Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
As someone who firmly believes that dessert is the whole point of any meal—I am one of those who see the main course as just a prelude to dessert—I am concerned that the price of sugar has spiraled seemingly out of control since Christmas. As of last week, a kilo of white sugar was retailing between 50 to 60 pesos in certain public markets, quite a big leap from where it was during the holiday season, which was at 40 pesos.
We are told the runaway price of sugar is temporary, caused by an artificial shortage. Someone actually said on public television that the shortage was caused by the supposedly high demand for sugar during the last holiday season. Yeah, blame the people for pigging out on leche flan and brazo de Mercedes.
Government, as can be expected, has tried to diffuse adverse reaction to the situation by insisting that there is no shortage. Yet in the same vein, Agriculture Secretary Yap has announced that the government is importing tons of sugar and that the shipment is expected to arrive in May. Talk about mixed messages!
The reality, however, is that the sugar shortage is a phenomenon that is not unique to the Philippines. Major corporations in the United States sounded the alarm August last year, even going to the extent of threatening mass layoffs if government didn’t address the impending shortage more effectively. In countries such as Pakistan, the sugar shortage has reached alarming levels —an article I read in an international magazine reported that a kilo of sugar could only be bought in the black market at a cost equivalent to a full day’s wage.
The global shortage of sugar is caused by many factors. Climate change affected sugarcane plantations in many countries. Also, most sugarcane harvests in major sugar producing countries such as Brazil have been diverted to the production of the bio-fuel known as ethanol. Most experts believe that the global shortage will last until end of 2010. Around that time, I suppose authorities would have learned to manage the global supply, people would have been weaned from their sugar addiction or would have gotten used to artificial sweeteners.
All these are distressing to sugar addicts like me. Of course it is possible that I represent a minority. Perhaps there are very few people like me who suffer from severe withdrawal syndrome if they don’t get to visit a pastry shop or who goes into panic mode upon discovery that they have just wolfed down the last chocolate candy bar in their refrigerator. Perhaps most Filipinos don’t really care if the price of sugar hits 100 pesos per kilo. We’re certainly not seeing people protesting in the streets despite the fact that prices have almost doubled in barely a month’s time. We are not seeing politicians scrambling all over themselves to register their opinions in the public’s consciousness.
The seeming apathy is understandable. Sugar does not rank high up there in the list of commodities because we don’t consume a proportionate amount of it compared to, say, rice or pork or chicken. But then again, sugar is actually an indispensable part of our lives—I actually know quite a number of people who can’t function normally unless they have had their coffee and sugar fix. Most of our merienda fare is actually sugar-based and most Filipino kids are actually fueled by sugar. I am sure things will get dicey if the price of sugar continues to rise and the shortage begins to impact on the cost of certain staple food such as banana cue and ice candy.
Of the many reactions to the impending sugar crisis, the one I liked the most was that of Vice President Noli de Castro. Responding to a question posed by a television reporter who obviously was angling for a provocative statement by the way she asked the question, the Vice President retorted nonchalantly “People should use less sugar then.” The advantage of someone who is not running for an elective post is that he can speak with candor and sincerity, as he does not have to pander to populist notions or try to please as many stakeholders as possible.
Of course, the government should make sure that there is healthy balance between supply and demand of most commodities. That’s its job. We should ensure that there is ample supply of sugar for those who are dependent on the stuff.
But perhaps the shortage can also be used as a great opportunity to strongly remind people (like me, I must add) of the harmful effects of sugar. I know. Sugar consumption has become a social issue such that some people actually think their ability to turn up their noses on the stuff is a reflection of how virtuous they are. But there is no denying the fact that excessive indulgence in sugar accounts for many of the major health problems plaguing the world today. There’s obesity, diabetes, hypertension, even hyperactivity among children.
I don’t recall the actual statistics now but most experts have predicted that a certain percentage of our kids today will be diabetic by the time they reach a certain age. When we consider the enormous amount of sugar we feed them everyday—from candies to softdrinks and juices, even to sweet spaghetti, the prediction makes sense.
I am aware that are there studies now that point out that sugar is actually the healthier alternative compared to synthetic sweeteners; that the negative consequences of ingesting the real thing made from sugarcane is actually less toxic. For a while there, rumors about how certain artificial sweeteners were carcinogenic persisted. Companies have since come up with better, supposedly healthier sweeteners as options although there’s a whole group of consumers out there who insist that the supposed safety of these sweeteners are not 100 percent guaranteed—nobody really knows the long-term harmful effects of these artificial products.
So when we come to think about it, it’s ironic that our choices have been narrowed down to which one is the lesser evil. A friend told me that this is the sad fact about life in this millennium—most of our choices boil down to which evil we can live with. It’s a choice between a lifestyle devoid of sweet things or longer life. Between diabetes and crankiness. For people like me who are desperately trying to get weaned from a sugar addiction, this is a dilemma that we face every minute of our existence.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Monday, January 04, 2010
It seems the annual festival has become nothing but a money-making venture, an opportunity for movie producers to rake in profits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making money, of course; producing movies, after all, is still a business venture. But the festival is also supposed to be a showcase of Filipino talent and is intended to advance the cause of Philippine filmmaking. The movie industry was supposed to come out with quality movies as some kind of Christmas offering to the Filipino movie-going public who, in turn, were supposed to show their appreciation by patronizing more Filipino movies. It was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
However, the overall quality of the movies featured in the annual festival has been on a steady decline over the years. This year’s harvest is particularly dismal: Not a single film among the seven entries that make this year’s crop stands out as an example of fine cinema. This wasn’t fair to the many Filipinos who still patronize the festival. Box-office receipts on Christmas day alone reached around P80 million; the top three movies in terms of box-office receipts (Ang Panday, Ang Darling Kong Aswang, and Shake, Rattle and Roll) raked in at least P16 million each in one day.
It seems that by patronizing the MMFF, we are encouraging the production of mediocre films and contributing to the overall decline of the Philippine movie industry. Even worse, it seems we’re encouraging producers from ripping off Filipino moviegoers of their hard-earned money.
One justification being forwarded is that it is only during the festival when Filipino movie producers are guaranteed profit—so we are supposed to just grin and bear it. We’re supposed to just bend over so that Mother Lily Monteverde, the Lopezes, and the rest of the producers can make money? There are many things wrong with this scenario. First, it negates the very essence of what filmmaking is supposed to be about, which is that it is also supposed to be an art form. Second, such a protectionist stance is defeatist in the long term as mediocrity kills patronage; it’s like killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. Third, we’re forgetting that box office returns are not the only ways in which producers make money from their films.
The reviews—particularly word of mouth —of the movies that comprised this year’s festival were generally lukewarm; even those that tried to say nice things about the films sounded somehow conciliatory. Nevertheless, many among us still trooped to theaters like we needed to see for ourselves just how bad they were. Like I said, the MMFF has become an annual tradition for many; I actually know people who have made going to theaters on Christmas day a hallowed tradition. How else do we explain this insane predilection for sequels? Shake, Rattle and Roll is now on its 11th installment. We’re seeing the sixth reincarnation of Mano Po. Enteng Kabisote may have taken a break this year but the genre is alive and well in Ang Darling Kong Aswang. Even top grosser and Best Film of the festival, Ang Panday is a sequel of sorts.
Given generally bad reviews, I went to the theaters with very low expectations. I still left the theaters feeling ripped off. And to think I watched the three films that were —according to the judges—supposed to have been the best among the crop. If Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love, Ang Panday, and I Love You Goodbye were the better entries, how awful could the other movies be?
Two words explained why we prioritized I Love You Goodbye over all the other entries to this year’s festival: Laurice Guillen. Guillen is a director known for artistic integrity. Guillen’s track record as director has been consistent as well— she’s only made a few movies and each one of them was a critical success. Surely, directing another love story would be a walk in the park for the director who gave us the incomparable Salome, probably one of the best Filipino movies ever made.
The production values of the film were okay in the sense that we didn’t see underexposed shots or cats and dogs straying into the scenes. I Love You Goodbye coasted along steadily for the whole duration of the playing time; the heartbeat monitor in the operating room where Gabby Concepcion’s character supposedly does his thing as a cardiologist-surgeon showed more activity. Nothing much really happens throughout the film.
To be fair to Guillen, I Love You Goodbye had a storyline that was pitifully threadbare to begin with; there was hardly any complication in the plot with the slightest potential to create fireworks. It seemed they realized too late that the movie was so bland they decided to do a whodunit at the last 10 minutes; which, of course didn’t do anything to the movie other than bring it to an end.
I Love You Goodbye had the kind of story that won’t even make the cut for Maalala Mo Kaya so it’s truly a surprise that Star Cinema turned it into a movie, much more, an entry to the festival. Some emotional wrench was thrown into the plotline by Kim Chiu’s character as the bratty daughter and by Liza Lorena as the snotty and domineering mother, but both characters were so stereotypical and one-dimensional. Besides, they were onscreen less than 10 percent of the movie’s running time. Roughly 80 percent of the movie had Angelica Panganiban on the screen which ordinarily should not have been such a bad thing—she registers quite well and is a fine actress. But there’s only so much of a pretty face we can take.
To a certain extent, I Love You Goodbye reminded me very strongly of Kasal?, Guillen’s first directorial job, which I watched when I was in college but whose images still remain indelible in the recesses of memory. Both movies are love stories bookended with the same premise—a couple on their way to happily-ever-after as soon as they are able to settle unresolved issued with exes and domineering parents. Kasal?, however, had better psychology and thus offered complications one could empathize with. I Love You Goodbye’s only real complication involved Panganiban’s ex (acted out by real-life partner Derek Ramsey). The subplot about a malpractice lawsuit was so benign and inconsequential because everybody saw there was no basis for it.
Only Panganiban’s character was fleshed out—we get a glimpse of why she seemed overly clingy and needy. The rest were left unexplained: why Concepcion’s character seemed distant and conflicted (we presumed the mood swings were caused by some psychological reason instead of bad acting), why Chiu’s character was rude and cruel and what accounted for her sudden change of heart towards the end, etc.
Concepcion’s character is supposed to be madly, unconditionally in love with Panganiban character but we don’t really get a sense of that in the movie—in fact, it looks the other way around. Concepcion’s character comes across as bland and cold and sterile and it’s Panganiban’s character that smolders with passion and affection although it can be said that this is also a reflection of how gifted Panganiban is as an actress. She was probably robbed of the Best Actress trophy this year. Ramsey shows some promise but he is no match to Panganiban’s intensity. Chiu is lucky to have such a pretty face.
I Love You Goodbye proved that a movie needed to have a good story; that there’s only so much a director can do with bad material. On Wednesday: Ang Panday and Mano Po 6.