What’s Making Me Happy This Week?: Picross Luna

With Malacañang allowing two Chinese firms previously blacklisted for corruption by the World Bank to be involved in Marawi’s rehabilitation, ICE losing almost 1,500 undocumented children they’ve forcibly removed from parents awaiting asylum hearings, & that disastrous interview with the cast of Arrested Development, it hasn’t been a great week. But that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the bright side. If Ireland was able to repeal its abortion ban, then maybe things aren’t as bad they seem. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.

I love playing Picross. If you don’t know what it is, you are either in for a treat or trouble. Also known as Nonograms or Griddlers, it’s a puzzle where you have to fill in the correct cells on a grid based on the numbers on the side of the grid, which would reveal a picture. The mechanics are simple, but it’s fun, addictive & engrossing. I could play it for hours, even if it can get frustrating & complicated.

I still have fond memories playing Picross DS on the Nintendo DS I share with my cousin back when I was in college. It was the first time I tried it & I was immediately sucked in thanks to its simple mechanics & interface. My favorite iteration was Picross 3D, which was essentially Picross with a cube. These two games are perfect for handheld’s then-unique touchscreen controls, & the fact that you can play them anywhere & anytime is a huge plus.

I didn’t get to play Picross again after my Nintendo DS broke thanks to its faulty hinge. I never sought it out afterwards, because it came at a time where my interest to play video games dropped. But when Polygon published a video enumerating the best free Picross games a few days ago, & oh boy did it reignite one of my forgotten passions.

There are a bunch of free Picross games cited in the video above, depending on how familiar you are with the game & where you plan to play it. I chose Picross Luna, a free mobile Picross game that has a story about a cursed moon keeper. You advance the story by solving each puzzle inside a huge 10 x 10 grid that reveals a bigger picture. I still haven’t gotten that far with the story mode, since it takes a very long time to complete a bigger image. There are also normal puzzles you can solve, which is great for those who want to feel that buzz of accomplishment sooner in their heads. It’s wrapped in a beautiful, soothing aesthetic, filled with cooler colors & calm, ambient music that ensures you’ll rarely get stressed; even as the difficulty increases. That effect does get ruined by the ads that quickly play after you solve a puzzle, but it’s a small caveat for what is essentially a free game.

If you are interested in playing Picross on your smartphone, you should only play Picross Luna if you are familiar with the basics. It doesn’t have a great tutorial, so beginners can get lost easy. I highly recommend checking out the other Picross games in the video to find out what suits you.

I’m so glad I watched that Polygon video. It reminded me of one of my favorite pastimes that I somehow lost interest in. I don’t see that happening again soon, especially since now that I have it on my phone, I can play it at my own convenience. I will definitely lose some sleep thanks to this game, but it will be worth it, especially once I unlock those big pictures.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week?: Love, Simon

With Baste Duterte & Bong Go riding a jetski in the uncontested Benham Rise, President Duterte proclaiming he wouldn’t hire a politician or a woman as his next Chief Justice, & the fact that there are more teachers or students killed by guns than active-duty military deaths this 2018 in America thanks to another school shooting, it hasn’t been a great week. But that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the bright side, because it is the only way to keep me sane. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.

I saw two pieces of entertainment that made me so happy it made me forget we live in a miserable wasteland – one of which is seeing Changing Partners on the stage – but let’s focus on Simon for now.

Simon, as he mentions early in the film, lives a normal life. He has a loving, supportive family & a group of best friends he hangs out with. He doesn’t get into trouble nor is he failing in class.

But what many people don’t know is he’s gay, and he has no plans of coming out any time soon.

Everything changes when someone at his school shared an anonymous online confession with the pseudonym “Blue” revealed that he’s gay. He decided to contact him in order to meet someone who shares his ordeal. Soon enough they’re both sharing their dreams, anxieties, & intimate thoughts. He finally found someone whom he can show his true self.

But his lifeline is in danger when Martin, his oblivious classmate, accidentally read these emails & used it to blackmail Simon, so he can become closer to Abby, one of Simon’s best friends. Simon is left scrambling as he tries to turn Martin & Abby into a couple while hoping Martin wouldn’t reveal his true identity & ensuring his correspondence with “Blue” never ends.

Adapted from the young adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon is a sweet high school romantic comedy that just happens to focus on a closeted gay kid. It’s keenly aware how important the act of coming out is for closeted non-cishet folks & what the consequences are for revealing their true identities, while maintaining a funny, sentinmental vibe with its sharp zingers & cringe-inducing moments.

And yet, what stands out about it the most is how typical & inoffensive it feels, even though it focuses on queerness. We still live in a world where members of LGBTQA+ community are discriminated, abused, or even killed just for existing. The fact that a major Hollywood studio decided to release it worldwide turns the movie’s normalcy into a transgressive act. Hopefully a day will come where a movie like this isn’t subversive anymore, but for now, let’s hope that those who haven’t came out yet have seen it, and give them the courage to reveal who they really are; or at the very least gave them the comfort that everything will work out if they did.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week?: Jane the Virgin’s Game-Changing Season 4 Finale

After the historic peace summit between North & South Korea that could potentially end its decades-long war, it’s been an amazing week that gave me hope about this wretched world we live in. But that’s not the only wonderful thing that gave me joy this week. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.

Jane the Virgin always had a tricky balance to maintain, & almost every time it lands on its feet effortlessly. It shows the complicated lives of an intergenerational Latino family through the framework of a ludicrous telenovela, often with a self-aware grin in its face. On the surface, it may look like an uneasy compromise between two distinct tones, but it’s a smart way of adapting its source material into a different format, without losing its emotional potency nor its cultural roots; the show is adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela & the genre has deep Latin roots. The grounded aspects of the show allow to tell small-scale stories about families or tackle serious issues concerning class, sex, gender, & religion, while its usage of telenovela tropes heighten these stories in exciting, unpredictable ways without getting lost in the ridiculous plot.

And as it demonstrated during its Season 4 finale, this show still knows how to use one of the classic trademarks of a telenovela without ruining the whole show: the “classic Friday night cliffhanger.” The show has always relished in dropping huge revelations at the end of every episode, as is the norm, & this might be the biggest twist yet. Not only does it return to one of its main conflicts, it upends the show’s status quo that puts it in an exciting path once it returns this fall.

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, there are spoilers for the Season 4 finale of Jane the Virgin.

You can always bookmark this post & return to it later.

If you haven’t seen a single episode of the show, now would be a great time to catch up.

This post will be here waiting for you.

jane-the-virgin-season-4-photos-316

This episode is already busy in typical Jane the Virgin fashion, but in an episode that revolves & is full of surprises – which includes Petra revealing she killed Anezka, Alba marrying Jorge, JR shooting Petra’s killer – they reveal that Michael has been alive this whole time!

If any other show pulled off this trick, it would seem like a cynical, calculated way to extend the show & a cruel trick to play at the audience; especially after we’ve seen Jane grieve Michael’s death for a season and a half.

But for four seasons, Jane the Virgin has proven it knows how to handle its ludicrous twists & turns without sacrificing character depth. After all, the show started with an accidental insemination of a young, Catholic virgin & the show got even more unbelievable as it went on. There have been kidnappings, scheming mothers, mysterious deaths, conspiracies, secret twins & so much more, but the show is always careful to examine how these shenanigans affect the vast ensemble.

jane-the-virgin-season-4-photos-514

It’s also one of the most tightly plotted shows in American television. It has foreshadowed this twist during throughout the fourth season without revealing its hand too early. Michael has often come up during the latter half of the season, & the show has dropped a few hints about where the show is headed for the next season, even using Rogelio’s quest to adapt Passions of Santos to American audiences; a character coming back from the dead is a classic telenovela trope that the show-within-a-show has used before, and it would be a shame for the show not to use it.

With the show supposedly ending after the fifth season, it’s a clever way for the show – as Jane herself noted – to return to the beginning. The love triangle between Jane, Rafael, & Michael has been one of the show’s main conflict generators, but this clearly will not be a rehash of their old dynamic. In Jane the Virgin, nothing stays the same for so long. Jane has finally opened her heart to the world after Michael’s death & Rafael is in a healthier place compared to where he was before, which opened up the possibility of romance between the two. Reviving Michael jeopardizes that, & it puts Jane at the center of an eternal question that’s bother: would you return to your past love or embrace the one right in front of you? Except this time, the former is someone who’s been mistakenly thought of as dead for 3 years.

Obviously, this won’t be resolved soon & the show will have a lot of fun untangling this bombshell without straying away from what made it great. I’m excited to find out where this will all end up, but the show’s unique blend ensures it’s going to be an entertaining, poignant ride.

jane-the-virgin-season-4-photos-126

What’s Making Me Happy This Week?: I’m Drunk, I Love You & The Success of #SaveIDILY

With Leila de Lima’s questionable arrest & news outlets like CNN, New York Times, & The Guardian blocked from accessing a White House press briefing, it hasn’t been a great week. But that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the bright side, because it is the only way to keep me sane. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.

I can say without any doubt that Filipino independent cinema has made a space for itself in our cinematic ecosystem.

This is all thanks to Filipino indies gaining critical acclaim here & abroad, multiple film festivals acting as grant-giving bodies for many independent filmmakers which are shown in certain malls in the country, & a small but growing audience actively seeking them, helping create positive word-of-mouth. Pop-up screenings, legal streaming sites like iflix & Hooq, & alternative venues like Cinema ’76 Film Society & cinematheques by the Film Development Council of the Philipines, a government agency focused on the growth & propagation of Filipino cinema, continue to show the breadth of our indie scene. Few independent movies even become influential blockbuster hits like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank), That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Fate) – which kickstarted the whole hugot & heartbreak trend – & Heneral Luna. Mainstream Filipino studios are even hiring indie directors for their movie projects. Even with all the controversy that erupted in Metro Manila Film Festival 2016, majority of the films in the lineup were independently produced.

We even had two of Lav Diaz’s movies secure distribution in our malls thanks to Star Cinema, one of which is a treatise on the Filipino psyche – mixing Filipino myths, history, & Jose Rizal’s literature – done in his usual slow, spare style of filmmaking that runs for 8 hours & 5 minutes long with majority of its screenings selling out. That is something you don’t see everyday.

Yet that space is always threatened.

Just look at what happened with I’m Drunk, I Love You. It was screened in more than 60 cinemas nationwide on its first day. By the end of the first week, it was down to 10 theaters in the whole country.

To be honest, this movie is lucky compared to the others. Indies would be lucky to survive in a single theater for a week. Malls are eager to remove them from their lineup that if they don’t earn enough money, they will not hesitate to remove it on its second day; making it nearly impossible to create word-of-mouth. While we do have alternative venues for indies, they’re not as widespread or easily accessible for everyone, especially if you live outside Metro Manila. And not all campaigns to stop indie movies from being pulled out of theaters have worked out. Just look at #SavePatintero & #SaveSBQ.

But it was frustrating to see this happen to I’m Drunk I Love You. It also had the potential to break out in to the mainstream, because it was a story about a woman forced to deal with her feelings for her best friend now that they’re about to graduate. It’s a great movie that captures the vulnerability in its title with the help of an outstanding performance from Maja Salvador & an amazing soundtrack. It was even pulled out of malls where it was performing decently in malls like Glorietta, which is probably caused by old-fashioned practices. Positive raves from critics & audiences are starting to pour in from social media, which can help lure people into watching it.

Thus #SaveIDILY was born. Outrage & disappointment poured throughout social media from people hoping to see the film, people who want it to survive a little longer, & the stars of the movie themselves.

And that gambit worked. Last Friday, on its tenth day in theaters, the movie was screening on more than 70 cinemas & continued to have sold-out screenings throughout the weekend.

This was a step in the right direction. People made their voices were heard & rallied around a small-scale Pinoy indie, proving detractors wrong about its marketability & a slap in the face of mall owners & mainstream producers who continue to undermine its existence. Every success emboldens indie producers to bring their work to a bigger audience, which diversifies the kind of movies shown in our theaters. That’s how we got at this point: the commercial & critical successes of Pinoy indie movies planted a seed that continues to bloom to this day. That’s not even counting the controversies like how Honor Thy Father’s disqualification for Best Picture on MMFF 2015 was part of the reason we got a reformed yet still contentious Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) last year.

There are still lots of systemic problems needed to be solved in order for Pinoy indie movies to continue to flourish & the theaters showing I’m Drunk, I Love You just dropped to 20 cinemas thanks to Logan. But for now, let’s savor the fact that a well-deserved indie movie got to stay a little bit longer in theaters & continue to grow its audience. So what if it lost a lot of theaters? We can just bring it back! We’ve done it before & we can do it again.