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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wait ‘Til Lady Gaga Sings (Or How to Score a Ticket to The Born This Way Ball on the Last Minute)

There’s this thing that I always push my luck every time I watch a concert of big names. For the Black Eyed Peas, for instance, I got a ticket for half the price for the section that I wanted. Thanks to the scalper who just showed up right before I reached the ticket booth in SM MOA Concert Grounds. Another example is the recent Paul McCartney concert which was sold out, all 28,000 tickets, in the first hour and there I was getting an extra ticket through a colleague a week before the event. For the Lady Gaga concert held in Manila for two days (May 21 and 22), I had another attempt.

I went to Ayala Center yesterday to scout for a ticket on the same day. Usually, it is either through Ticketworld (at National Book Stores) or the SM Ticketnet. Before rushing my way to either one of them, I made a call and learned that they are not supporting the Lady Gaga concert. I found out that it is the SM Cinema ticketing service (it makes sense since the venue is housed and managed by SM) that’s distributing the tickets and unfortunately, they don’t have any office in Makati. I made my way back to the apartment, left some stuff and headed to SM MOA. At 3pm past, I was already queuing at the cinema booth. There’s tension in there based on the look of the box office staff. While waiting for my turn, I made a call to SM Cinema hotline and asked for the figures. Only the Upper Box (P5k worth) and Lower Box (P11k worth) tickets, 60+ and 700+ (the numbers are a bit weird) respectively, were available. I panicked I bit since I was not planning to spend P11k.

After 15 minutes of waiting, the box office girl announced that the system was hanging and they could no longer issue a ticket (either a new transaction or previously booked online). We were then prompted to get one directly to the ticket booth at SM MOA Arena. Clocked at 4pm, I was already in a queue. At the Marina side of the venue, there are four lanes on the left and another four to the right. Those in the left are allotted for the ticket pick-up but since the connection was so slow, everybody was asked to queue to the left. By that time, there’s a British-sounding guy in front of me at the fourth lane while a maximum of two was either on the third or the first (second lane was empty). It took 15 minutes of more for the British guy to purchase his ticket (as in swipe his credit card and all) and I saw how the system struggled to get through. During my turn, a guy in red came and he was very enthusiastically loud about the four tickets he was getting. When the British guy was waiting for his ticket to be printed (I saw the status “waiting” right in the taskbar on the monitor that is placed facing the customers), I transferred to the third lane which became empty that time. People were starting to flock and the next time I checked, we already formed four lanes with five to ten customers each row. Then the slow connection made its peak and declared “Database error has occurred.”

Coming from an IT field, I just took that as something unexpected and beyond our control. I started bugging my Twitter friends with some sort of blow-by-blow account of the incident just to pacify it. I was sorry for the British guy that he had to experience that kind of ticketing service in Manila. He got through after some minutes and a jolly mom, probably from a nearby province like Bulacan or Cavite as evidenced by the accent, came next to the fourth lane. That time, the slow connection was restored. She was checking out the best spot in the most economical price. She even asked the same question that I asked like which section is free seating and which one is not. The staff in front of me on the other side of the air conditioned room already clicked on the Upper Box link and it was taking a while again to proceed. The waiting game stayed like this for some minutes more and I practiced Zenning up on each step of the way: clicking on the section, clicking on the seat number, clicking on the Continue button and clicking on the payment mode. At this point, the box office girl (account name “mfrias” as seen from the monitor when she was trying to access the system) asked for my mobile number while the rest of the ticket buyers can see it. Upon swiping my credit card (yes, I reached this point after an hour), my name was then flashed on the monitor. Then the connection became very slow again leaving my celfone number and my name stuck on the screen for about 20 minutes. Hello, future textmates!

The jolly mom, by the way, gave up (not sure if it’s the connection or the lack of interest given the available ticket selection). As well as the Korean guy (“I don’t speak English.”) behind her. Mariel Maganda (with one “R” and not her real surname, that monitor was the culprit) replaced the Korean guy. I almost kissed Mariel when she asked the box office girl, “Allowed ba ang infant?” A French couple was inquiring on the right part of the booth (“We don’t speak English very well, please slow down.”) and the guy in red in the first lane was starting to lose his temper. “Miss, kanina pa akong isang oras dito. Nasaan ba ang manager n’yo?” He later on badmouthed the situation to the foreigner guy at the tail of his queue. This foreigner guy was accompanied by a Filipino guy wearing shades who jumped for joy when somebody he probably knows made a way to get their tickets over the phone. Another guy from my lane who looks like the actor who had a cameo in “Crying Ladies” had the best quip: “Hindi puwede rito sina Raymart, Claudine at Tulfo.” The guy in red pretty much summed up all our frustrations. “Siguraduhin n’yo lang na makukuha namin ang ticket bago kumanta si Lady Gaga.” All of these were said and heard while I was staring at the “waiting” status on the taskbar.

By then, the longhaired guy behind me was becoming chummy. He talked about his plans of getting a ticket for the next day. Then he asked “mfrias” if they can just get the connection from his iPhone’s personal hotspot. The system hit a snag at that very moment. Some tech persons were visiting the booth from time to time and the guy in red didn’t waste a minute to throw a towel on them. The purgatory lasted for a few minutes more. Some box office girls, “mfrias” included, left their spot for a second to try to print the tickets from their “office upstairs”. When the system got resurrected, I was asked to choose a seat again to my dismay. I wasn’t losing a lot since the next seat available was just behind the original seat but I hated the idea that we had to do it all over again. We finally succeeded after two failed attempts (“Seat is no longer available.”) and clocked the whole ticket buying experience at 1 hour and 54 minutes. I deserved a restaurant for dinner, with no queue, after that incident.

After having a hearty dinner of tocilog and sampelot from Mangan (it’s worth repeating, I deserved that), off I went back to the venue. The blue section is on the other side of the arena, with the giant globe on my back. It was starting to rain that time and the ushers were prompting the crowd to follow the queue that crossed the street, passed the parking lot and crossed the street back to the entrance. SM MOA Arena’s interior is simpler than I expected (a video here, taken while a DJ was doing the front act), very basic (maybe because it’s not really done yet). The Upper Box section can be reached by escalator or elevator up to the fourth floor. I had a side trip to the merchandise booth (where I chanced upon young actress Chyna Hortaleza who was distractingly ambush interviewed by Showbiz Central) then headed my way to the jungle of sections and seats. When I reached Blue 406, the usher delivered what could probably be the highlight of the day: due to a system bug, all ticketholders of seats under rows G and H are asked to transfer, only if they want, to the Patron section.

The concert was awesome, by the way. Watch it if you can. It’s one of the best “the works” concerts I’ve seen (alongside with Sarah Brightman’s in Ultra a couple of years ago). Let the pictures here speak for that claim.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buenos Aires, the Sequels

After nine months or so, I had another chance to visit Buenos Aires again for the second and third time. Pretty much the same set of SOP in getting a visa (9-month old blog here) and the means of transportation so there’s no giant leap whatsoever. If there’s anything unique in this leg, it must be the fact that both travels were film-related.

For the second visit, I caught Raya Martin’s “Buenos Noches, España” for the third time. There was a film festival last April 11 to 22 and there’s a Pinoy film in there (in fact, two). For the third visit, it’s more of a collaboration with Mike as he wanted to watch Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” in a really nice cinema (if IMAX is too much to ask).

Anyway, very briefly, here are the highlights (and album links) of the back-to-back trips to Buenos Aires:

1. BAFICI. Or Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente (very helpful website here) is Argentina’s version of Cinemanila with focus on indie films. The other Pinoy film, which is in competition, is Marlon Rivera’s “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” but I can’t fit the given time slot in my weekend trip. It wasn’t crowded when we went to C.C.C. Teatro 25 de Mayo (they have a lot of venues all scattered in the city). Tickets can be bought in the venue or in advance. Roughly, there were 50 people in the cinema (outstanding audio) but a small percentage walked out. As expected. Glad that my Argentinean friend managed to endure the film. He even quipped that the film has a script (contrary to what the detractors say). Ferry trip pictures here and in and around Buenos Aires here.

2. El Ateneo and Gran Café Tortoni. Right after the film (my first Argentinean cinema experience, by the way), we went to two interesting spots in the city. First is a branch of El Ateneo, a book store, which used to be a live performance venue. It’s fascinating to see the place with the original look of a theater while a dozen book shelves are placed in what used to be a space for the audience. From there, we moved to Gran Café Tortoni (pictures here) to have hot chocolate and some churros (really, really good). The coffee shop is more than 150 years old already and it’s awesome that they maintain its charm (dim lights, some paintings here and there, etc.). There was a short queue when we reached the place but the experience was really worth it.

3. Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays. Consider this the Central Park of Buenos Aires only far smaller. The purpose is exactly the same though, a breathing space for city dwellers, students and lovers. Surprisingly, its greenhouse in the middle boasts of some carnivorous plants including the famous Venus Flytrap. When we visited the park, there’s a tango/ballet performance in an open area. That complements the sculptures of some Greek gods/goddesses that are installed in selected corners. More pictures here.

4. 38th Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires. The fact that the event is older than me, the book fair is really something (proof here). I’ve been to some similar fairs back home but this one is really huge. To elaborate, imagine four or five World Trade Center halls (in Pasay City). It is that big. Also well attended as proven by the queue and there are a lot of interesting stuff to see and explore. They even have a booth for a book launch that is broadcasted live over a radio program and a cultural show like this one.

5. La Boca. We’ve visited this colorful neighborhood before and it was still refreshing to see it again. This time around, we had lunch at El Paraiso with some parrilla (usual asado but equally sumptuous, chorizo, morcilla and some lamb). We’ve checked out the place before only to go to the toilet and to take pictures of the interior. Before heading back to the place where we parked the car, a staff working in the stadium of Boca Juniors offered to borrow my camera and take pictures (check the album here) of the football field and the bleachers.

6. Casa Rosada. It was my first time to get in to this presidential office (equivalent to the White House or our very own Malacañang. There’s a free tour ongoing on that Saturday afternoon but it was in Spanish. I enjoyed it nonetheless. The iconic balcony was not open during that time but we went into some similarly interesting rooms, from receiving area down to the actual room where the president is holding his office. It must be noted that one hallway boasts of pictures of the famous celebrities including football player and even a cartoon character. More pictures here.

7. DOT Baires Mall. This is where we caught the screening of “The Avengers” at 1:40am (a first for me). Almost everything in there resembles a mall in the Philippines. The lay-out is like Robinsons Place in Malate and the crowd, especially those who were chilling out at the food court and cinema area, is very close to home (pictures here). It was my second time to visit an Argentinean movie theater and the attention to sound quality and projection is just fascinating.

8. Tigre. We went to this town by car and reached the place in 30 minutes (through a highway that could go straight to Montevideo). There are a lot of things to do in there. It has an amusement park, a casino, a series of shops (mostly furniture and house decor) and the Parana Delta which can be best explored through a 1-hour boat tour. From the dock, the river looks bare but when the boat reached the canals, the residential houses, which are not accessible by land, became visible. Locals need to commute by public boat (or their own pump boat) to reach home. For daily needs, a floating grocery store is roaming the area selling a wide range of stuff from portable gas tank to water and beers. The tour is also in Spanish but at least I got a glimpse of that unique community. The rest of the pictures here and a short video of the river cruise here.

9. Palermo Neighborhood. When I think of food in Buenos Aires, I always associate it with Palermo. It’s like Malate with more shops (from Gola to not-so-usual store names like De Puta Madre), a feria, bars and a thousand restaurants. For the record, all the restaurants that I tried are all satisfyingly good. For La Baita, I had stuffed pasta cooked in olive oil while I had an Argentinean beef from Bar Abierto, both classic and fusion (yes, with a dash of dulce de leche, a really delightful innovation) sushi from Itamae Sushi and a red velvet cupcake from Muma’s (quality is like Sonja’s). During our last night in Palermo Soho, I tried playing billiards while having a drink then hopped on to the nearby bar to get a glass of Jack-Coke. Two albums here and here.

The rest of the pics here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Movie Digest # 085

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 2, March 2, 8:25pm

Its material about three high school students who accidentally became superheroes is indicative of big budgeted Hollywood films. Only it is not. The texture and camerawork are experimental, giving a new length to what we all know as a popcorn film. Viewers are treated first to follow the film through the POV of one the main characters named Andrew (very young Leonoardo DiCaprio-esquely played by Dane DeHaan) as seen from a video camera. It operates that way efficiently for a time but the limitations show up on the last few sequences. Nonetheless, it’s an above average film. All the elements of a superhero film are evident and that’s good enough for me to enjoy it.

Friends who might appreciate it: For a fusion like this, no idea.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 9, March 9, 10:00pm

There’s a lot to enjoy in this time travelling big budgeted film. The CGI is gorgeous and the grand action scenes, though anti-climactic, are amusing. It creates a world on its own and the effort is definitely not wasted. It’s also Star Wars all over, plus some shades of Avatar and Stargate. I am not sure if I like the investment it did with the time travelling part, maybe just to deviate from its predecessors, but it is satisfying as it is.

Friends who might appreciate it: Popcorn film fans.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 4, March 16, 8:10pm

Director McG (probably his most notable work is the not-so-recent “Charlie’s Angels” film adaptation) combines some action and comedy in this chick flick. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who is torn between two gents both working at the US Intelligence (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine). The small amount of dark comedy is cute but the final product is very familiar. If you’ve been watching some Hollywood products of the same genre, chances are you’ve seen the antics in this film already.

Friends who might appreciate it: Star Cinema fans.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 3, March 16, 10:20pm

This directorial debut from Nima Nourizadeh utilizes the same storytelling conceit recently used by the likes of Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and Chronicle. It’s a coming of age tale told in a span of less than a day, seen through a handy video camera which was held by one of the friends of the main protagonists. I liked the idea that the “filmmaker” is always behind the scenes and doesn’t play a vital role in the picture. But there’s more to like in the film, as limitless as the “X” in its title. First, the getting laid part of the virginal Thomas (Thomas Mann) as pushed by the cocky Costa (Oliver Cooper) has the all the charms of “American Pie” but it doesn’t try to mock the experience. Secondly, the characters are well played by the ensemble (the dog included). I have to note, too, that the OST is fit to the occasion and the slow-mo parts are well executed like a music video that can stand on itself (could be a disadvantage but enjoyable nevertheless). The moment the storytelling starts to wear out, it accelerates to a grand finish complete with a compelling crowd scene and an exaggerated turn of events. I can’t say that it is an important film but I can conclude that from the bunch of tiring Hollywood films I’ve seen in 2011, this one surprises me the most.

Friends who might appreciate it: Thos who have tested their limits.

Casablanca, Sala Humphrey Bogart, March 18, 3:25pm

This star-studded film is a dark horse from 2011. It gathers the like of Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Mark Strong and Tahar Rahim who made waves as the lead actor of the French film “A Prophet” in a pop film about the conflict over oil of some Arab states during 1930’s. It may not point the finger directly but it seems like it is suggestive of how United Arab Emirates became about. Under epic action film genre, it’s one of the better ones shown of late. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (“The Lover”, “Seven Years in Tibet”, “Enemy at the Gates”, etc.) assembles outstanding war scenes with the Arabian Desert as backdrop. It may take a while to absorb the idea that Banderas is playing an Arab, or even Mark Stong, but it’s there. The final product with a running time of 130 minutes is enjoyable enough. I just hope they made it more historically enriching so the viewers would end up both entertained and educated.

Friends who might appreciate it: Those who consider that it should have at least an entry in Metacritic.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala Teatro, March 22, 8:00pm

It shouldn’t be in this list but since it’s also a movie theater experience, I decided to include this. As you see, Montevideo has this series of screenings of broadcast performance of either ballet or opera. I am not sure if it is exclusive to Royal Opera House programs only but they it regularly in Sala Teatro (which also serves as a regular movie theater as “Sala 3D”). Usually the shows are held on a Thursday, right before the cinemas are packed with weekend moviegoers and are attended in majority by senior citizens. The one that I watched is a ballet by the Royal Ballet which is a resident theater group of the Royal Opera House. It is choreographed by the icon Kenneth MacMillan and it boasts of a significant balcony scene (lead parts are played by Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson). The whole experience is similar to the live broadcast of Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall. It shows the people waiting for the curtain to rise and the standard 15-minute break. The difference perhaps is that the broadcast serves as a tribute, too, for its choreographer and the choreography itself. Past performers of the piece are interviewed in a very short documentary at the beginning and they are unanimous in saying how wonderful MacMillan was as an artist. Somebody mentions that in one particular scene, the great choreographer prefers to play by heart and not by the tempo of the music or by the number. I am not a ballet enthusiast (it still bores me) but I appreciate how Shakespeare’s text is interpreted into body movements. I personally enjoyed the close-up shots, giving an effect that you’re more than watching it being performed live onstage. It’s also a first for me to see a high end stage set for a ballet.

Friends who might appreciate it: I believe Filipinos back home deserve a similar experience even for an elite venue like the CCP.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 10, March 23, 7:00pm

After hearing what the material is all about, when it was still a paperback fad, I already knew that the comparison with the cult classic Japanese film “Battle Royale” will be unavoidable. And undeniable. Though the first hour is spent with a parody to reality TV shows (a mix of Survivor, Big Brother and partly American Idol), the very first images of the jungle fight are reminiscent of the Japanese film. You may call it guilty pleasure but I enjoyed the film as a whole. Jennifer Lawrence did a good job and so are the other actors: Josh Hutcherson (who, I believe, did very well in “Bridge to Terabithia” or even “Zathura: A Space Adventure”), Stanley Tucci and the ever reliable Woody Harrelson. I also liked the shaky camerawork especially for a material that is intended for the young adults. It seems like all the good stuff that the “Twilight” series has missed are all here.

Friends who might appreciate it: Suzanne Collins fans, nothing more.

Casablanca, Sala Marilyn Monroe, March 31, 7:10pm

This film co-produced by Australia and China, and directed by Vietnam-born Pauline Chan was part of an international film festival here in Montevideo when I caught it. There are small gems in the film, including the material itself about an orphan (Zhu Lin) in China who communicates with an Australian sponsor (Guy Pearce) in Sydney through postcards. Incidentally, the sponsor happens to be in prison and they met for the first time while the young girl was on tour for a choral performance in Australia. Even the speaking lines are serviceable enough. What I dislike a lot is the take on the subject of two souls longing for each other but trapped in their own prison. It’s an interesting plot, if not totally relevant, coated with Star Cinema all over, to a point that I can smell some Rory Quintos sensibility in there. When the young Chinese girl arrives in Sydney, she’s introduced to an Aussie named Carl (probably a popular matinee idol in Australia) and they got romantically involved in a true mainstream Pinoy film fashion. On top of that is a heightened denouement that involves a fight scene that could challenge the logistics. The saving grace is Guy Pearce. You know he’s a good actor even on his bad moments.

Friends who might appreciate it: Filipino filmmakers because they can do better for sure.


Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 15, March 31, 10:20pm

“The Debt” is a 2010 film by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, etc.) that is based from the Israeli film “Ha-Hov” shown three years before the Hollywood remake. As per synopsis in, they didn’t change much of its geography. This means Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington (their modern day counterparts are Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds respectively) play Jewish agents who are assigned to capture a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin during the 60’s. Past the comparison to its original material, specifically regarding the plot set in Israel and Germany with actors speaking in English with a heavy accent, it’s amusing for an action-suspense film. I appreciate movies, be it popcorn film or not, that underscore historical relevance. Though the take is still very fictional, it made me believe that a similar incident really happened somewhere in the post-WWII Germany. I have to note that the ensemble did very well including Sam Worthington.

Friends who might appreciate it: Since I enjoyed it a lot, I highly recommend it to everyone.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 3D, April 12, 7:55pm

A film like this one makes me highlight Sam Worthington the more as a competent actor in “The Debt”. This is a perfect example how boring he could get as a lead character in this sequel. As for the film itself, I am not sure if it still has something to do with Greek mythology whatsoever. It’s very simplistic, targeting mostly those who adore CGI-filled movies. The visuals, for me, are uneven. For instance, the underworld looks good (especially the part where it starts to move like puzzle pieces) but the reimagining of the giants is poorly done. I had a ball watching Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes doing their antics in a formula movie. The last time I enjoyed seeing them together was in Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”.

Friends who might appreciate it: Those who’ve seen the first.

Movie Center - Montevideo Shopping, Sala 10, April 20, 7:55pm

Channing Tatum is destined to make a good movie. Unfortunately, this is not yet the one. He is joined here by Rachel McAdams to tackle love and memory loss. Let me sidetrack a bit. I am fascinated with debates on how a heart can keep a memory over the brain, if it’s really capable of doing so in the first place. Can a heart really remember? The film tries to be scientific and at point blank, the answer seems to be a big no. I am aware that I shouldn’t take the film too seriously as it was perhaps concocted primarily for the chick populace. As it is, it may work. I don’t see any aspect worth noting (including the presence of Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) but the story which was based on real life could hook up some suckers for this kind of films.

Friends who might appreciate it: Let’s just wait for “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike”.

Cine Hoyts – DOT Baires Mall, Cinema 6, April 30, 1:40am

It took us a ferry ride to Buenos Aires just to catch this film on a better cinema. We were aiming for IMAX as they don’t have it here in Montevideo but to no avail. We were informed that the film is released only on digital format and being the first Latin American city to invest on IMAX, the one in Buenos Aires is still using the vintage film reel format. That’s fine. The cinema where we saw it from (take note, at 1:40am) is a really good one. As for the film, there’s nothing much to root, story-wise. I guess the back stories are already explored in the individual films and this is just treated as a finale of the small finales. Joss Whedon did a great job in mounting the action scenes. There is satisfaction the moment the team players start to realize what teamwork is all about. In between, I felt the conflict of the film seems forced: Captain America against Ironman who is against Thor. Or Hawkeye versus Black Widow versus Hulk (how he managed his anger on the latter part, no one knows). Other than that, everything is smooth and suave. I bet I would watch it again on IMAX the minute I land in Manila.

Friends who might appreciate it: Everyone. Period. We all deserve this film.
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