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Felix the Human: A ‘Felix Manalo’ Movie Review

Question:

What is the title of the film that’s about a historical figure who fought for what he believes in,

has a multi-million production budget,

boasts an ensemble of some of the most respected artists to ever grace the industry,

received the highest rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board of the Philippines?

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Question:

What is the title of the film that’s about a historical figure who fought for what he believes in,

has a multi-million production budget,

boasts an ensemble of some of the most respected artists to ever grace the industry,

received the highest rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board of the Philippines?

That’s right, Heneral Lu…I mean ‘Felix Manalo’.

The anticipated historical-biographical film about Iiglesia Ni Cristo’s (INC) first leader premiered last October 4. It was held in one of the biggest middle fingers to the government in terms of construction capabilities, the Philippine Arena. Followers of Iglesia ni Cristo flocked to Bulacan to watch the screening of the movie about their beloved founder. The event grabbed both national and international attention. It also managed to bag two Guinness World Records; ‘Largest Attendance for a Film Screening’ and ‘Largest Attendance for a Film Premiere’.

It was theatrically released on October 7 and immediately gained a foothold. It was the second local big budget historical-biographical film to come out this year (the other one is ‘Heneral Luna’ in case you’re living under a rock these past few years). The film was directed by the man behind the Mano Po series, Joel Lamangan, and stars Dennis Trillo as Felix Ysagun Manalo, the spirited young man on a quest to find the one true religion, who Trillo portrayed so well that you will enter as an agnostic and leave as a confused agnostic. He delivers such a powerful performance worthy of commendation. He may be Jennylyn Mercado’s poor and outspoken partner in ‘My Faithful Husband’ but this man can act.

Then there’s Bella Padilla as Manalo’s surprisingly-resilient-and-patient-and-understanding-according-to-the-film wife Honorata ‘Ata’ de Guzman-Manalo. You may occasionally see Bella Padilla modelling or guesting in some noontime shows but this woman carries the legacy that made the Padillas so endearing, they can make you like them. I actually do wonder why this woman has little to no dramatic roles both in movies and television. She gave life to Ata’s character almost perfectly, almost. I can’t fully accept her performance because I failed to see anger and frustration in her character. Imagine your husband locking himself in his room for three straight days while you’re laboring outside doing all the chores while carrying your unborn child. Any sensible woman would have been mad if not downright murderous. This biopic dramatizes the life of Felix Manalo as he switches from one faith to another as each one falls short of something until he comes to the realization that he is the one destined to start the “one true religion”.

Enough of that, let’s look at the technical side of the film because, you know, I’m that guy you wouldn’t want in your party. ‘Felix Manalo’ has a reported budget of 150 million pesos. They also casted around 100 veteran and not-so-veteran-but-not-new-comer-either actors and actresses such as Gabby Concepcion, Joel Torre, Heart Evangelista, Lorna Tolentino, Philip Salvador, Jaime Fabregas and Ejay Falcon. If not for the character of Felix Manalo, you would think that this is the dramatic version of the Expendables wherein all the artists of the previous generation decided to appear for one last time in a big budget film before they all go down, guns blazing. Considering the size of the production and the caliber of the ensemble, one would expect nothing less than perfection but the film kind of missed that.

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The total running time of the entire movie was about 6 hours. For its theatrical release, it’s compressed down to 2 hours and 55 minutes. Because of that, the finished product looked rushed and unwieldy. The film suffered from laughable special effects as if the entire team just gave up. To be honest, I’ve seen older movies with a much better effects. You would also see awkward fade outs and shots out of focus. Another thing that caught my eyes is the prevalent color of the movie. It’s hard to connect to a film if everything you see, from the people to the greenery, is in dudu brown. I know the story was set in the pre-war era but hey, a little color wouldn’t kill.

Moreover, I think that its cast was not well utilized. What’s the point of hiring respectable and famous actors if you’re just going to use them as mere extras? What, for the sake of saying your film was star studded?

But the biggest blunder, perhaps, is the pacing. The compression of the story has a massive impact to the narrative. Yes, you would still understand the story but I find the character development lacking. There are way too many scenes that weren’t that important but were included in the final edit such as bystanders shouting nonsense every time Felix holds a sermon or the registration process of the Iglesia ni Cristo or the tediously detailed presentation of how flawed other faith is.

Let’s face it, that’s the problem of this movie. It focuses too much on the church and not on the man behind it. It seems the whole film was created to show the might and validity of Iglesia ni Cristo. Biographical films are supposed to shed light on the story of the people behind great things. It should demystify them, to show that they’re just like us, to show that they are human too.

I want to see Felix’s flaws. Yes, he is a brave man for standing up for what he believes in but other than that? Who is he? What is he? I want to know more about Felix Manalo. I want to learn about the man that established one of the most prominent religions here in our country. I want to know his desires, his shortcomings, and struggles.

It seems that the whole film can be summarized in six words: ‘We are right, they are wrong’. Maybe the film should be called ‘Iglesia ni Cristo’ not ‘Felix Manalo’.

Photo: Screengrab from Youtube/Viva Ent

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How ‘Attack on Titan’ revolves around the compromise of freedom and revolution

‘Attack on Titan’ is not your typical zombie apocalyptic genre. It’s an experience, and it has changed.

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Screengrab from ‘Attack on Titan’

‘Attack on Titan’ is not your typical zombie apocalyptic genre. It’s an experience, and it has changed. 

Through one of my major classes, I grasped the role of diplomacy and foreign relations as I slowly began to outgrow prejudices I’ve had with my own country and other countries. When we see our coexistence with the world, we see how we’re not different from the rest. How catastrophic would that be if we chose to resist openness and turn a blind eye to see both the good and ugly realities of the world?

Questioning morality and freedom is perfectly contextualized in the immaculate storytelling of Isayama Hajime’s ‘Attack on Titan’. First released in 2009, the highly-acclaimed fantasy-action shounen manga and anime has drawn many fans on an international scale, living to its hype and success through its consistency in fusing elements of action, fantasy, horror, and thrill. The plot circulates over Eren Yeager, who vowed to save humanity by killing all the Titans, the gigantic humanoid antagonists that have devoured humans, and his mother. However, as the story progresses, its archetypal shounen narrative of simply defeating the Titans shifts towards significant themes of politics, war, philosophy, and history intertwined. 

It tactfully combines emotionally-driven arcs paired with music that enforces ferocity, nationalism, tragedy, and despair. Each frame and panel is gracefully animated with precision, reflecting the artistry and dedication of the creators in cultivating the series’ magnificent world-building. The abundance of subtexts and relevant themes is portrayed through allegories, symbolism, and critiques of humanity’s adverse upbringing. Fair warning: anime spoilers ahead!

*Trigger warning: Mention of violence, human experimentation, and trauma

Historical Revisionism, Racism, and Fascism: The Tragedy of Reiner Braun 

Screengrab from ‘Attack on Titan’

As we perceived the world through the universe of Paradis, we’ve rooted for the Eldian protagonists left to save the last of humanity within their walls. We were introduced to the Marleyans, who presented themselves as a larger enemy than the Titans. Unbeknownst to the Eldian protagonists, the entire world ostracized them as the “devils of the Earth” after their ancestor, Ymir Fritz, gained the power of the Titan through a deal with the Devil and propagated the grim Titan war. Oppressing nations through the Titans’ blood lineage and ethnic cleansing for decades, the Eldian upheaval was successful when the Marleyans finally conquered the world by obtaining 7 out of 9 Titan shifters the ability to transform into a Titan and a human. 

Due to indoctrination and Marley imperialism, relentless hate and discrimination were spewed primarily against the Eldians within the walls of Paradis. Weaponizing the Titans for world domination, human experimentation, and slavery was a pervasive punishment for the Eldian refugees to atone for their ancestors’ sins. 

Screengrab from ‘Attack on Titan’

Reiner Braun was an Eldian Titan child soldier that was a victim of the Marleyan propagandistic mission that sent off candidates to infiltrate the Eldians of Paradis (they deemed as the Evil Eldians) to obtain the Founding Titan, the supreme ability to take control over the Titans. In a horrifying betrayal, it was revealed that Reiner and Bertholdt Hoover were the traitorous Titan shifters that nearly annihilated humanity years ago when they breached Wall Maria. Being disguised as a Survey Corps comrade has resulted in Reiner’s split personality, causing him to be torn with guilt between his soldier and warrior persona. After realizing that the Eldians are just normal as them who faced the same human conflict, and not the ‘devils’ the Marleyans made them be, he struggled with being a double-agent. He was just another victim of the fascist propaganda that brainwashed children to bring victory to their nation. Regardless, you want someone to be held accountable after they have slaughtered bloodshed and exterminated irreplaceable lives. If the Eldians would have won the war, would they have made themselves the heroes that have slain the evil as well? If so, which historical narrative is right? Who do we side with? 

As it highlights the damage of the glorification of military and fascism, ‘Attack on Titan’ performs a penetrating and coherent approach in alluding to the complexity of prejudice and war, the importance of history, and understanding different perspectives through Reiner’s narrative. 

Military Censorship, Class Struggle, and Corruption: Levi Ackerman and Erwin Smith’s Enigma

Screengrab from Attack on Titan

As the Marleyans thrived in power, domination, and technological advancement, our protagonists faced boundless struggles of gloom and melancholy due to endless casualties and issues within Paradis. The three walls, Wall Maria, Wall Rose, and Wall Sina, divided the lower class, upper class, and royalty. While the Survey Corps zealously dedicated their life to saving humanity and protecting the royalty, the Royal Government put a premium on protecting their positions in the class hierarchy while being apathetic towards the lower class and refugees. Here, corruption was rampant as they were gatekeepers of true information on the outside world and resources. Their misuse of funding has resulted in class struggles and the impoverished seeking refuge in the Underground City, a crime-ridden district where Levi Ackerman was initially from. After his mother passed away, his uncle Kenny raised and taught him the essential defense and knife skills. Though he was groomed as a notorious heist member, his skills were put to good use when Commander Erwin Smith recruited him in the Scout Regiment. Levi and Erwin helped overthrow the corrupt regime through a coup d’état and emancipated progressive change with recrowned Queen Historia Reiss when they created an orphanage for the Underground citizens with proper allocation of the Royal Family’s budget. 

Despite their quintessential role as revolutionary soldiers and leaders, the series never fails to humanize their characters, representing their emotional state in the face of powerlessness and helplessness. In Levi’s troubled background, his misdemeanor has transformed into one of the most significant developments of someone who replaces apathy with care and respect by defending the collective masses, pulling the destitute from the rear end of the class hierarchy, and placing his comrades before himself. Even on the brink of death, Erwin zealously places his life on the line in upholding utmost leadership, eradicating military censorship, and practicing dignity in fighting for humanity relentlessly. 

Morality and Freedom: Eren Yeager and the Axiom for Freedom

Screengrab from ‘Attack on Titan’

“If we kill our enemies on the other side, will we finally be free?” He asks, aimlessly staring at the ocean. 

The one-dimensional persona of Eren Yeager as the main character was continually challenged from his linear ideals of attaining freedom and revenge to learning the complexity of the world on the other side of the walls. From tormenting events of betrayal, trauma, and dehumanization, his aphorisms of vowing to kill the Titans to save humanity and using the Titans for his extremist ultimatums of freedom have displayed his development as the protagonist and antagonist of the story. His moral ambiguity allows him to accept that he is only special and significant because he has Titan powers. Disappointed by the existence of other humans and civilizations beyond, all he could think about was the enemies on the other side as he reached the ocean he once longed for. The innocent look of a simple boy that gleamed with a hunger for discovery and justice is now a cyclical, manipulative, and mass-murdering enemy, with all the hatred the world has thrown upon him. 

I find it dramatically complex and beautiful when the disruption of loyalties and ideologies are placed on a threshold when former enemies and friends turned their back on him to save the world, while he turned his back on the world to save them. 

Either way, it risks someone’s life and ends in pain, which can be similarly contextualized with the philosophical dilemma of the Trolley problem. Will you push the lever, saving the five and killing the one? Or will you simply watch the train continue on its path, hence killing the five?

Illustration by Jesse Prinz on subcortex.com

Before it surfaced as a meme, Philippa Foot sparked this influential question in 1976 and was commonly raised in moral ethics and psychology. While the majority chose the “greater good”, professors made each prompt more personal and emotion-driven by exemplifying someone we were close to on the tracks. In this sense, Eren chooses to save who he is closest to, in order to be truly free and end the curse of endless chaos, rendering the death of millions. But can we blame him after the whole world celebrated while the Paradis Eldians endured monsters and hell inside the walls and were denounced as the enemies? 

The fallibility of identifying the true heroes and villains leaves the audience with an overwhelmed sense of uncertainty, as different perspectives and layers are presented.  But maybe, that is Isayama’s genius discernment — to make us think. The character’s different upbringings, environments, and ideologies show that there is neither a good nor bad guy. Every act is justifiably done for what they see as the common good in their eyes like two sides of the same coin with a different definition of justice. However, is it too late to change and find the midpoint? 

Although humorous yet unfortunate, the ongoing pandemic made several people compare the Titan serums to the contention of the elite getting the cream of the crop of the COVID-19 vaccines exclusively while the underprivileged get the short end of the stick. Even in the face of the most abhorring adversity, plague, or monsters unleashed from hell, it is the frailty and corruption of our human nature that turns us into our own enemies, winding in a repetitive cycle of chaos — to keep moving forward until our means meet the end. 

From the Game of Thrones to the Walking Dead, we hope that ‘Attack on Titan’ won’t fall into the same hole of critically-acclaimed series that eventually slump into a dissatisfying finale. As anime watchers howl in excitement for every action scene, manga readers anticipate for things to fall into place. Watch Eren’s Declaration of War against the Marleyans and the world in the ongoing season finale! Will he finally achieve freedom or be a slave to the pursuit of freedom?

See you, when this sublime and unmatched tale is engraved in history, 2000 years from now. Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro

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Why new year’s resolutions don’t always work out

If your resolutions made it to this week, congrats. If not, here are some reasons why you chose to ditch them. 

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Whenever ancient Babylonians crowned or asserted their loyalty to their king, they promised to the gods that they would pay their debts or return things they borrowed. If they keep their end of the bargain, favor would be bestowed upon them. This pagan ritual is said to be the precedent of our annual New Year’s resolutions.

A new year calls for new beginnings. With everything we’ve gone through last year, it’s no strange fact that we all badly want to turn over a new leaf. At this point, our social media feeds are most likely filled with ‘New Year, New Me’ posts along with dozens of resolutions that claim to be effective and easy. But no matter how realistic we set them to be, we still end up bouncing back on old habits. 

If your resolutions made it to this week, congrats. If not, here are some reasons why you chose to ditch them. 

1. Your goals overwhelm you

We all want to be the best versions of ourselves this year. Not only do we set the bar too high, but we also set too much for ourselves. By the time we attempt to begin some resolutions, we tend to give up after a few tries because we have too much on our plate. We have so many things we want to accomplish, yet we have so little time, which can be stressful rather than rewarding.

Your goals don’t have to be as many as that of a grocery list. Prioritize setting resolutions that are sustainable despite how few it may seem. These can include waking up early, cleaning your room once a week, or having a 20-minute study break. Also, instead of carrying out your resolutions all at once, try to divide them into weekly or monthly goals. Just because you wrote them on the first day of the year, it doesn’t mean you have to start them right away. Working at your own pace would greatly help in escaping the stress of having to do so much in one day to the point that it feels like a chore. Remember, quality over quantity. 

2. Your resolutions are too restrictive

Whether it’s trying out a fad diet or limiting your shopping expenses, they are both goals that bar you from things that satisfy your inner psyche. Sure, you may end up sticking to it for a few days or weeks. But once you begin to feel that void of serotonin, the next thing you know, you’re checking out items from your cart in Shopee or Lazada’s monthly sale. 

Restrictive goals tend to be unsustainable because they alter our normal behavior, which is why we inevitably break them. Instead of imposing limits on your habits, try to make them more inclusive. Having trouble maintaining your weight? Take the healthy route and choose foods that are rich in nutrients and minerals. Losing weight doesn’t have to be quick and easy. Feeling guilty about your purchases? Splurge on items that will actually benefit your daily lifestyle such as space organizers and home essentials, not those decors that will only end up gathering dust in your room. Believe me, you don’t need a mini statue of an astronaut cat. 

3. You do it alone

Most resolutions tend to fail because we lack motivation or commitment in achieving them. It can also be difficult when you try to change habits on your own and the people around you have lifestyles that work against it. One way to prevent your goals from going down the drain is having someone to share those goals with. As they say, two are better than one. 

Changing for the better with others promotes a mutualistic relationship where both parties equally benefit from each other. Together, you can keep track of your goals and make sure that you don’t end up cheating your way out of it. Having that boost of encouragement from others would definitely increase your chances of success and make activities even more fun. So if you’re still crafting your resolutions for this year, reach out to a friend or two. If not, try joining support groups on Facebook. Who knows? You might find people who share the same goals as you do. 

4. You are not the problem, your resolutions are

When writing down our resolutions for this year, we tend to focus on goals that would help enhance our physique such as exercising everyday or sticking to a strict diet. These will surely appease all the fitness gods, but in reality, we still find ourselves eating junk food while watching Netflix or cooking pancit canton at three in the morning. 

More often than not, we find ourselves setting goals that focus on what we should be doing rather than what we want to do. We tend to set our resolutions based on other people’s expectations like getting that post-quarantine body or having that aesthetic lifestyle for the sake of bragging about it on Instagram and TikTok. So, instead of being better versions of ourselves, we only end up creating another manufactured persona for everyone’s liking on social media. Talk about real-life ‘Nosedive’, huh? 

If you know exercising at the crack of dawn is not your cup of tea and you’d rather want to spend those hours bundled up in your bed, then go ahead and don’t do it. The only thing stopping you is your own urge to conform to other people’s standards. 

5. You only focus on one side of the coin

Typical resolutions focusing on finance and fitness are materialistic. Some may argue that having tangible goals is better because seeing it unfold before their eyes leads to greater satisfaction. However, they merely encapsulate our attempts to pursue happiness indirectly. 

Cliché as it may sound, gaining happiness directly through simple actions outweighs all the taxing and tedious goals we try to set up. 

Start by being more grateful. Remind yourself to say thank you for the simple things and to the people you meet. To the security guard who opened the door for you, say thank you. To your friends who made an effort to reply to your messages, say thank you. Better yet, take time out from your busy schedule everyday to write a few things you are grateful for. It can indeed be difficult to stay optimistic considering the situation we are in right now, but a simple gesture goes a long way in benefiting your mental health for the better.

Resolve your worries by forgiving. In the past year, we’ve all had things or people that really tested our limits as a person. Carrying that grudge throughout this year would not only be burdensome, but would also take a great toll on your well-being. It may seem difficult to do but it can go two ways: forgiveness towards those who wronged you and forgiveness towards yourself. While working out enhances your physique, forgiving improves your self-esteem and relationship with yourself and others. We’ve already had our fair share of toxicity last year and the last thing we want is for it to persist and make us feel worse than we already are. 

We all have high hopes for the new year and our resolutions are a reflection of that. As we gather in prayer circles, we manifest that 2021 would finally free us from the desolation and anxiety that the past year held us with. With that said, I think that one of the best resolutions we can write for ourselves is to get through this year safely and healthily. May this, along with all the resolutions we wrote or are about to write, allow us to step out as improved individuals for the better. 

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New Year’s Eve Playlist: House Party

It’s time to bust out your dance moves.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

It is finally time to bid adieu to 2020. Our current circumstances may have put our usual new year traditions to a halt. But being able to conquer all the ups and downs we’ve been through this year is enough reason to still celebrate.

Whether you’re leaping into the new year with your loved ones or cuddled alone in your room, you’ll need a soundtrack to close this year. Release all your worries and wishes as we welcome 2021 with hope and positivity.

It’s time to bust out your dance moves.

From all of us at TomasinoWeb, happy new year!

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