Fred Said

Review Blog

Game of Thrones Season 1

Posted by Fred on June 10, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

July 16, 2011

 

I have not seen a complete HBO series before. A colleague convinced me to try "Game of Thrones." I did watch the first episode and never looked back. Over the past days, I watched one episode a day until I completed all 10 episodes of the first season. It was that good. You'd never want to be kept hanging.

 

The series brings us back to a medieval time with kings and queens, lords and ladies. It showed things as they probably were back then, grimy, rough and violent. There was very little of the glitz and glamor that mark modern royalty nowadays. It shows the political intrigues of the aristocracy, as well as their advisers, whores and knights behind them.

 

It is also about family. The central family were the Starks. Eddard was picked by his good friend King Robert (family Baratheon) to be his Hand (or executive officer). This threw the Stark family (wife, five kids and one bastard) into the political fray after after their long quiet existence in the North. There is also the Lannister family of the Queen Cersei (a nebulously sinister Lena Headey), constantly waiting for an opportunity to grab power. And finally, the very blond Targaryen family who ruled the realm before Robert, now down to their last two members, the crazy Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and his meek sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke).



 

As you can envision, the action in the battles, sword fights, and jousting scenes were very graphic and bloody. We were not spared the sight of gushing severed arteries, festering wounds, impaled heads and animal attacks. This is definitely not for the faint of heart! You can just look away and the sound effects do just as well to convey the gore on screen. On the other end of the Rated MA spectrum are the occasional sex scenes with both female and male members on display. These may be called gratuitous for TV, but I do gather these are also part of the books. Nevertheless, the sight of a 10-year old boy breastfeeding from his mother was still very disturbing, even in these days.

 

For someone who had not yet read the books, the way the story was written for TV and the directorial execution were very good. The ending scene of the first episode alone will make you want to be back for more. Love those endings for most episodes, aside from Episode 1, those of 7 and 9 will really shock you! There are things that happen that you would never predict. The fates of the characters were very unpredictable up to the very last episode. The ending of the last episode gives the series another dimension, whetting our appetite for the next season.



 

The writing may be archaic in vocabulary and construction, but yet they are crisp and witty, especially those that uttered by the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage in his Emmy-nominated role). The set design of the the throne room, the dungeons that open into cliffs, the war camps were excellent. The cinematography was sweeping when it needs to be majestic, and intimate where it was necessary to be claustrophobic. I did not know most of the actors here, but they will affect you as they portray their characters were portrayed, be it hero, villain or double-agent. Aside from Bean, Headey and Dinklage, special mention go to Michelle Fairley (as Eddard's strong wife Catelyn), Nikolaj Coaster- Waldau (as the rogue Jamie Lannister) and Jason Momoa (as the imposing Khal Drogo).

 

This show deserves its Emmy nomination for Best Drama. Definitely, I will be back to watch the second season. I hope I will also be able to read the novels by George RR Martin that inspired this sweeping epic series.


US President Bill Clinton at the Manila Hotel

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

November 10, 2010



(Photo credit:  http://jowanabueser.com/)


I was not really planning to attend this speaking engagement. We just watched the Al Gore speech earlier this year (read about that one HERE). Unlike Gore's well-known environmental agenda, I was not too clear as to what Clinton's speech would be about. However, when my cousin Jerry suddenly brought it up last week and asked me if I wanted to go with him, I just said yes anyway. I guess this is really a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear an actual American President (albeit an ex) speak live, and this is too rare to pass up.

 

I went home by lunchtime today. My cousin picked me up by about 1:30pm. There was no traffic, so we were at the side parking of the Manila Hotel in an hour. Then it started to rain, and rain very hard! We were waiting for it to subside, but it was not. So by 3pm, we decided to bring umbrellas and brave the rain to walk to the Manila Hotel Tent City, which was the venue of the event.

 

We only bought General Admission tickets (P2,000 each) which were first-come-first-served seats. Since we were early, we got to sit in the front row of the Gen Ad area, right behind the P5,000 seats. The event was supposed to start by 4pm, but I guess because of the rains and the traffic it brought, everything was delayed a bit. We whiled the time people watching.

 

There were so many politicians there. We saw Vice President Jojo Binay, Senators Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Chiz Escudero, Dick Gordon, Ernesto Maceda, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Caloocan Mayor Recom Echeverri, and Madame Imelda Marcos. Other celebrities we identified included Karen Davila, Gary Valenciano and Ms. Rosa Rosal. We would later learn that former presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were also in attendance.

 

********************

 

The program proper was opened by a representative from Manila Hotel. He introduced the moderator for the event, Ms. Maria Ressa. There were two local speakers to get the ball rolling. The first speaker was Ms. Gina Lopez. She was very engaging and inspiring as she spoke of her pet project, the very admirable Clean the Pasig River movement. She talked about management making a non-negotiable commitment to integrity and the common good. The second speaker was Ms. Chit Juan, the CEO of Figaro Coffee, Binalot and other local franchises. She spoke of small steps we can take in order to achieve big changes. She was also a very good speaker. Ms. Ressa then engaged the two ladies in an interesting Q&A session, before giving way to the main event.

 

The main speaker was introduced by a bespectacled guy named William Llamas (?). I did not get who he was, or what he represented. Mr. William Jefferson ("Bill") Clinton was met by the Filipino audience with a standing ovation when he entered the stage. He looked just like his pictures, but was visibly older already. In his introduction, he spoke of how this is his third time in Manila, all in November. First in 1994, then again in 1996. The topic of his talk was "Embracing our Common Humanity." He talked about NGOs and its vital role in helping the government solve various problems of society. The world is too unequal, unstable and unsustainable. We have to hold on with an attitude of hope and aspiration.

 

His speaking style was very relaxed and casual. But his speech was only read off his notes, and thus very dry. He was not spontaneous, as we know him. I must admit it was very hard to pay attention at all times. I won't blame anyone who actually dozed off in parts of the speech. His talk lasted for about an hour only. After he thanked the audience for listening, Ms. Ressa came back out to initiate the Open Forum.

 

Now, in the Open Forum, that was when the real Bill Clinton came out! He was brilliant and precise in his answers to Ms. Ressa's rather difficult questions.

 

1. Why does he think the Philippines could not reach the success of our neighbors?

He tells us not to compare ourselves with Singapore because it is small, not to China because it is too authoritarian. We hear about his experiences in Rwanda after the genocide. He told us about how these Rwandan people just let go of the past and were relentlessly working for the future.

 

2. What did he think of Pres. Noynoy Aquino, whom he just met before this event?

Mr. Clinton thought P-Noy was energetic and well-informed about the various topics he asked him about. He felt our President had clear ideas on where he wanted our country to go, and the energy to bring us there.

 

3. What did he learn during his term as the most powerful man on the planet?

Mr. Clinton impressed by saying that power taught him to be humble. He learned he is not as smart as he thought he was. We encouraged young politicians to read the essay "Politics as a Vocation" by Max Weber, to learn about the field they are getting into.

 

4. What was the most difficult decision he ever made as POTUS?

Mr. Clinton said that his most difficult decisions were not necessarily the unpopular ones. His decision to help Boris Yeltsin rebuild Russia was very unpopular but he knew he made the right decision then because he foresaw that it would bring about a lot of good.

 

Instead, he said, the most difficult judgments were those where the outcomes were not clear. He cited an incident about Saddam Hussein's attempt on Pres. George Bush, Sr. and how difficult it was to decide on how to deal with Iraq at that time. Or it can also be the compromising he needed to do with the US Congress in order to push his domestic reforms in education or economics.

 

 

********************

 

It was too bad that Ms. Ressa was already told to cut the sessions already after that question. These informal off-the-cuff answers were more informative and interesting than his whole prepared speech. With that, Pres. Clinton rose and waved goodbye to the audience and left the stage.


Vocal Health: Where Science Meets Art

Posted by Fred on September 18, 2012 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 July 10, 2010


Yesterday, I sat in on a very exclusive seminar workshop about the McClosky technique.   This is only the second such seminar held in the Philippines.  This was held in the St. Luke's Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City.  Only 15 participants were accommodated, with a five digit registration fee.  This seminar, entitled "Vocal Health:  Where Science Meets Art", runs from June 9-11, 2010.

The main lecturer and facilitator was Ms. Kitchie Molina.  She is presently the Chair of the Dept. of Voice and Music Theater at the UP College of Music.  Her career as a soprano spans 25 years.  She is also the first Certified McClosky Voice Technician based inthe Philippines.  She was ably supported by guest McCloskey expert from the US, Ms. Priscilla Abraham, and, for the medical aspect, Dra. Maita Feliciano.

The McClosky Technique is a system including abdominal breathing and six exercises for relaxation of the chewing and swallowing muscles of the face and throat, which tend to interfere with free voice production.   As a result of his own vocal crisis in the 1940’s, David Blair McClosky developed this simple and direct technique based on muscular efficiency and ease. 

On the first day, last June 9, there was a free introductory session in the morning about the McClosky Vocal Technique and testimonials about how it works.  In the afternoon, they started the paid sessions, learning first about "Biomechanics of Voice" and the "McCloskey Technique" in more detail, with small group personalized instruction sessions afterward.


The first lecture yesterday, June 10, was called "Song to Speech".  In this lecture, the participants learned that their speech should follow their comfortable pitch in singing.  Following the McClosky dictum, there should be good posture, good breath flow, no tongue stiffness, no glottal stops and no drops in pitch.  They joined Ms. Kitchie in singing then speaking select sentences which serve to address specific speech issues.  It starts from the simple (like "How are you today?") to the complex (like "Men and women may swim// in the warm summertime// before September storms// some upon them.") They split up into two small groups after the lecture to further practice these concepts.

The second lecture was about "Voice Hygiene", where the participants learned from Ms. Priscilla about tips on how to take care of their voices.  The main message was about "hydration, hydration, hydration."

After lunch,  the participants were brought down to the Voice Swallowing and Sinus Center where they were enthralled by seeing endosocpic images of the vocal cords of their fellow participants.  Understanding these anatomic concepts would further drive on points which may seem too vague during lectures.

The next lecture was about "Common Voice Disorders,"  where Dra. Feliciano described the various vocal cord lesions which may occur with contnued voice abuse and infection. 

The final lecture was the one I was most waiting for since I first saw the program, entitled "Broadway to Pop Singing."  Here, Ms Kitchie spoke about problems which plague singers from all genres of music.  She touched on Classical, CCM (or Contemporary Commercial Music) and Musical Theater singing styles and how the McCloskey technique can apply to all of them.  She let us listen to prime examples of good singing in each style, and analyzed each singer.  The session ended with discussions about current singers and their styles.

All in all, it was a very fruitful session, especially for the music professionals who have enrolled for this course.  I had been exposed to the McCloskey technique before, care of Ms. Kitchie as well, and have recognized the value of a relaxed vocal instrument (from the facial muscles, tongue, swallowing muscles, jaw, larynx and the neck) for improved vocal production and stamina.

On the last day of the seminar today, June 11, they will be tackling "Stages of Voice:  Children to Aging" and more practical sessions on how to pracitce the McCloskey Voice Technique. 

If you think you or your family and friends need the McClosky technique to improve your voice production, contact Ms. Kitchie Molina.  she can be contacted care of the Voice, Swallowing and Sinus Center (VSSC) of SLMC-BGC, at telephone number 789-7700, local 2055.


 

Al Gore Live in Manila

Posted by Fred on October 31, 2011 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (0)


June 8, 2010


When I first heard about this special lecture early this year, I knew I really needed to be there personally. I felt that "An Inconvenient Truth" was one of the most important documentaries ever made, and I wanted to hear it from the main man Al Gore himself what more he had to say.

 

Al Gore himself is an interesting American personality. He is a former US Vice President (and an almost ex-President) and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, he would the first of either category that I would see and hear in person, and that opportunity is too rare to miss.

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and traffic was heavy in the Intramuros area. The lecture was to start promptly at 4pm. My father and I arrived at the SMX Convention Center just in the nick of time. Despite buying the tickets back in April, I was mis-advised about the seat arrangements, so we were seated at the far end of the room. However, we had a big screen right in front of us. President GMA just arrived, and once she was settled in, the program started.

 

The program started with a group of young people singing and dancing about "Heal the World" and similar songs. I did not like it that much to be honest. The medley was done in an earnest "Glee" but the voices were not all in harmony. I thought I saw Red Concepcion there, but I am not sure.

 

SM Prime Holdings CEO Mr. Hans Sy took the stage to talk about SM Cares, its umbrella Corporate Social Response program. This Al Gore lecture is part of SM's continuous effort to raise the green consciousness of the Filipino public. It was Mr. Sy who introduced the main speaker.

 

When Al Gore took the stage, the screens did not give him the close up we saw of the singers or Mr. Sy earlier. When Mr. Gore started his now-classic lecture, up to the end, we only saw him from afar. He was never given a close-up on the screen. In fact, during the Q&A session after the lecture with Ms. Cheche Lazaro, the screen inexplicably showed nothing but the event title. The sound system on our end of the room had echoes, and it did not enhance our experience. These things took one star out of what should have been a 5-star program.

 

Mr. Gore was clearly a passionate and well-informed advocate of the environment. He was very much the same person we saw and heard in his documentary. Seeing the slides and hearing his voice live of course gave it that extra dimension. Mr. Gore included several slides about Ondoy, and mentioned the Philippines many times during his updated lecture. He cited the Philippines strides in harnessing Geothermal and Wind energy. The images and videos he showed are still as haunting and as vital as ever. He goes all around the world, and this international pictures of environmental disasters really drive the point home. It is now up to the audience to pick up the challenge where the lecture ends.

 

Ms. Cheche Lazaro was a very good interviewer at the end. I just did NOT appreciate that she had to slip in that bit about Mr. Gore's personal life (his recent separation from Mrs. Tipper Gore after 40 years of marriage) at the very end. It was awkward, gossipy and completely off-tangent to what this lecture was about. Thankfully, Mr. Gore did not let that line of questioning progress any further.

 

This video of part of the Q&A session about his views on Population.: VIDEO .

 

A second video about assumptions of past experiences is posted here: VIDEO


Glee

Posted by Fred on October 5, 2011 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)



January 3, 2010


I don't really follow current TV shows anymore in the past few years. Well, except for American Idol. I had heard about this show "Glee" a few months ago. This is especially because it consistently placed new songs (covers of classic or current pop hits) into the Billboard Hot 100, which I blog about. I am also interested because of my own memorable experiences with singing groups. I never really found out when its local schedule is, so I never got to watch a single episode. Anyway, thanks to alternative means, I was finally able to watch "Glee" this Christmas break.

 

"Glee" is basically an extended version of "High School Musical" crossed with any of the current teenage angst shows. The show follows the teacher Mr. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and his motley glee club, as well as his relations with his wife and co-teachers. It tackles marriage, teenage pregnancy, gay, and race issues in a darkly comic way. Its use of voice-overs and imagery to convey thoughts is reminiscent of "Ally Mc Beal".

 

The song numbers are hit and miss. Not everything is memorable. But when it hits, they're brilliant. My personal favorite group number was their take on Queen's "Somebody to Love". I do not like it too much when they choose songs that are obviously dripping with sentimentality like "Stand By Me", "Endless Love" or "Imagine". There are some awkwardly impossible song numbers. Dancing Beyonce's "Single Ladies" in a football game? Come on!

 

I do not really like that there re so many solo spot numbers, especially for their stars Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith). In fact, my favorite spot numbers does not feature them. These are "Sweet Caroline" sung by Puck (Mark Salling) and "True Colors" sung by Tina (Jenna Ushkovitz). Mr. Schuester's "Bust A Move" also showcases a lot of his killer dance moves.

 

I am only up to the 10th episode now. And yes, I think I will keep on watching to see what happens with the characters, especially Mr. Schuester's manipulative wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) and his nasty school nemesis cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). I also hope the other members of the glee club can get their solo numbers as well, and shine.


BridgeClimb (Sydney)

Posted by Fred on October 5, 2011 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

October 25, 2009



On our third and final whole day in Sydney, our group was scheduled to go shopping at clothing outlet stores.  Early on, I knew I would not be joining such an activity.  I had a more exciting plan in mind, something I could only do in Sydney, and nowhere else -- theBridgeclimb.

 

Honestly, I almost backed out because of the exorbitant cost.  I found out that a daytime climb on a Sunday would cost me AU$199 for a 3 and a half hour climb. This cost will include already 1 complimentary group picture. Any extra photograph you order would set you back some more.

 

However, when I went to the Bridgeclimb headquarters on Cumberland St. near the Rocks that Sunday Oct. 18, 2009, I gave in to my whim, gave the clerk my credit card and booked myself a1:15pm climb.  I was a bit apprehensive about the weather, because it was raining that morning.  But by that lunchtime, the sun was already peeking through the clouds.


 


Our group had 12 climbers (maximum is 14 per group).  We were first asked to do a breathalizer test (to see if anyone is drunk) before changing into our climbing outfit. Our guide was Millie, who was quite charming and friendly. We were then assisted to put on our climb paraphernalia and oriented on a climbing simulator. All of this preparatory steps took up already one hour. Only after these were we led out to climb the bridge.

 

My first few minutes on the old part of the bridge in the second level was a bit scary because of the shakiness of the plank we were walking on. The air was also quite felt drafty.  However, once we climbed upward and got out into the sunshine on the outer edge of the bridge itself, I felt absolutely confident and safe, despite the sheer height and the gustiness of the wind. The climb itself was not difficult at all.  The sun was very much out that afternoon, the skies were so blue.  In short, the weather up there was great!

 

Over the next two hours, we climbed the almost 500 steps on one side to the midpoint, then crossed over the road on the very top to the other side, then climbed back down to where we started.  We had periodic stops on various parts of the bridge when the guide would point out the various sights of Sydney and tell stories about them. The breathtaking views from this unique vantage point were definitely unmatched.  We were not allowed to bring cameras, so our guide would be taking pictures of us at certain points. Of course, these are pictures we will have to decide to buy later on.

I definitely did not regret going for this exhilarating experience at all.  In total contrast with the very cultural day I had the day before, this adventure on the bridge took me to the other extreme.   OK, so enough of the words.  Here are my treasured pictures on the bridge:

 

Initial approach going up.


Our 1:15 pm group photo with the Sydney Opera House behind us.


Right smack in the top and middle of the entire Sydney Harbor Bridge, taken while crossing to the other side.

 

On the way down, with the Sydney skyline behind me. 

 

 


I CLIMBED IT!


Monopoly Junior

Posted by Fred on March 11, 2011 at 10:53 AM Comments comments (0)


January 2, 2008


My daughter Haley got this very entertaining gift from her Ninang Marilyn Callano. Monopoly Junior is a great introduction for kids to the world of money and business. It is recommended for children ages 5 to 8. 2 - 4 players can play. The object of the game is of course to wind up with the most money, when another player runs out of cash. Instead of real estate, this game involves setting up ticket booths on various Fun Fair Amusement Attractions and getting to charge people who land on their rides.


The kids enjoy it very much, yes even 4 year old Hyker, since it is basically a game of luck, and there is not much critical thinking involved yet. But they learn how to count money, addition, subtraction and giving change. To make it easier for the kids, dollar values involved are only from 1 to 5 dollars (not the hundreds and thousands we are used to in the traditional Monopoly we know). Haley and Haydn easily understood that if you get both properties of the same color, it is a monopoly, and you can charge double for those.


It is fun even for adults like me as we accumulate money from our properties, and count our totals at the end. Parents should also exercise tact and guidance to the introduction of the concept of bankruptcy to the inevitable player who will run out of money though.


Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai 2007

Posted by Fred on March 11, 2011 at 10:06 AM Comments comments (0)


November 13, 2007


This is the very first time I am watching a serious tennis match with famous players, and I was really all psyched up and excited. This was only the second day of competition. The singles games for today were: Nikolai Davydenko (4) vs. Andy Roddick (5) at 5pm, and Roger Federer (1) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (7) at 730pm. What an all-star line-up for me today! The first day already saw the Spaniards Rafael Nadal (2) and David Ferrer (6) winning over Richard Gasquet (8 ) and Novak Djokovich (3).

 

When I entered the complex, I took my time taking pictures of the beautiful complex. Outside the stadium they had statues of the 8 participating players made as if they were the famed terra cotta warriors! I also looked around in the exhibition area. They even had a "Crazy Fans" booth where they would paint various flags on your face. I wanted to have a flag painted, but did not. I really should have went for it since this was a once in a lifetime chance. Rats!

 

When I went in the courts themselves, they were already playing the last point of the first doubles match. The pair of Knowles and Nestor won. I think they are the top seeds here, since the world #1 Bryan brothers were not able to make it.

 

By 5 pm, the court lights were dimmed and the players were introduced ala wrestlers, complete with smoke at the entrances! Haha! Roddick and Davydenko were as contrasted a pair of players as they would have it. Andy Roddick was very charsimatic, and exuded an aggressive "bad boy" attitude. He was an excitable and exciting player, hot-headed too (he hurled his racket onto the court after losing a major point). On the other hand, Nikolai Davydenko is very quiet, languid and laidback, and projected practically zero personality at all, as may not be expected for a Top 5 player. The crowd really went for Roddick all the way in this game, which he won after a hard-fought 3 setter. Official Result: (5)A Roddick (USA) d (4)N Davydenko (RUS) 63 46 62

 


The next game started promptly on time at 7:30 pm. Fernando Gonzalez was clearly the more obscure player there. At first only a rabid group of Chilean expats was cheering for him. However, the rest of the crowd went wild with the introduction and entrance of the World's #1 Roger Federer! The first set was all Federer. It was very exciting to see him execute his signature elegant backhand slices and forehand winners in the flesh! As cool and collected a player as you see him on TV. I honestly thought this would be a walkover.

 


In the very thrilling second set however, Gonzalez held his ground, forced a tiebreak and won it convincingly. The Chilean fans was all agog with their lusty cheers of "Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le!" After which a group of Spaniards elsewhere in the stadium would respond with an "Ole!" Very funny to see these audience antics. Hahaha!

 

The third set began at 9pm already. That was the time I had agreed to meet with the driver at the gate. I texted to let me watch a bit more, 30 more minutes. The third set turned out to be very tight as well, no player was giving up a game. Unfortunately, by 930, I knew I really had to go, or else I might be late for my flight. So I grudgingly left the court at the height of the excitement, met the driver at the gate and just listened to the radio coverage enroute to the airport. It turned out to be another cliffhanger, as the match again went into a tiebreak situation. At the end, it was Gonzalez who was victorious! When the game ended, the clock in the car read 950pm. Official Result: (7)F Gonzalez (CHI) d (1)R Federer (SUI) 36 76(1) 75

 

Ironically, when I reached the airport, the Cebu Pacific desk was not yet open and the people were all there waiting in the long lines. Dang! On retrospect, I believe I could have just stayed and finished the game, and still make it here in time. Anyway, how would I have known that things would turn out this way. Too bad, but that's life, I guess. But all in all, this tennis experience was a totally different kind of high and unforgettable. I never dreamed that I could get the opportunity to see these top players in action LIVE! After years of just watching Grand slam matches on TV, now here they are playing right in front of me. Wow! I still can't believe it!