Monday, August 28, 2017

Recapping GAME OF THRONES Season 7: Reunions and Revelations

August 28, 2017

Needless to say, this recap has MAJOR SPOILERS. Read only after watching the whole Season 7. 

This Season 7 of Game of Thrones that just concluded this morning was the most controversial one of this celebrated TV series. These controversies involved both its shortcut storytelling style, as well as the advanced leaking of a couple of episodes. 

Many people were complaining how this season eschewed the cherished GoT tradition of slowly building up the story in several episodes, especially since the distances between the various locations in Westeros would take a lot of time to traverse. In this season though, characters looked like they were teleporting from one place to another, most particularly in Episode 6. Even messages by raven seemed like they were just text messaging each other. 

There was also a minor controversy in Episode 1 where there was a needless scene featuring pop star Ed Sheeran as a friendly Lannister soldier who sang a short rustic ditty, then later shared a meal with Arya Stark. This was a charming scene, no doubt, showing a calm Arya. But yes, it had no contribution to the storyline except to give GoT fan Sheeran some screen time as guest star.

There were two episodes which were leaked several days in advance. Episodes 4 and 6. The leak of Episode 4 ("The Spoils of War") was from Star India. Four individuals with company credentials were eventually arrested because of this leak. The leak of Episode 6 ("Beyond the Wall") came from HBO España and HBO Nordic five days early. These leaks though did not affect the ratings of these highly anticipated episodes.

Controversies notwithstanding, I personally found the quick pace of the developing story in Season 7 very exciting. This was done without losing the beauty of the dialogue being delivered by characters we have known and grown to love or hate for the past six seasons.


Season 7 Episode 1 ("Dragonstone") opened immediately with a major kill. Arya Stark, disguised as their (already dead) patriarch Walder Frey, killed off the entire Frey family right in the very banquet room where the infamous Red Wedding (where her mom Catelyn and brother Robb Stark were killed) was held back in Season 3 Episode 9. 

For every episode after that, there would at least be one or two major characters killed off. The Sand Snakes Obara and Nymeria Sand were killed in Episode 2 ("Stormborn") when Euron Greyjoy attacked their ship. Their youngest sister Tyene was killed in Episode 3 by Queen Cersei with the same poison they used to kill her daughter Marcella. The final scene of Episode 3 ("Queen's Justice") was the final scene of the Queen of Thrones -- Lady Olenna Tyrell-- mercifully with poisoned wine offered by Jamie Lannister. 

There was no one character of note who died in Episode 4, but that was the episode where we saw in full spectacular display the firepower of Daenerys's dragons (and her Dothraki horde) during the so-called "Loot Train Battle," practically decimating the Lannister army on that field that day, nearly killing Jamie Lannister himself.

Episode 5 ("Eastwatch") had the noble deaths of Randyll and Dickon Tarly via Drogon's dragon fire upon order by his mother. Episode 6 saw the deaths of fire priest Thoros of Myr (after being mauled by an undead bear) and Uncle Benjen Stark (who appeared one last time to save Jon Snow before sacrificing himself to the Night Walkers). But the most memorable death was that of dragon Viserion from an ice spear to the neck thrown by the Night King himself, who later turned the beast into his own undead monster.

My most favorite death of this season happened in Episode 7 ("The Dragon and the Wolf"), when Sansa, Arya and Bran Stark turned the tables on and eventually executed the sneaky and snarky Petr "Littlefinger" Baelysh, the very master of chaos himself. This man had been behind a lot of the mayhem in Westeros, including the deaths of Ned Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Jon and Lysa Arryn. To see Littlefinger's slimy neck slashed by Arya's Catspaw dagger while he was on his knees and crying (!) was very satisfying. 


Season 7 is a season of jubilation for fans of the Stark family because ever since they were split up in Season 1, the three surviving Stark siblings are now finally all together with Sansa in Winterfell -- Bran in Episode 3, and Arya in Episode 4. While their reunion scenes seemed cold at first (especially because Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, and Arya is now a master Assassin), by season's end, we know they will work together well. In Ned Stark's own words: "When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives."

In Episode 2, Arya met Hotpie again first time they met since Season 3. Later that same episode, Arya met her direwolf Nymeria while she was en route to Winterfell. In Episode 5, Jorah Mormont, healed of his greyscale by Samwell Tarly, was finally reunited with Daenerys after they parted ways in Season 5. 

Episode 7 alone is fun to watch because of all the mini-reunions that happened like Brienne and the Hound, Brienne and Jamie, Tyrion and Podrick. Brothers Sandor (the Hound) and Gregor (the Mountain) Clegane had a face off. All the Lannister siblings (Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion) were all together since the Purple Wedding in Season 4. For the first time, the three main contenders to the Iron Throne (Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow) were all in one place to talk about joining forces against the Night King. 


The biggest revelation of Season 7 was the true nature of Jon Snow. All this while, he was known as the bastard son of Ned Stark. However, throughout the seasons, hints have been dropped about his real identity, and this was finally revealed in Episode 7 via a conversation between Bran Stark (who had seen visions of a dying Lyanna Stark endorsing a newborn infant to her brother Ned) and Samwell Tarly (whose wife Gilly read him a passage from a private diary saying how crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled to marry someone else). 

It was previously thought that Rhaegar (Danaerys' eldest brother) kidnapped Lyanna Stark and held her captive, an event that triggered the revolt of Robert Baratheon (Lyanna's betrothed) against the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. It is now confirmed that Jon Snow was in fact a legitimate child of a Targaryen (R + L = J), and is therefore higher in the line of succession to the Iron Throne than his aunt Danaerys. However to further complicate things with a little more incest, the writers decided to have Jon and Dany succumb to their carnal desires in Episode 7 (after they just met for the first time in Episode 3).

The whole season ended on a somber note as the Wall comes crashing down from the icy fire breath of the undead Viserion as piloted by the Night King and the Army of the Dead go charging on beyond it. I cannot wait for the final Season 8 to know what will happen next in the Great War. Season 8 reportedly will have only 6 episodes, all more than an hour long. However, word is that we will have to wait for more than a year (late 2018 to early 2019) for it. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review of PETA's TAGU-TAGUAN NASAAN ANG BUWAN?: Charm of our Childhood

August 26, 2017

PETA has always been known for its outstanding theater shows for children, like "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" and "Ang Post Office." This year, on its Golden anniversary, PETA once again comes up with a new show for kids and kids at heart -- J-mee Katanyag’s “Tagu-Taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan”.

Against his wishes, Popoy was brought by his strict and stressed out Father to Lola Luna's house to take care of her because she was ill. Popoy was puzzled when his Lola called him Jepoy, and told him that she needed to look for her friends. His Father though told him to ignore her because this was all mere nonsense idle talk of a sick old woman.

Later that night though, a giant mouse named Ngo appeared and told Popoy that he had a shining heart and was the prophesied savior of Dilim-Dilim Land from the curse of the monstrous Papaw Halimaw. With the help of Ngo and the crazy and colorful Princess Mina, Popoy collected some items from the other denizens of Saysay Lupalop -- essential things for him to complete his fated task. 

Those new to PETA may not recognize them, but all those nutty residents of Saysay Lupalop were actually characters culled from other PETA children's shows. I recognized Pepe and Pepito to be from "Batang Rizal" (MY REVIEW).  As for the others, the hypernasal Ngo is from “Ngo ang Dagang Patay,” the bipolar Prinsesa Mina is from “Ang Tiririt ng Ibong Adarna,” the English-speaking Little Match Girl is from “Hans Christian Andersen Must Be Filipino”, and the challenge-hungry travelers Ismail and Isabel are from “Ismail at Isabel.”

To make the play attractive to kids, the set and costumes have to be vibrant and colorful, and they are! Costume designer Leeroy New had some very imaginative designs for the costumes of the Saysay Lupalop characters, especially Ngo, Princess Mina and Match Girl, also with accessories recycled from household items. The lighting of Loren Rivera and the shadow designs of Sig Pecho worked well with the sets of Charles Yee to create a world of wonder. The giant puppet of Papaw Halimaw was a sight to behold!

Bugcat, Silos, Relavo and other cast members 
meet fans in the lobby after the show

In the show I watched, the boy Popoy was played by Albert Silos ( his alternates in this role are Noel Comia and Omar Uddin. The role of Lola Luna was played by Joann Co (her alternates in that role are Marichu Belarmino and Upeng Galang-Fernandez). Popoy's father was played by John Moran. Silos gave a spirited lead performance with confidence and verve. Co gave the third act a potent emotional core. Moran did not feel like he was comfortable playing a father. 

The delightful audience-favorite Ngo was played by Roi Calilong. His speech defect must have been so hard to sustain the whole show with a straight face. The very exhausting role of the unhinged Princess Mina was played by Joan Bugcat. She also got to display her belting voice that we heard before in "Rak of Aegis." 

Match Girl had a pitch perfect English accent care of Teetin Villanueva. Her Tagalog with an accent is even cuter to the ear. Ismail was rather awkwardly played by Gelo Lantana, but Isabel was sprightly played by Raven Relavo. Pepe and Pepito were given energetic portrayals by Lemuel Silvestre and Vic Robinson III respectively.

Vien Alen King, Eric Dela Cruz, Phil Noble, Gab Pangilinan, Angelo Lantaco, Julia Enriquez, Yeyin Dela Cruz, Gerhard Krysstopher, and Norbs Portales alternate in these roles on other show dates.

Director Dudz Teraña kept the physical comedy up on high gear for almost the whole one and half hours running time of the show, knowing how any dip in the show's momentum might cause the attention of the kids in the audience to wander. The music by composer Jeff Hernandez may not have been immediately catchy for me, but it was lively and bubbly enough to keep the energy of the show going. 

For adults though, the payoff will be in the third act, which will resonate with them, with me, the most. Writer J-mee Katanayag delivers a message of not losing our connection with our childhood and the stories we have heard back then. We should never be too jaded with the pressures of adulthood. Instead, we should always hang on to our inner child with its essense of awe and imagination. Our kids will love us more for it. 


“Tagu-taguan Nasaan Ang Buwan?” debuted last August 18, 2017 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. It will have one more show at that venue on August 27 at 3 pm. The next weekend, it will be staged at the Star Theater in Pasay City on September 2 and 3, with shows at 10 am and 3 pm. For the Sept. 2 shows, contact Eko Baquial at 0915-734-7431. For the Sept. 3 shows, contact PETA at 0917-539-1112. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review of PhilStagers' OBRA NI JUAN: Perturbed Patriotic Prodigy

August 5, 2017

The PhilStagers newest musical play once again returns to the late 19th century to tell the story of the Philippine Revolution from the point of view of another one of its heroic protagonists -- the celebrated painter Juan Luna. Most of us know Juan Luna only for his spectacular 4.2 m x 7.6 m masterpiece -- the "Spoliarium" -- which is now hanging in its own special hall inside the National Museum. We frankly know nothing much more about him other than that beautiful gold medal-winning painting. It is time we knew more.

In an inventive and bold twist of storytelling genius, Atty. Vince Tanada brings us inside the disturbed psyche of Juan Luna as he argued within himself about key decisions and events of his life, both celebratory and tragic.  While this potentially controversial two-in-one characterization style (the genteel artist vs. the volatile cad) can cause confusion for the viewers at first, this novel approach also made us gain a unique understanding of the artist and his state of mind. I marveled at how Atty. Tanada was able to create such an imaginative manner of telling what could have been a straightforward dry history lesson.

Vince Tanada, Cindy Liper and Patrick Libao

The two stalwart lead star actors of the PhilStagers, Patrick Libao and Vince Tanada himself, portray these two disparate personalities within Juan Luna, known here as Juan Luna 1 and Juan Luna 2. Libao is making a comeback of sorts since he took a year-long leave from the company. It was as if he never left at all as everything he did was on point. Tanada is consistent with his signature acting and singing style that earned him a lot of devoted young fans over the years. His singing vocal range seems to be expanding with his every show -- impressive. (Kenneth Sadsad and Chin Ortega alternate as JL1 and 2.)

Juan Luna's story could not be told without including his group of friends in Spain with him -- namely, best friend Jose Rizal (Johnrey Rivas), propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar (JP Lopez), brother-in-law Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (Kenneth Sadsad), and his hot-headed younger brother Antonio Luna (Jomar Bautista). The story of brotherhood of these Filipino illustrado indio intelligensia in Spain had never been told in a more vibrant way. Their boyish antics together played well to thrill the ladies in the audience. 

Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (Kenneth Sadsad), Antonio Luna (Jomar Bautista), and MH del Pilar (JP Lopez) talk about Jose Rizal  (Johnrey Rivas in background)

While all four of them had their own moments to shine, an inordinate amount of time was given to Jose Rizal, his despair about Leonor Rivera (Judyy Tolentino) and his love triangle with Antonio Luna and Nellie Boustead, even his incarceration and execution. These side stories did take the play on a significant detour away from the main Juan Luna thread. However, I did not mind the side trip because it featured the ballad "Ako na Lang," which I thought was the best and most memorable song of the whole show. 

Johnrey Rivas had a strong stage presence as Rizal, and he also gets to sing his own arias. His strong singing voice is a pleasant surprise. Jomar Bautista, who looked like a heftier Enrique Gil from afar, was an excellent Antonio Luna, both as youth and as general. Rutchel Leonor plays the girl which came between their friendship, Nellie, and she certainly projected so well why the two heroes are crazy about her. Her crystalline singing voice is certainly another one of her virtues. 

Liper, Adele Ibarrientos and Sadsad
as the Pardo de Tavera family in happier times

One of the best-executed scenes as staged was that about the biggest scandal attached to Juan Luna's name -- the murder case involving his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera and his mother-in-law Juliana. The two stalwart lead actresses of the PhilStagers, Cindy Liper and Adele Ibarrientos, portray these two ill-fated women. Director Tanada again stages this sensational episode with the characters involved with only a stand-alone door and doorway prop between them. The dark and loud musical score in this scene certainly gave this outstanding scene a heart-pounding air of insanity, tension and violence. (Vean Olmedo and Rutchel Leonor alternate as Paz and Juliana.)

Juan Luna's artistic oeuvre not only served as the backdrop of the stage, but also played important roles within the story being told. The "Spoliarium" had a whole production number on its own, with the ensemble portraying the gladiators and the townspeople gathered around them as depicted in the painting. There was another nice scene where four ladies behind colorful frames told the story behind four other Luna works ("Las Damas Romanas," "Despues del Baile," the sublime "Tampuhan" (a personal favorite painting of mine) and "La Muerte de Cleopatra"). The subjects behind his "Mi Hijo Andres" and "The Parisian Life" came to life on stage.

A moment of restful calm with Ina (Vean Olmedo) and the 2 Juans (Libao and Tanada)

"Obra ni Juan" is a 2 hour show without an intermission. Unlike most previous PhilStagers plays which were more immediately accessible, it took time for me to get into the groove of this given the more challenging novel approach it took in telling its story. (No wonder they told the audience to "open your mind" during the opening remarks.) However, once I got on, the rest of the ride was engaging and entertaining. A lot of the tried-and-true signature PhilStagers gimmicks in acting, choreography and humor were still very much there to effectively capture the attention of their youthful audience. Passion overflows in all scenes.

Kudos to director-writer-lyricist Atty. Vince Tanada, musical director-composer Pipo Cifra and the rest of the cast and crew! Special mentions go to Jeff Ambrosio (Production Manager and Set Designer), Art Gabrentina (Technical Director), Gerald Magallanes (Choreographer), Emy Tanada (Costume Designer), and John Paul Santos (Stage Manager).for their valuable behind the scenes work.

Johnrey Rivas, Libao, Tanada and Bautista take their bows

After a month's worth of soft opening shows, tonight's Grand Opening of "Obra ni Juan" was held in Cinema 9 of SM North EDSA, 6pm. Tickets cost P300 for regular patrons. This show will be touring in various Metro Manila and provincial venues. Check out the PhilStagers FB page (LINK) for more details about future shows.