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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?

Before lunchtime two Thursdays ago, I got a word that my onsite assignment will be cut shorter by a month than initially laid out. Being in the same line of work for a decade now, the news was not new to me. In fact, my very first “foot soldier” assignment in Paris back in 2003 was also trimmed down from three months to disheartening 19 days. I remember being so regretful then of weekends that I just stayed in the apartment in Rue Alfred Stevens in the heart of Pigalle’s red light district. I should have explored Provence or Belgium on any free weekend. My only consolation then was experiencing the real FĂȘte de la Musique on the eve of my flight back to Manila. Charge everything to experience so to speak. For this return engagement in the Netherlands, and after 10 fruitful years of memorable business trips (this is my 6th), I have to admit that my left toenail is still screaming “too soon”.

Oh, well.

On the weekend of the same week, I decided to go out and, as they say, smell the flowers. And what a way to seize it by visiting Paleis het Loo which once became the residence of the Dutch royal family (including the queen whose birthday is being celebrated every 29th of April, now known simply as “Queen’s Day”). It’s just a block away from the hotel where I am staying and it would be a shame if I don’t visit it before I head home.

Fortunately, it was Museum Weekend on that sunny spring weekend. That means extra loads of visitors and on the winning side, a cheaper entrance fee (from EUR 14.00 / PHP 751 to EUR 5 / PHP 268). It was already 2pm when I reached the place. I was eyeing for the armoury which opens at 1pm so I decided not to come as early as the palace’s opening hours (10am, I guess) because I might end up killing some extra waiting time.

Starting from the obelisk (which, at one point, became a reminder of a failed attempt to assassinate the queen on a Queen’s Day some years ago) in the intersection of Loolaan and Zwolseweg. I went to the tree lined path on the left and found my way locating the ticket booth in the stable area of the palace. It’s actually not easy to find as it is closer to the parking area than to the stable and the nearby cafeteria. It was a bit busy in the ticket room but never a hassle. From there, I walked to the stable which also displays some items relating to the royal family’s means of transportation from horses to cars used for some state visit. At the end of the hallway is a recreation of a horse carriage for Queen Wilhelmina’s funeral. By the way, it would be best to find this area first before proceeding to the main palace as the other building doesn’t sell any ticket.

Speaking of queens, I suddenly remember the first nursery rhyme that I memorized and recited in kindergarten. It went something like “Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the queen”. For this case, I went to Paleis het Loo to visit the place where the Dutch queen(s) once lived before they moved to another residence somewhere close to Amsterdam some years ago. The west wing of the palace, for instance, houses Queen Wilhelmina’s stuff during her last stay on the first floor and different portrait interpretation by some young artists (Andy Warhol included) of Queen Beatrix on the upper level. The latter is the reigning queen and will hold her title only until the upcoming Queen’s Day as she’s about to pass her throne to her son.

The east wing of the palace is also called the armoury which, as it suggests, contains anything military (medals, war gears, etc.) and some collection from Mauritshuis in Den Haag (on display until next year). From there, I had to go back to the palace’s front yard. Both west wing and east wing, and the main building in between have no connection. They may have some audio tour options but I did not avail of it. At this point, at around 4pm, Josh came on board and joined me for the rest of the tour and maze of royal rooms (bedroom, toilet, reception room, study room, children’s room and more). We didn’t get the chance to explore the Versailles-inspired gardens further because of the time but we saw it from the palace.  

I posted some pictures here and here to document the museum tour.

After some hours of getting cultured (with our nose already bleeding of too much art and affluence), Josh and I headed to Oranjerpark for a small weekend fair. It was about to close. Some shops were about to fold up except for the beer corner near the park’s central gazebo. It was one hell of a sunny Sunday and all I deserved that time was a nice strawberry ice cream from the little girl who sold it for a Euro a cone.  

Pictures of the side trip here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Movie Digest # 089

Robinsons Galleria, Cinema 6, October 21, 5:20pm

Trite and predictable but at least it did the basic stuff right. POV is clear, singing is enjoyable and Anna Kendrick is just luminous.

Friends who might appreciate it: For sure they’ve heard about the film already.  

SM City – North EDSA, IMAX Cinema, October 21, 7:50pm

I'm not sure if it can be classified as having a Tim Burton ending or not but it gave me an idea on how he handles a Disney film. It's both cuddly and dark but the references to B movies are the best part. Its message on death and science is clear and the song "Strange Love" just capped the fun.

Friends who might appreciate it: Kids.  

Eastwood Mall, Cinema 5, October 26, 1:00pm

Direction-wise, it's serviceable enough. It's just that it was already done before; same theme, almost the same cast, same gloss and same approach. Some scenes are likeable (car scene with Jaclyn Jose and daughters, the iconic artwork in Burgos Circle, etc.) but it's very hard to take the characters seriously. The women here are either plain bitch or just fickle minded.

Friends who might appreciate it: I wish I can demand them not to watch and like it.  

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 5, October 27, 11:00pm

Categorically, the film is a popcorn action film for me. It's based on real life characters back in the 1930's Virginia. Its story about brothers who are forced to have a taste of violence is very easy to follow and probably has been exhausted before. Past that, it remains entertaining for me, thanks to its terrific photography. Guy Pearce should be noticed here at the very least.

Friends who might appreciate it: Those who are tired and weary of those Bruce Willis’ brand of machismo.  

SM Mall of Asia, IMAX Cinema, November 4, 5:00pm

I haven't seen all the Bond films but from what I saw, this one's the most definitive. It has the usual stuff like undercover tasks involving women, some gadgets, some cars, sleek fashion and big action scenes. What differentiates this from the rest is the successful attempt to humanize the paper thin character. From this franchise on, audience can now easily empathize with the iconic agent. Also well acted (especially Javier Bardem who's scary in most scenes) and the production design is impressive. I can say that it's the only Bond film that I experienced a little sense of danger while watching it.

Friends who might appreciate it: For sure they’ve seen it.  

Glorietta 4, Cinema 1, November 7, 7:10pm

This film about finding purpose through an unlikely friendship is very predictable but I liked how it could stir the imagination of its expected young audience. As for the not-so-young viewers, there's always the novelty of the arcade/video game culture to consider. It would be lame to say it's an eye candy but the Sugar Rush scenes made me crave for sweets. Bonus: impressive B&W (and red) animation on the short film “Paperman” (which I believe was noticed by the Academy).

Friends who might appreciate it: Everybody has a purpose so....  

Glorietta 4, Cinema 2, November 7, 9:40pm

Aside from the additional CGI, I didn't see much progress from its version that was shown at the CCP four months ago but I enjoyed it the second time around. This talky film which looked like a labor of love from a circle of friends in the industry has to have an audience. It could actually serve as a baby step in anti-formula film appreciation in Pinoy cinema. It's about the vanishing tradition of Pangangaluluwa where the characters are challenged to reexamine their own souls. The stories are a bit uneven and the final segment relies on being too eventful but it was satisfying nonetheless. It was a good call to tag playwright (and Virgin Labfest regular) Nicolas Pichay on board as co-writer.

Friends who might appreciate it: Not entirely sure who’s going to appreciate the film.  

Newport Cinemas, Cinema 4, November 18, 1:05pm

I missed the first part but at least I still managed to pick up the story. Oh, there's really no story. It's just a clash of two vampire groups and their preparation for it. Snapshots on the opening credits are good though and the OST sounds promising for its genre.

Friends who might appreciate it: It’s so pop that it doesn’t require any recommendation at all.  

Trinoma, Cinema 2, November 21, 9:55pm

This glossy film serves as an antidote to the recent Pinoy films about the so-called extra-marital affair. Erik Matti is like showing us how to better tackle infidelity: insightful, technically well made and sensual. The last few minutes of the film got me. It pretty much pinpoints what could have been the ripple effects of our actions, something that was not touched yet in other kabit films. John James Uy is not a good actor but the peg of the character is there. Yam Concepcion has a strong presence and very promising for her first film but it was Max Eigenmann, who reminds me of the young Monique Wilson, who delivered the goods.

Friends who might appreciate it: Married or not, this film deserves a try.  

Robinsons Galleria, Cinema 2, December 5, 12:10pm

I got no plans of watching the film at first but the extra time to kill pushed me to. I more or less knew what to expect from this Hallmark-y tale about the emotional distance between an aging father (Clint Eastwood) and his daughter (Amy Adams). And my guts are actually right. Reliable acting from the leads salvaged a quarter of what could have been the usual and run of the mill Hollywood drama.

Friends who might appreciate it: I can’t pinpoint anyone right now.  

Robinsons Galleria, Cinema 3, December 7, 3:30pm

Past the cute idea of assembling the familiar characters (Santa Claus, Jack Frost, etc.), there's nothing more to it. It's another take on maturity and on how to shoulder responsibility. For sure, I've seen something like that before. It's enjoyable for 90 plus minutes nonetheless.

Friends who might appreciate it: Kids though they deserve something better.

Glorietta 4, Cinema 4, December 12, 7:35pm

This talky film reminds me of Quentin Tarantino's early works, only more technically promising. I can actually stand the slow pacing but the reference to the US national elections is a bit forced for me and oftentimes distracting. I can say that Brad Pitt has been very picky on his film projects.

Friends who might appreciate it: Forget the song reference in the title; it’s not Cannes-decorated for nothing.

Glorietta 4, Cinema 1, December 12, 9:25pm

I almost walked out after 15 minutes, particularly in a scene that involves a soft-spoken guy and his girlfriend dismissing pre-marital sex. He said that it's a love triangle between them and God. The rest of the film boasts of similar scenes; saying no to abortion (which, on personal note, is a good campaign) and repeatedly preaching that condoms are ineffective. The “sermon” that the film tries to convey is difficult to swallow especially for a script that seems to challenge not morality but reality. The OFW mom for instance is shown putting $1,000 in a snail mail and the money reaches the daughter. There's nothing much from the acting department either considering the presence of the likes of Christopher de Leon, Lani Mercado and even the great Jaclyn Jose. Only exception perhaps is Dina Bonnevie who did great.

Friends who might appreciate it: I know some extremely religious friends who may appreciate the film big time.  

MNL 143
SM Megamall, Cinema 12, December 15, 12:00pm

Similar to Emerson Reyes' award-winning short film, "Walang Katapusang Kuwarto", the audience is once again asked to eavesdrop to other people’s conversations. This time around, the POV is brought inside an FX and charmed to feel what’s going to be a day like for a public transport driver (Allan Paule). For me, the whole premise looks like an extended plot for a short film (the moment Joy Viado joined in up to the last frame) and some odd decisions (like the scene where the lead character is seen getting emotional while the whole song from “Paalam, Aking Bulalakaw” is being played on the radio) did not help. I must admit though that the last five or so minutes provided the expected kilig.

Friends who might appreciate it: I can’t tell.  

Robinsons Galleria, Cinema 8, December 15, 3:20pm

First things first, I haven’t read the book. What I’ve heard is that the novel is challenging to adapt on film. It’s a bit noticeable along the way but the Wachowski brothers (more of siblings now) and Tom Tykver did a great job with the finished product. The timelines are easy to follow and seeing the same set of actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, etc.) doing different set of characters pushes the agenda further that everything is connected. It’s a new experience for me since the different timelines serve as varied storylines as if I was watching four or five different short films in one. Maybe a bit simplistic if taken per piece but at least the high concept is not messed up. The only downside for me is the make-up. It is sometimes overly distracting especially those episodes that require a Caucasian actor play an Asian role and vice versa.

Friends who might appreciate it: Those who miss the same folks who gave us “Matrix” and “Run, Lola, Run”.

Monday, April 01, 2013

One More Zaanse Schans

Eleven days after I arrived here in Apeldoorn, Kate, Claire (a colleague’s sister who’s having a side trip in the Netherlands from Frankfurt before heading back to Manila) and I met up at the train station. It was cold as expected. I only have some clothing for spring and the extended winter on that Saturday morning was meant to be some sort of dissuasion.

Zaanse Schans is a small village strategically located close to Amsterdam. By strategically, I mean another tourist trap for those who are craving to see some windmills and have no time to go as far as the Kinderdijk. It’s like a Dutch version of the now defunct Nayong Pilipino or that theme park in Pampanga that was erected in time for the Philippine centennial. I didn’t manage to check if the village was artificially constructed or it was really a liveable village that’s just converted into a park.

The closest train station from there is Koog-Zaandijk. Of course, can come up with a route that is more convenient but the 20-minute walk from the train station includes getting a free map to the village. Don’t bother getting one from the store at the station. The guy who looks like the owner might encourage you to buy something to hand you a map in return. Don’t fall for that. Securing the map just outside the station some sort of jumpstarts the visit as you have to figure out how you can best pull the handle from a box that imitates a slot machine.

From that machine, it would take around 10 minutes of leisure walk to finally reach the first windmill at the foot of a bridge. I saw a lot of side trippers with their carry-on bags and they looked fine with the idea. From the bridge, you can already have a clue of what lies ahead. Three or four windmills are lined up at the side of the river and some old and small houses can be seen from there. If not too windy, it would be good to warm up the camera. It would take another five minutes to finally reach the park.

Kate, Claire and I spent the first 30 minutes checking out the houses that serve as something else. There’s one that is converted to a clock museum then the first Albert Heijn (probably a Dutch counterpart of Henry Sy only in a small scale retail business) store then more houses of the same kind and purpose. We went into a barn-looking place with a windmill on top which is specifically intended to pulverize some spices. From afar is another set of houses/barns for the clogs, cheese and more. Souvenirs are everywhere. There’s an art museum close to what looks like a parking spot for buses on excursion. We ended up having our very late lunch in the cafeteria there with apple pie and some chips and later on decided to just make a full stop at Amsterdam to get a real meal (Coco’s Outback is the place to be).

So there went my first brush of the Netherlands after seven long years. Up to now, I am still considerately rethinking why I did not bother visiting Zaanse Schans while I was here the first time around (wait, more of the second time as I had a really quick visit to Amsterdam in 2003 while stationed in Paris). Some familiar and awesome memories are starting to spring up and I am in for those digital boards that display the bus schedule. An anonymous OV Chipkaart is also kept in my wallet and it’s very comfy to just swag the thing on a yellow marked box inside the bus (or outside the train stations).

 More pictures taken at Zaanse Schans here and the short visit to Amsterdam here

I did not say much about Apeldoorn, my new home for the next two months, as I believe the snapshots here can do the job. Also, it would be ungrateful too not to make a day stop at Utrecht which became a comfort zone for me for the whole 2006. I only did that during Easter Sunday (check out the pictures here) and what a way to celebrate new beginnings by feasting on some all-time favorite dishes at Tai Soen. I guess, for now, I can say that I am really back and this time more than equipped with a blog title that is inspired by a John Lloyd - Bea movie.
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