 

Catch the limited run of Blind City at The Junction this coming 3-4 September, 7:30 PM each day with a matinee on Sunday. You can get your tickets online through the Platinumlist.

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My May Watch List

Still reeling in from April’s craziness, I watched a lot of Netflix to keep my mind preoccupied last May. Although I must say it was much better and I even managed to catch a Korean drama through iQiyi (thankful for my friend who let me borrow her account). Here’s what I watched in May:

MOVIES

Image: IMDb

Title: I lost My Body (J’ai Perdu Mon Corps) (2019)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Synopsis: A severed hand escapes from a refrigerator in a laboratory and begins a journey across Paris suburbs in search of its body, a young man named Naoufel. Meanwhile, we see Naoufel’s daily life and pursuit of Gabrielle, interspersed with flashbacks of his past.

My thoughts: I came upon this award-winning gem while looking for an exciting film to help me with my French language lessons. While a bit macabre for some, it is a beautiful surreal story of love and loss told through a small-budget artistic medium. It is captivating and intriguing how a severed hand wanders through dangerous situations bringing out mixed emotions “to see” things through its perspective.

Naoufel’s story tells us that bad things can happen in life and may even demand to leave a part of us behind. But we never stop moving forward and we still have something left for us to control: our choices. I love movies that show us that there’s still light at the end of the tunnel and while unconventional, this film is one of them.

The soundtrack is also exquisite and I looked it up after watching. The original French dub is lovely but you also have the option to watch it in English dub with the charming Dev Patel lending his voice to Naoufel. And if you can get past the morbid sight of that hand, it’s a great film to consider watching.

Image: IMDb

Title: Along For The Ride (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: The summer before college Auden (Emma Pasarow) meets the mysterious Eli (Belmont Cameli), a fellow insomniac. While the seaside town of Colby sleeps, the two embark on a nightly quest for Auden to experience the fun, carefree teen life she never knew she wanted.

My thoughts: Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from this film since I thought it was one of those typical teenage romantic dramas. While the story kinda runs along almost the same line as “The Last Song” – the daughter spending time with dad one, I surprisingly liked it. The movie is easy to appreciate such as its refreshing beach scenery, non-complicated storyline, the seaside town aesthetics, especially the little cafes and colorful shops.

The performances are good even if I wasn’t familiar with any of the cast. I enjoyed that there wasn’t a villain, and the characters found their growth as they dealt with their personal traumas. It’s wholesome and it’s still good entertainment. Although I can’t say the same for the fans of the book by Sarah Dessen which the film was adapted from. I mean, it’s always “the book is better than the movie”. But you can actually give this cute teenage movie a chance.

SERIES

Image IMDb

Title: Juvenile Justice (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: A tough judge Shim Eun-Seok (Kim Hye-Soo) who despises juvenile criminals arrives at a juvenile court, where she takes on a complex role of examining punishment for young offenders.

My thoughts: What I love about K-dramas is their depiction of various settings, giving us a glimpse not only of their culture but also an examination of our beliefs and reality checks. Juvenile Justice shines a spotlight on juvenile crimes which we may not pay attention to in real life unless we’re directly affected.

They have a superb cast led by Kim Hye-Soo whose stunning performance brought that hatred towards the crime (and the circumstances that allowed it to happen) yet retained a sense of compassion towards the offender. I also like how Cha Tae Joo played by Kim Mu Yeol brings balance to her at times when she gets into too deep in cases. Although there aren’t any romantic implications to his actions towards her, I think it’s sweet and endearing. After all, having a good friend in such line of work is precious.

Further, the heart of the series’ message conveys, that we as adults should support a better system where victims are seen and heard to get the justice they deserve. While also making juvenile offenders understand the burden of their crime and be supported as well during rehabilitation so that they will not become repeat offenders.

Although it’s a jurisprudence-centered series, it occasionally gets melodramatic and touches on the pain of loss and coping from it. I admit the themes are heavy but if you enjoy such genre, I highly recommend this one.

Image: IMDb

Title: Jirisan (2021)

Where to watch iQiyi

Synopsis: Set against the majestic views of Mount Jiri, it depicts the story of rangers and other employees of the Jirisan National Park who climb through the mysterious and unexplored regions of the mountain, trying to rescue the survivors and lost trekkers. The drama is centered around a mysterious murder attempt of ranger Kang Hyun Jo (Ju Ji-Hoon) and the efforts of his fellow ranger Seo Yi-Kang (Jun Ji-Hyun) as she uncovers the ultimate culprit.

My thoughts: I just love Ju Ji-Hoon since Princess Hours and this drama was one of his anticipated following the global-hit Netflix series Kingdom. although my previous packed schedule prevented me from watching this, I finally got an angel to let me see my Ji-Hoon Oppa on iQiyi.

It’s an interesting concept for a drama to explore and showcase the beauty of Jirisan National Park – coming from the same writer of Kingdom by the way. I guess this is one smart way of boosting a country’s tourism spot. And it is effective by showing breathtaking sights that even an indoor cat like me would be interested to put on hiking boots.

And while I find it unique, it isn’t without flaws. Some parts are hard to follow due to the time leaps, and the pacing can be slow. Good thing the later parts especially the ending made up for it. It’s one of the few dramas wherein the main characters don’t have an overt romantic pairing. More like a genuine growing affection as they spent more time together which made me more invested in the two.

Despite its potential as a leisurely evening watch, its limited accessibility prevents people from enjoying it. Hopefully, Netflix gets to offer this soon.

Image: IMDb

Title: Love Death + Robots Season 3 (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Synopsis: Uncanny worlds, strange creatures, and twisted tales await in the third volume of the Emmy-winning animated anthology from Tim Miller and David Fincher.

My thoughts: I’ve been a fan of this anthology of adult animated short films since it first came out in 2019. Animation is a brilliant medium for telling stories freely which may be hampered, if not entirely possible with live action. And this compilation served well. True to its title, it features narratives about love, death, and machines which are highly unsuited for children because of their graphic violence, sexual themes, and disturbing scenes.

Season 3 is just as awe-inspiring as the first two and they have a great lineup of enjoyable episodes. My three favorites were a follow-up for the “Three Robots” with its signature witty banter and a surprise ending. Even acclaimed American director David Fincher jumped in with his truly impressive gory tale from the sea entitled, “Bad Traveling.” Lastly, I too was enamored by the popular masterpiece “Jibaro” by Emmy-winner Spanish filmmaker Albert Mielgo, due to its hauntingly beautiful and remarkable life-like imaging. And it’s not just the visuals that made it groundbreaking, the storytelling itself between the fatal attraction of a deaf knight and a sultry siren unfolds through a fluid, alluring yet powerful dance.

While most people dismiss animation as a children-oriented medium, it can also be used brilliantly to tell thought-provoking, meaningful yet experimental stories for adults. I definitely would recommend this to anyone who can look past the blood, gore, and sex to give these short films a chance to touch your mind and heart.

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My 5 Favorite Movie Weddings (so far)

Source: D23.com

It’s the last day of June and I have seen my share of different weddings both physical and social media postings by friends and acquaintances. From a simple intimate yacht ceremony to a grand celebration with three different nuptial gowns, I enjoyed seeing the cheery mood and aesthetics, but most importantly, the love shared between two people I care about.

Wedding movies are also lovely especially when you are invested in the characters involved. Over the years, I have seen many films with wedding scenes with astounding decorations and drool-worthy wedding gowns that I too wanted to have when I get married. But as aging kicked in, I realized that there’s more to cascading flower arrangements, puffy dresses and handsome grooms. It’s the story which lead to that momentous occasion that makes a movie wedding beautiful and moving.

So here are my five favorite movie weddings:

  1. Bryan & Annie – Father of the Bride.
Image: brides.com

I guess every father of a little girl is dreading the day she gets married just like Steve Martin’s character. I first watched the film when I was in grade school, and I have little understanding of the whole emotional aspect of it. But what I know back then was that I wanted to wear the customized sneakers Annie had on my wedding one day – Oh, my parents renewed their wedding vows at Cana, and guess what? My mom wore a stylish pair of wedding sneakers! I rewatched the film recently and I love how splendid the ceremony and celebration are in the 90s context. It’s a heartfelt film that still makes me cry thinking about how my dad would feel on my wedding day.

2. Matty & Jenna – 13 Going 30

Image: Netflix

Their wedding at “13 Going 30” wasn’t as glamorous but seeing in the movie how Jenna Rink tried to rebuild her ties and almost lost her chance to be with her childhood best friend Matty, made this event all genuine and one of my all-time favorite happy endings. I was a weepy-happy mess when I watched this way back in college. And seeing the onscreen reunion of Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo at “The Adam Project” brought me the kilig feels all over again that I had to rewatch it in Netflix.

3. Edward and Bella – Breaking Dawn Part 1

Image: fanpop.com

A lot of people may hate the Twilight films but I enjoyed them, especially Edward and Bella’s ethereal ceremony in the forest. I mean look at the marvelous flower arch and the overall outdoor theme… I too can steal an idea or two from this gorgeousness. I also loved Bella’s elegant silk gown here, it’s classy and exquisite I’d wear that too on my wedding… just minus the vampire groom though, even if he’s Rob Pattinson.

4. Colin and Araminta – Crazy Rich Asians

This is one of the biggest all-Asian cast films that blew the cinemas away when it was released in 2018. The grand display of opulence among the old rich families of Singapore would definitely leave your jaw on the floor. One of the highlights of this movie is Colin and Araminta’s magnificent wedding. From the all-expense-paid bachelor and bachelorette parties to the actual ceremony at the heart of Singapore, everything about this ‘wedding of the year’ screamed luxurious. The details were just divine – the chapel was decorated in lush greens and colorful orchids, Araminta’s dainty entrance to a watery aisle, to her unique dress adorned with gold embroidery which accentuated her stunning figure. I must say this is one of the most memorable movie weddings to date.

5. Victor and Emily – The Corpse Bride

Image: IMDb

If I haven’t said this enough, stop-motion films have a special place in my heart and The Corpse Bride is one of them. It’s not just the intricate sets, brilliant music and the dark humor that I adore about this film, the story itself is quite interesting. Having two brides fighting over a groom with one alive and one dead is not something you get every day. I love how Victor stood up to fulfill his promise and set Emily’s spirit free from being bound on earth by marrying her. Yes, Emily’s body may be decayed dressed in a tattered wedding gown, but I just love how captivating and sincere their wedding vows are…

“With this hand, I will lift your sorrows.

Your cup will never be empty for I will be your wine.

With this candle, I will light your way in the darkness.

With this ring, I ask you to be mine.”

I might use these vows too, honestly. And if you don’t find this romantic then you’re probably dead.

Honorable mentions: Carl & Ellie (Up), Queen Clarisse & Joe (The Princess Diaries 2), and Fix-It-Felix & Sergeant Calhoun (Wreck-It Ralph)

Posted in Mi Vida, Personal Thoughts

Monday Brain Stew

Source: Spotify

It’s been 7 days since summer “officially” started but we’ve tasted temperatures in the mid-40s degrees Celsius even before that. Hence I decided to book my taxi rides and spare myself from heat stroke. Then again moment I stepped out of the apartment, I thought I died and stepped out into hell. It was less than 15 steps to the car but I can feel my brain juices starting to boil. Trust me, desert summer has no chill.

My task today is to get some company documents attested at a consulate (name withheld for privacy reasons). The moment I got there, I felt something was off… I completely forgot that electronic gadgets are forbidden inside the consulate premises. A huge facepalm moment for me because I know the processing takes time and God knows when I’ll be finished! I should’ve brought a book with me to kill time.

After submitting my docs to a window, I sat on the cold metal bench and the waiting commenced. I tried to watch the TV news to entertain myself but I don’t speak their language so decided to check their reading materials – the same story.

Tick tock tick tock…

Without my phones, I was left with nothing but my own thoughts to stew in. I would’ve resorted to people-watching (everyone is cute and pretty) but in their culture, checking out others is rude so I only have to listen to my thoughts for entertainment. It sounds weird, but at times I’m terrified of being alone with my thoughts – the reason I always listen to music for distraction.

My head is a noisy space constantly bombarded with various ideas – from lesson plans to film/novel plot ideas, weekly schedules to pending Excel sheets, to dinner plans to fantasizing over my man-of-the-month (Canadian actor Osric Chau for June 2022). Sometimes it’s like verse jumping ala Michelle Yeoh’s new film “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, wherein I see myself in one scene as a homicide detective gathering evidence or an illegal courier bearing stolen artifacts to private collectors the next.

My thoughts of making chicken donuts were on pause when the handsome bald counter guy called my number to proceed to another cubicle for payment. The elder good-looking cashier guy mentioned my fees and I forked over the amount in Dirhams. He raised his eyebrow at me and said “In US dollars Miss”.

“I’m sorry Sir, I don’t have dollars with me and nobody told me it should be in USD. Do you accept card payment though?” I mumbled still flustered from his expression.

“Then go out and come back when you have dollars. No card. Next!” He said nonchalantly. Ang taray ni Uncle Pogi!

By virtue of no choice, with an umbrella in hand and cocooning myself in a giant shawl I braved the midday sun to get my dollars. The 7-minute walk to the money changer felt like an eternity… wait, was that Lee Min-Ho driving by in a Rolls-Royce winking at me and a shirtless Chris Evans pouring water on himself by the parking lot?!?

I think I need to go inside somewhere and have a cold drink, my brain was far damaged by the heat than I thought.

Posted in Movies & TV series, Reviews

My April Watch List

Last April, I was totally swamped with researching and writing a learning module for a local short-course center. And for that, I couldn’t watch many films or series but I saw a lot of cleaning YouTube videos that accompanied me during my lunch breaks (I’ll share these channels in a different post). It may not be much but these are the worthwhile series I managed to squeeze into my busy schedule:

SERIES

Title: Thirty-Nine (2022)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Synopsis: A story of three close female friends Cha Mi-Jo (Son Ye-Jin), Jeong Chan-Young (Jeon Mi-Do), and Jang Joo-Hee (Kim Ji-Hyun) as they navigate their lives celebrating their friendship, encounter romantic relationships, and deal with loss on the brink of turning 40.

My thoughts: I love drama stories that explore the beauty of platonic friendships that goes beyond the sake of entertainment. It made me reflect also on my own friendships and how much these people matter to me whether they are here close or time zones away.

As someone in my mid-thirties, I can definitely relate to the struggles that these ladies have – juggling careers, love interests, and most importantly maintaining a good relationship with our families. I saw some characteristics of myself in some characters which made me feel seen/represented in the media. And this is also what I enjoy in this drama, it’s a story that resonates well with its viewers.

This is a well-written drama that seamlessly weaves different stories of the protagonists while making the audience anticipate, and appreciate the realistic situations without going over the top. Despite being a female-centered friendship story, I believe everyone can relate to the genuine feelings of love and care we have towards our friends which we also consider our family.

So I do recommend watching this series. Oh and prepare tissues, this drama will make you laugh and cry (more) all through its 12 episodes and leaves you with a bittersweet feeling.

Title: Conversations with a Killer: the John Wayne Gacy Tapes (2022)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Synopsis: A limited series documentary about notorious American sex offender-serial killer John Wayne Gacy using taped conversations between him and his defense lawyers. The documentary portrays how this public servant and part-time clown hides a dark and sadistic nature which led him to murder at least 33 young men.

My thoughts: As you already know that I’m a true crime fan, so this was definitely one of my anticipated docu-series to watch on Netflix. It may only be a three-part episode but each is emotionally heavy and leaves you wondering how on earth such ruthless psychopaths could exist. His story has been explored in many YouTube videos on true crime channels but none as detailed and in-depth as this docu-series.

A word of caution though, this isn’t for the faint of heart as you will hear many unsavory statements from this criminal – which may raise your blood pressure and give you multiple WTF moments. My heart also goes out to all his victims. And no matter what people will say, a victim shouldn’t be blamed for becoming a victim of a crime. No one deserves that. And I think as a society, we should learn to feel empathy for others and learn from these criminals so as to prevent another serial killer like him from rising.

Seen any of the series above? What are your thoughts?