Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Book Review: The Last Lecture

Have you ever been attracted to books that inspire you? Has there ever been a book that changed the way you looked at life? To me, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch was a book that was like that for me.

It all started with a video I found on YouTube from Carnegie Mellon University back in 2007. I think what attracted me most about the video was the topic: “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” As someone who thinks that her current job is not her childhood dream, the lecture was something that I felt compelled to watch. 

The Last Lecture
The Last Lecture being streamed from my TV via YouTube. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Take on Crispy Cheese and Bacon Potatoes

One thing that you should know about me first before reading this post is that I am the type of cook that depends on a recipe book. If there is no cookbook or recipe to follow, I cannot do it. I don’t know if it’s because I tend to be obsessive-compulsive about following a set of directions or if it was because I was brought up taking cooking lessons that followed cookbooks, but I just cannot do these things on the fly. I need a set of directions to follow or I will surely fail.

I’ve always wanted to cook and the only time I’ve ever had the chance to was over the holidays. With the family together and willing to be my taste testers, I finally had the chance to try out some of the easy recipes that I’ve saved from Pinterest.

Crispy Cheese & Bacon Potatoes - Clare Henney Version


Friday, December 18, 2020

Netflix Picks: The Originals

 Always and Forever.

Back in the day, I was a fan of the TV series The Originals, which is a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries. The Mikaelson Family was introduced in the show as the first family of vampires, the original vampires from whom all vampires were sired. The actors who played the Mikaelsons were such a hit that they were given their own spin-off show, which lasted for five seasons.

While I did watch The Vampire Diaries from time to time, it was only when the originals were introduced that I became interested in the show, which was why I was excited when the spin-off was made. Sadly, while the show did last for five seasons, the show that was launched as a result of this one, Legacies, was not as good as I expected it to be.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

My Piano-Playing Childhood

Do any one of you know how to play a musical instrument?

When I was younger, I remember that almost everyone in my class was taking music lessons on the side. At the time, I think that the best music lessons for kids involved either voice lessons or playing the piano because that’s what most of us did. Since my father usually took care of the voice part for the family, they sent me to piano lessons. Conveniently enough, the grade school I went to offered those lessons after regular school hours so the time between the end of class and the time before I had to go home was spent in a tiny room with a teacher and a piano, with each room adjacent to another one that had yet another student, a teacher and a piano in it. I don’t know how many we were who took lessons at the same time but suffice to say we were enough to come up with a full morning recital at the end of the year.

It’s been a while since I played the piano but when I was younger I used to be very interested in it. I’ve seen photos of myself playing (OK, maybe just banging) the piano when I was a toddler. I was that young when I first became interested in playing. My father was always a musical person who loved to sing and play the piano…maybe I got that interest from him.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Cancelled Too Soon

It is December and it has been more than 9 months since the pandemic started. One of the industries that have been affected by the pandemic has been the entertainment industry. Just this year alone so many TV shows have been canceled not just for rating reasons but also for the fact that many productions are struggling to keep shows on while following the safety guidelines/protocols that are needed to stay safe during the pandemic. TV shows cost a lot to produce, and spending more on safety precautions makes it more difficult for struggling shows to continue, which is too bad since some of the shows that have been canceled have been my favorites this year.

Two of the shows that were canceled this year only lasted one season. I think that if circumstances were different, these shows would have been given another chance but given how things are, they are now over. It is too bad since I was looking forward to seeing more of these shows but now, I will be left wondering what would have happened next.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Review: Folklore The Long Pond Studio Sessions

By this time, I think everyone has heard of or listened to Taylor Swift’s album Folklore, and everyone has started listening to its sister-album Evermore. I plan on writing a review of Evermore soon, but it’s too early to say which songs are my favorites and why so I think this is the best time for me to share what I thought of her Disney+ special called Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.

It was funny when I read that someone had said that the special was just “Taylor Swift singing in a barn.” Funny because it was true, but funny because if you dismiss it as being just that, you miss out on the bits and pieces that she shares about the creative process that she had undergone writing the album. As a fan and as someone who thoroughly enjoyed her album, it was interesting to know how each of the songs came about and how the writing and the music were developed. 


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Book Review: Timeless Christmas

After watching several movies with the holiday theme, I thought it was time to read a holiday-themed romance next. I found the book A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton on Amazon and decided that this time-travel Christmas romance would be the best one to try.

The story is about inventor Charles, who buys a clock that somehow takes him to the future. He discovers that according to history, he suddenly disappeared from his home and that his property has since become a museum and tourist attraction. With the help of Megan and the rest of the people who work in the museum, Charles tries to navigate his way around his modern surroundings as he searches for a way to return to his own time.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Netflix Picks: Jingle Jangle

After enjoying Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, I decided to watch another movie musical that has the holiday theme. This time, I watched Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.

The movie is about the inventor Jeronicus Jangle, who is a famous inventor and toymaker who has come up with his latest invention which he believes will set him and his family up for life. Unfortunately, this invention was stolen by his apprentice Gustafson, who also takes with him Jangle’s book of ideas.  


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

My Attempt at a No-Bake Cheesecake

I tried my hand at cooking recently, with several recipes that I found online that would qualify as easy. However, it turns out that what I think is an easy no-bake recipe turns out to be more challenging than the video demo shows it will be. Their video made it look so simple and easy, I thought an inexperienced cook like me could do it!

I found the recipe on Yummy Magazine’s website. I was looking for easy no-bake recipes for desserts and found this. It said that their No Bake Oreo Cheesecake was “quick and easy” so I thought, why not give it a shot? It can’t be too hard! Or could it?

Monday, December 7, 2020

Netflix Picks: Christmas on the Square

As part of my commitment to see as many holiday-themed movies as possible, I decided to watch the movie musical from Netflix called Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. Featuring (and produced by) Dolly Parton herself, this movie has the typical Christmas Scrooge-type character (played with class and perfection by Christine Baranski), one who gets divine intervention from her guardian angels leading to a happy ending for everyone in the movie. 


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Netflix Picks: Princess Switch - Switched Again

What’s better than two versions of Vanessa Hudgens in a Christmas movie? Apparently, if you ask Netflix, the answer would be to have three. Their latest movie, a sequel to Princess Switch, has Vanessa Hudgens playing triple duty as Princess Stacy, Lady Margaret, and Fiona in Princess Switch: Switched Again.

The movie starts where the last one left off: Stacy is now married to Edward and has become Princess of Belgravia. They are off to Montenaro to attend the coronation of Margaret as Queen. It turns out that the King had passed away and with the heir abdicating, she was next in line. This led her to break up with Kevin, who she invited to coronation anyway.

Stacy, who believes her best friend Kevin and Margaret were meant for each other, tries to convince them both to spend time together to be able to talk about their feelings before the coronation. She proposes that they switch again so that Stacy can take care of Margaret’s royal duties while Margaret has the time she needs with Kevin.

The only problem with this switch is that Fiona, Margaret’s cousin and another doppelganger, has other plans. With the intent of getting crowned as Queen so she can steal money from the kingdom and run away to a country without extradition, she executes a switch with Stacy, who was pretending to be Margaret at the time. By the time she realizes that something has gone wrong with her plan, it was too late so she instead tries to get crowned right away with the help of Margaret’s conniving Chief of Staff Antonio.

Being a Christmas movie I think we all know what to expect from this in the end. All the characters get their happily-ever-after, with a surprise cameo from King Richard and Queen Amber of the Christmas Prince movies at the end, confirming fan speculation that all the Netflix holiday movies are in one cinematic universe — that means there are not just three versions of Vanessa Hudgens in this universe, but four (she also played Brooke in The Knight Before Christmas). I guess Netflix loves Vanessa Hudgens a lot then!

The first movie was more about the romance between the two lead couples, this second film, while it did have the romantic element, was more about their misadventures after having another switch. I can’t imagine how difficult and confusing this must be to film (and edit) since there are three versions of Vanessa. The person in charge of continuity for this one needs a bonus for doing such a good job! Usually, when I watch films or shows with one actor playing multiple characters you find inconsistencies in their scenes together. I did not find one (none that was easily noticeable anyway) in this movie.

It must be exhausting for Vanessa Hudgens to play all three roles since they all have different personalities (and accents). I would be so confused about who I am playing if I were in her place, especially during scenes where she was pretending to be someone who was also pretending to be someone else!

I already thought in the first movie that her leading men were a bit boring, but at least with this movie not being that much about the romance element, it did not matter. Vanessa had better chemistry with her leading man in A Knight Before Christmas (Josh Whitehouse) but to his credit, I did like Edward better in this one, although I can’t really pinpoint why.

Recommending this might be a bit of a stretch. I'd say watch at your own risk since it can be a bit slow-paced and slightly boring (I wanted to speed it up at several points to pick up the pace). While this movie is not the best holiday movie out there, Princess Switch: Switched Again was still entertaining with its equal parts of feel-good, romantic, cheeky, and funny sides. But if you have something better to do, maybe go do that instead. 


Friday, December 4, 2020

Movie Throwback: Finding Forrester

2020 has been a dark year. The pandemic has meant the loss of the lives of so many, be it from the pandemic or other health causes. One death that saddened me this year is the recent passing of the original James Bond, Sean Connery. I have not seen a single Bond film that he starred in, but I was a fan of his other movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the film of his that I enjoyed the most, Finding Forrester.

In the movie, Connery plays writer William Forrester, who became a recluse after writing his first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He is befriended by a young man named Jamal (played by Rob Brown), who had been offered a scholarship to a private school for his high test scores and talent for basketball. What started as a dare between friends to check out the neighborhood recluse who never leaves his apartment becomes a friendship and a sort of mentorship between the two men.

Jamal, who learned that William was a renowned writer, promised to keep their friendship a secret in return for help with his writing, The friendship develops to the point that when Jamal invites William to a basketball game the latter ventures out of his apartment. It does not go well, and he ends up back to being a recluse in his apartment.

Later, Jamal’s professor accuses him of plagiarism. He could not believe that Jamal could write as well as he did and how his skills have improved in that time. When Jamal enters an essay competition at school using one of the writing exercises he did with William, his professor uses this to accuse him further because he used an article written by William as the basis. To make his essay valid, Jamal would have to prove that William permitted him to use the article. But, a promise is a promise and Jamal refuses to reveal his friendship with William. He also refuses to write the letter of apology that the school is demanding of him. He asks William for help but since he is still having anxiety from when they previously left the house together, he refused.

The school tries to blackmail Jamal by ensuring that he would not be charged with plagiarism if he makes sure that they win their basketball game, but Jamal decides to take a stand and throws the game. Moved by what he has done, William goes to Jamal’s school during their essay contest and asks to read an essay, to which of course the school authorities say yes. He gets praised for the piece that he read as he admits to being Jamal’s friend and allowing use of the article for his essay. Jamal’s professor says that would not make the case against him go away, but the school authorities overrule him after learning that the much-praised piece that William had read was written by Jamal himself.

What I loved about this movie was how moving the friendship was between William and Jamal. The mentorship was unusual at first given the circumstances but it was a good relationship that helped both characters improve. William eventually got over his anxiety of leaving the apartment and Jamal was able to believe in himself enough to make a better life for himself. Sean Connery was so good as the reclusive and anxiety-ridden William, I was so happy when I saw him on a bike outside at the end of the film because I felt so much for his character and the life he trapped himself in. It was heartbreaking when it was revealed that he passed away at the end of the movie, but moving that he left everything to Jamal when he did.

This movie will always be one of my favorites, something that I would love to watch again if given the opportunity. It would be nice if more people got to see it and appreciate how good it is.

Have any of you seen this movie? Leave a comment or tag me on social media about what you think of it!


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Netflix Picks: Dash & Lily

It was the trailer that got to me. I discovered Dash & Lily while scrolling social media and the premise of this show had me hooked! I went looking for it on Netflix on the date that they said it would be coming out and watched it on the same day!

As excited as I was about watching it, I was disappointed to discover that Dash & Lily was a series and not the movie that I had expected. Fortunately, the show was only made up of eight episodes of less than thirty minutes each, so I managed to finish the entire thing in one sitting. It was still a significant amount of binge-watching time, but the episodes were entertaining enough that I did not notice the time.

A Christmas rom-com, the series is based on Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. One of the executive producers of the show is Nick Jonas, who does a cameo with his brothers near the end of the series. The series starts with Dash discovering a red book that dares him to do something he never would have done otherwise. From there it becomes a sort of scavenger hunt of dares between Dash and Lily that push both beyond their comfort zones, learning about themselves and each other in the process.

There were so many things that I loved about this series. I loved that the female lead is Asian, something that I am glad to see is becoming a thing now, with Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I Loved Before having Asian female leads. I loved that the series featured new actors — not that they are newbies per se, but that they are not that established yet. That meant I would not be watching a celebrity play a role but I would see the character the actor is playing. The leads also have, oddly enough, good chemistry with each other even if they are hardly in any scenes together. The “kilig” is there even if they only end up face to face near the end of the series. I love how charming both the leads were, I'd love to see them in other movies in the future.

I enjoyed how this romance developed. Because the two characters did not know each other and had not seen each other before exchanging messages in the red book, they both let down their guard and said what was on their mind. I think the fact that they were unguarded and there were no pretenses was the reason why they had such witty banter in the book. It was this honesty between them that made them connect and I liked that. Now I know in this day and age of catfishing this is not exactly a safe way to meet someone, but I’d like to think that their story is the exception to the rule.

There were a lot of supporting characters from this series, but I think my favorite is Lily’s aunt, who she is named after. She seems to be living in a more glamorous home compared to the rest of the family and she seems to be estranged from everyone else for some reason but it was not explained fully in the show. I would be happy to see a show that was about her younger years and how she came to have the life that she was living at the time of the show. She just seems to be too interesting to be relegated to such a small role.

Even if the show was about a couple of high school kids finding love over the holidays, it was still a show that I enjoyed watching. It was a feel-good show that is perfect for the season. In this age where social media and self-image seems to be so important to today’s youth, watching two young people fall in love without the influence of that was refreshing to see. If you have the time, this is something worth watching.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Netflix Picks: Operation Christmas Drop

It’s December! Can you believe it? Time might feel like it is going too slow because of the pandemic but it has also breezed past us — 2020 will soon be over! With Christmas just weeks away, I have taken to watching movies and TV shows with the holiday theme. Books with the Christmas setting have been on my list as well. First, up for me was the Netflix movie Operation Christmas Drop.

The movie stars Vampire Diaries alum Kat Graham and Vikings star Alexander Ludwig and is inspired by the real-life humanitarian mission of the same name that the US Air Force has been operating since 1952. For the movie, Ludwig’s character Captain Andrew Jantz is the man who has made it his pet project, and Graham is the congressional aide named Erica who is sent to inspect the activity as part of a study which will select which air force bases would need to be shut down. All this is happening right before Christmas, just when preparations for the drop is in full swing.

The two lead characters clash at first, with Andrew trying to keep Erica away from the project because he is worried about how she may report negatively to her superior, Congresswoman Bradford (played by Virginia Madsen). Eventually, however, as he shows her around and she learns about the situation and the people that benefit from the project, Erica has a change of heart not only about the Christmas Drop but about Andrew as well.

I did not think that the pairing of Alexander Ludwig and Kat Graham would work — he seems like such a huge guy and she is this tiny woman, but they both managed to have this chemistry that worked. Ludwig comes off as this teddy bear of a guy, someone who is huge and tough but with an equally big heart. As small as she was compared to her partner, Graham projected a strong character — a go-getter who made things happen.

As expected, this movie had a happy-ever-after ending. Congresswoman Bradford, who initially decided to close down the base due to the “expenses” of the Christmas Drop, saw for herself how it was operated and had a change of heart. Erica and Andrew then got to spend Christmas together, the potential of their new romance shown with a kiss being the last scene in the movie.

This movie is not your typical Christmas romance film. For one thing, it had a location that did not have snow as it was in Guam. Most (if not all) of the holiday movies I’ve seen have been in snowy settings, so this was a refreshing one to see. I also loved learning about the Christmas Drop project. After learning that it was a real thing during the end credits, I looked it up and was amazed by how long it has been going on and what it contributes to the community. As in the film, it is classified as a training project to help the air force train for similar drops over areas such as Iraq or Afghanistan. The movie says that they work with other countries on this and I was surprised to discover when I searched for more information online that our very own Philippine Air Force participated in this in December 2017 ( which was not mentioned in the movie, by the way).

If you want to watch a feel-good Christmas movie, Operation Christmas Drop may be a good thing to see.  With this year when we have all gone through so much (with some going through much worse than others), the movie's drive to be charitable during the holidays may rub off on you when you see this!

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