Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Avengers Endgame Smashes as a "Marvel"ous Epic Masterpiece!

Warning, this review contains spoilers.
Is it good?  Beyond good!  How good?  I'll tell you how good, no great, wait...fantastic, um,  EPIC this movie is!

  • If you don't have your tickets yet, stop what you're doing and get your tickets now! If you can, buy from a theater that has reserved seats so you can customize/optimize your experience! 
  • If your kids cannot sit through a 3 hour movie, hire a babysitter! It is worth it, trust me.
  • Time your meals before the movie! I'm all for keeping hydrated and keeping your sugar levels right but you don't want to miss any second of this movie because of a bathroom break.  I'm serious! Or wear a diaper. Your choice.
  • I also recommend getting in the right head space on movie day! Zen out and relax before the movie, wear comfortable clothes, and be sure to include some time to debrief the movie with your fellow Marvel fans after wards because you will not be able to stop talking about it!
  • Lastly, be present, be involved during the movie! I loved the 6 ft guy sitting next to me.  His vocal and physical reactions gave me strength; big bellows of laughter, sounds of amazement, of impressiveness.  "Oh My God!" "Wait, what?!" "Yes! Yes!" and then even some tears shed with sniffles as he unashamedly dried his wet cheeks a couple of times.  We both clapped loudly at the end. My hubby gave me the look, you know the "what are you doing?" look but I couldn't help myself.  This movie had me on a cathartic roller coaster of emotions that I shared with my arm rest buddy! I really should have stood up and clapped.  THIS IS HOW EPIC THIS MOVIE IS. 

This movie is a bit different than the others because it shows our Avengers dealing with disappointment and failure for an extended amount of time.  They lost Infinity Wars and five years pass.  Black Widow suffers from PTSD. She's unfocused, moody, un-assured, indifferent almost because she doesn't know how to make things better. She doesn't know how to be of service. Her purpose is gone.  Similar, Cap runs weekly group therapy sessions where he, like a robot, tells members to "move on".  On the other end of the spectrum,  Hawkeye becomes a mercenary, taking revenge on others for the loss of his family.  Thor also completely loses himself, becoming a fat drunkard.  The opening scenes are not our Avengers as we are used to seeing them.

The only two who positively get in touch with their inner selves during these five years after the War are Tony and Bruce.  Tony becomes a family man and lives a quiet simpler life near a lake with Pepper. Bruce reconciles his two identities into a jolly green gentle giant running a restaurant and taking friendly pictures with fans.

We see how pointedly affected our Avengers are by their emotions as they travel back in time to obtain the stones, the "Time Heist" plan, as crafted by Antman. Thor gets to see his Mother one more time.  The Queen of Asgard asserts her motherly instinct and can feel that Thor is present. She senses that he needs to hear some encouraging words.  Not once does she mention his disheveled appearance, his weight, his shabby sweats, his unruly, dirty hair.  Instead she tells him to "be who you are supposed to be." She builds him up and re-ignites the God within.  That's what mothers are supposed to do.
Mother and son when he was in shape!
Tony also gets to see his father back in time. Of course Howard doesn't know he is talking to his own son when they meet.  Tony gets to know his father not as the genius, but as a regular guy excited about the upcoming arrival of his baby.  He admits he is nervous and says to Tony,  "he's not even born yet but I tell ya, I'd do anything for him." Just as Thor needed to hear his mother's words, Tony needed to hear these.

Since this movie involves time travel, it is inevitable (you'll see why I use this word) that past and present versions of themselves will meet.  The movie provides an entertaining Captain America vs Captain America fight scene and an evil Nebula vs good Nebula confrontation. These are demonstrations of how motives, beliefs, and characters can change over time.  And in the end, as it should be, good prevails.

Another major part of the appeal of this movie for me is the Girl Power movement!  Captain Marvel interacts with the Avengers for the first time and when asked how things will be different this go-around against Thanos, she answers with a confident, "This time you have me."  And since the release of "Black Panther", no Avenger fight scene would be complete without the female warriors from Wakanda. The final fight scene where many of our beloved heroines enter the fight (Rescue being one of them, surprise surprise!) had me cheering from the edge of my seat!  Captain Marvel flexes her supernatural powers to destroy Thanos' power central and in a later post-fight scene, Thor passes on his crown to a female natural born leader, Valkyrie! Kudos to comic writers and to Marvel Studios for showcasing GIRL POWER!
This movie was also different in that deep relationships were focus points. The first conversation between Steve and Tony after five years is biting, full of "you broke your promise", "I needed you", "I have nothing left for you, no trust, nothing." And although Tony refused to entertain the idea of joining the Avengers on this last mission, we all knew he would come around. The team needed his expertise and brain to figure out how to time travel. When Tony shows up at Avengers headquarters, his talk with Steve about his non-negotiables is short and direct. After all these years, they understand each other and we as the audience have come to recognize their deep bond and mutual respect. It's a poignant pivotal moment that signals game time from then on.

Another prominent relationship highlighted is Tony and Pepper's. Tony has settled into a loving marriage, complete with adorable daughter. While the other previous movies had Pepper begging Tony not to go whenever he entered a fight, this time, when Tony tells her he figured out how to time travel, she knows that there is nothing she can say that will make him stay. The solemn look on her face shows the gratitude for the five years they had together.

And what of our relationship with these characters over the last decade? It is truly fitting that at the final fight scene, some of Tony's last words are "I am Ironman.", a declaration that this journey began with him and this war ends with him. And as he endures his final sacrifice, with Pepper rightly by his side, tears flowed openly from the audience, our heartstrings pulled one last time, as Pepper whispers to him "We're going to be fine. You can rest now."  I don't think I could have imagined a better ending.
Marvel Studios has given us an epic masterpiece. "Avengers Endgame" is the bow that wraps up the gift of the MCU franchise.  Just as Captain America passes his shield to the next hero, these movies are classic, timeless gifts that we will open again and again, pass on, again and again to our kids, grandkids, to endless generations. Well done Marvel, well done.

"Avengers Endgame" opens the weekend of 4/25/19. See your local theaters for showtimes.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

2019 SDAFF Spring Showcase is here!

The 9th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) Spring Showcase, presented by Pacific Arts Movement (Pac Arts) will be taking place on April 11-18 at the UltraStar Mission Valley. This year, a majority of the showcased films highlight South Asian and Southeast Asian stories. There will also be a special collection of milestone Filipino films shown as a part of the program “From The Claws of Darkness: Restoring Philippine Cinema”, which brings the second golden age of Philippine film to the big screen for audiences to enjoy once again, including “Moral,” “Himala,” and “Batch ‘81”and “Manila In The Claws of Light.” "With our extensive focus on new films from South and Southeast Asia and our retrospective of classics from the Philippines, we aim for nothing less than transforming the face of Asian cinema here in the United States,” says Pac Arts Artistic Director Brian Hu.

This year’s SDAFF Spring Showcase will also screen four films that shed light on queer Asian stories spanning time and place including “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga,” “Song Lang,” “Memories of My Body” and “First Night Nerves.”


  • FIRST NIGHT NERVES | Opening Night Film, April 11 An anticipated new play brings together rivals, Yuan Xiuling, returning to acting after a five-year retirement, and He Yuwen, the starlet who supplanted her as the queen of Hong Kong entertainment. Drama unfolds and past secrets are discovered both backstage and onstage in this comedic yet dramatic story by legendary director Stanley Kwan. 
  • MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT | Special Series, April 12 This year’s SDAFF Spring Showcase special series is From The Claws of Darkness: Restoring Philippine Cinema, a presentation of the some of the most important works of the second golden age of Philippine cinema and 1 of 3 a celebration of the 100 years of the country’s film history. Directed by Lino Brocka, “Manila in the Claws of Light” is the consensus pick as the greatest Filipino film of all time and bakes 1970s romanticism into gritty urban realism to create a sweaty noir masterpiece. 
  • SWING KIDS | April 13 & April 16 Director Kang Hyoung-Chul (“Sunny”), paints a picture of the harsh reality of life in a POW camp set to the sound of persistent tap shoes during the Korean War. Featuring K-pop star Do Kyung-soo (D.O. of EXO) and Broadway star Jared Grimes, “Swing Kids” is a thrilling story of overcoming obstacles of oppression and war through dance. 
  • EK LADKI KO DEKHA TOH AISA LAGA | Closing Night Film, April 18 As the first high-profile Bollywood film centering on a lesbian character, “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga” is a gorgeous drama testing the bonds of family with a comedy of misrecognition. Director Shelly Chopra Dhar not only is able to overcome an industry that is so invested in bloodlines, tradition, and marriage, but also reinvents the Bollywood film genre itself. 

● ARUNA AND HER PALATE ARUNA & LIDAHNYA (North American Premiere) – Indonesia, 106 mins, directed by Edwin*
● BATCH ‘81 ΑΚΩ 81 – Philippines, 108 mins, directed by Mike De Leon
● GO BACK TO CHINA – USA, 96 minutes, directed by Emily Ting*
● THE CROSSING 過春天 - China, 99 mins, directed by Bai Xue
● EK LADKI KO DEKHA TOH AISA LAGA - India, 120 mins, directed by Shelley Chopra Dhar
● FIRST NIGHT NERVES 八個女人一台戲 - Hong Kong, 100 mins, directed by Stanley Kwan
● HIMALA – Philippines, 124 mins, directed by Ishmael Bernal
● MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT MAYNILA SA MGA KUKO NG LIWANAG – Philippines, 125 mins, directed by Lino Brocka
● MORAL – Philippines, 140 mins, directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya*
● MEMORIES OF MY BODY KUCUMBU TUBUH INDAHKU (North American Premiere) – Indonesia, 105 mins, directed by Garin Nugroho
● MYSTERY KUNG FU THEATER – no details needed
● PHOTOGRAPH – India, 110 mins, directed by Ritesh Batra
● REZA (West Coast Premiere) – Iran, 94 mins, directed by Alireza Motamedi*
● SONG LANG (West Coast Premiere) – Vietnam, 100 mins, directed by Leon Le*
● SWING KIDS 스윙키즈 – South Korea, 133 mins, directed by Kang Hyoung-Chul
● WAITING FOR SUNSET KUNG PAANO HINHINTAY ANG DAPITHAPON (North American Premiere) – Philippines, 90 mins, directed by Carlo Enciso Catu* 

Ticketing Information Tickets General $12-15 | Student/Senior/Military $10

The 2019 SDAFF Spring Showcase is supported in part by funding from The City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, the County of San Diego, the City of San Diego, McGregor and Associates, Wawanesa Insurance, Stella Artois, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Crab Hut Restaurants, DPI Direct, San Diego Chinese Women’s Association, Zion Market, KPBS, and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The SDAFF Spring Showcase is a week-long presentation of the best of Asian and Asian American cinema including a special Sunday series focusing on a specific topic or individual, held annually. Past showcases have presented a curation of films on the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon in “Cinema Little Saigon,” the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 in “Right to Resist” as well as the 100th anniversary of Philippine cinema in “From the Claws of Darkness.”

The 20th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival takes place from November 7-16, 2019. In 2018, the 10-day festival showcased over 160 independent and foreign films from more than 20 countries at six different venues across San Diego county. Over 15,000 people attended the star-studded red carpet awards night, screenings, Q&As, and panel discussions. The annual festival receives national and regional attention for its awards and premieres.

Pac Arts launched in 2000 when it debuted the San Diego Asian Film Festival, a presentation of Asian American and Asian international cinema. Rooted in the love of film and the arts, global citizenship, and Asian culture and communities, Pac Arts became an official nonprofit media arts organization in 2002, and is now one of the most significant exhibitions of Asian cinema in North America. Pac Arts presents major annual events celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander representation and storytelling: the SDAFF Spring Showcase (April), Chew The Scene (October) and the San Diego Asian Film Festival (November).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Travelling to the Philippines on Philippine Airlines and Tips for a Enjoyable Vacation!

It had been over 30 years since I boarded a plane to the Philippines! I was so excited I took pictures of our journey from LAX to Manila!
PC: Philippine Airlines
This is the seat map of the plane my family boarded!
PC: Philippine Airlines

We were in economy class, but this is a picture of the business class section which of course offers more space!
PC: Philippine Airlines
The flight was about 15 hours so plenty of time for some movies! They had a great selection of newly released movies, classics and even a couple of foreign films!

 Every seat on the plane has a monitor and a remote that is tethered so you don't lose it!
Soon after we boarded, the staff came around and offered a hot towel! It felt good to refresh your face and hands!

PC: Philippine Airlines
Each seat also came with a hospitality kit, toothbrush and toothpaste, earphones, sleeping mask and some socks!  A blanket is also offered per seat.  These are all shrink-wrapped in plastic to ensure cleanliness!

 Now for the food.  Oh my, you will not starve on this flight.
We had "dinner" first, even though it was probably 2 or 3 am PST. This is the Korean Chicken Barbecue meal.  It was very tasty!
 Then, if you were awake, a few hours later was snack time!  Cookies and a hot box was passed out! What was inside?
A warm ham and cheese sandwich! I really enjoyed it! I wish they would sell these in the U.S., perfect grab and go item.
I fell into a food coma and then when I woke up, it was breakfast time!  This was the western breakfast, chicken sausages with an omelette.
Or you can choose the Filipino breakfast: corned beef, egg, potatoes, rice, and some melon.
The flight was indeed long, but between movies, sleeping, and meals, it wasn't that bad. I do recommend getting up when it is safe to do so to walk a bit and stretch every few hours!   We made it safely to Manila and enjoyed 14 glorious days reuniting with relatives and seeing the sights!

 Here are some tips to make your Philippine vacation more enjoyable!
  • Saturate yourself with Picaridin Insect Repellent to avoid bug bites! I applied this religiously with my son throughout our stay and he didn't get bit one time. I applied it a couple of times a day. I still got a few bites, but my daughter who did not use this was attacked all over! 
  •  Bactine helped a lot with the itchiness from the bites. We ran out of the repellent and I found Off in one of the stores. It worked ok, but not as well as the Picaridin Insect Repellent. 
  • I found that 50% of the public restrooms that I visited in the Philippines did NOT have toilet paper. My friend had warned me about that. You will find spray hoses in the stalls to wash yourself with and to clean the toilet after you have used it.  However you do need something to dry yourself with so I brought my package of Charmin To Go and Wet Ones with me whenever I had to go to a public restroom.
  • Don't be surprised at the restaurants if items are not available. My guess is there is no strictly followed schedule of supplies so if something runs out, there is not much to do about it. After all you are on an island! At one restaurant,  my brother-in-law went through four different items, each item being "not available".  At the end, he said, "Ok, what DO you have?"  Fortunately, the hospitality of staff makes up for the lack of selection.
  • There are security checks almost anywhere! You'll go through metal detectors and have your bags either x-rayed or poked through. I didn't mind, safety first!  At the LAX airport on the return flight home, they are strict about claiming food on the customs form.  Any kind of pork product will be tossed, so long bag of chicharrones. 
  • Seniors are your Fast Passes to long Disney-like lines. They get front-of-the-line priority with one chaperone and sometime the whole party will be accommodated.  This happened to us at the airport several times, especially if a senior is in a wheelchair.  The airport attendants will offer a chair and stay with you, even accompany them to the bathroom if needed! Now that is service.  They also get a pretty significant discount with their senior card when making almost any kind of purchase. 
  • The water pressure can be very low for showers except for when we stayed at chain hotels.  And hot water may be a luxury.  We got used to heating water up on the stove and using a tabo!
  • Every place we stayed at offered a free breakfast, either Western, Filipino or a buffet! It was great!
  • Man purses are the norm in the Philippines.  But always make sure you carry your purse, man or woman in front of you, even your backpacks!  A nephew said, "There are many magicians here, things can disappear!"
  • Download the Grab app. It is the Philippines' version of Uber and Lyft.  Oftentimes it was cheaper than getting a private van or car.
  • For transportation needs for your travelling party , these are my recommendations:
Less than 15 minutes away - hail a tricycle.  They are plentiful and you literally just stand on the street and wave one down. Some can fit from 3 to 6!  Pay ranged from 20 pesos to 75 pesos a passenger depending on the distance.
 More than 15 minutes to under an hour - call a Grab.  XL vehicles are more readily available at  populated areas like malls, etc.. not impossible  a bit more challenging to get one to pick your party up at a residence if you are not in a suburban area.
 More than an hour to a whole day - You might consider hiring a private driver.  We got to know a couple drivers pretty well and would just negotiate a rate.For a 10 passenger van, the average rate for hiring a driver for a whole day ranged from 3000 pesos to 5000 pesos depending on distance to destination, toll road fees, and gas. 
  • Take a native speaker with you to negotiate when shopping at local places.  With privately owned businesses, there is always opportunity to negotiate for services or merchandise.  Locals can speak the language and definitely get you the best price!
I hope to visit the Philippines again soon! Have a tip to offer, please comment below!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

City Tacos - A Mexican food fiesta in North Park!

Do you know that old Rachael Ray show where she was challenged to eat three delicious meals in one day without spending more than $40? Well, I found a place that could have easily been on her list!  A friend and I had the opportunity to dine at City Tacos in North Park.  Let me tell you it was a taco fiesta!  The menu offers a great selection for meat eaters, vegetarians, and seafood lovers as well!

Let's begin with the salsa bar. In addition to the regular green and red salsas that most tacos shops offer, I appreciated the chunks of jicama and cucumber available to cool your palate after eating some heat.
In addition they had some signature salsas that were new to me!
We sampled the whole rainbow and I especially liked the salsa mango habanero on some chips with  guacamole....muy delicioso! And I REALLY REALLY liked the cilantro salsa! If they sold that in a bottle I would buy it! The chips were fresh from the fryer and the guacamole was the real thing! No thinned down saucy guac here!
My friend and I grew up in South San Diego, with some taco shops within walking distance that we  frequented on a regular basis even before we could drive, so we've been eating tacos forever! We always have Carne Asada and Pollo Asada tacos, so we opted to try a birria taco here at City Tacos. First of all the meat portion was very generous as you can see, topped with pickled onions.  This taco sells for $3, with two house made corn tortillas to soak up all the au jus that the meat has been stewing in! We pretty much divied this into two separate tacos and ate it all up!
Next up was the surf and turf taco, a mix of garlic sauteed shrimp and rib eye steak. There was a white sauce served on top which again should be bottled and sold separately!  The rib eye steak was cut a little too thick to eat delicately but the flavor was definitely good!  Personally, I don't like to mix my meat and seafood in one bite, but that sauce was soo good, I made an exception!
A third taco we tried was the Puerto Nuevo taco, a fried lobster tail served over beans and topped with crunchy rice noodles.  I am a texture girl, so the rice noodles were a fantastic element to add for some crunch without disturbing the flavor of the lobster.  My picture does not do justice to the size of the tail.  This one was served on top of a house made flour tortilla.  I prefer corn tortillas, so I'm sure if you asked for it, they would substitute the tortilla! I know for next time!
The next taco we had was an El Especial taco, Panko crusted snow crab, squid, and octopus! This is for your seafoodies!  I loved this taco. The seafood was cooked just right. With seafood you have to time the squid and octopus, otherwise it can get rubbery real fast.
I uncovered it so you can see all the seafood! I felt like I was eating a deconstructed cocktail without the clamato!  All of this for $4! Unbelievable!
I couldn't figure out what the crusty brown layer was on the bottom of the taco melted onto the tortilla.  Then it hit me, it was the Oaxacan and Cotija cheese mix that they must grill on the taco. Take a closer look!
This was a first for me! I loved it, even though it was on a flour tortilla, hahaha!

The final taco we tried was a vegetarian options, the portobello and vegetables taco. This can also come vegan if requested. This was a mountain of vegetables and argula! I used a fork and ate it like a salad as it was huge! I think I would have enjoyed it more if they used bigger portobello mushrooms instead of the baby ones. The thicker slices would make it seem more like you're eating a steak taco.  I am a mushroom person, but I guess not in tacos. It was just ok for me, but really pretty! 
A Mexican food connoisseur friend once told me that he judges a taco place not only on the taco meats, but also the beans. Here at City Tacos, the pinto beans are served whole with bits of chorizo, ham, are carnitas.  This is a side order, which could easily be an entree in itself, at least 16 oz.! So good and for only $4! 
Do you see all the yummy bits in this spoonful?
The only dessert on the menu, if you still have some room that is, are churros!  These contained a surprise filling, I want to say caramel, but not sure. The chocolate and cajeta dipping sauces come with every order.  Piping hot and crispy! How could fried dough with sugar not be yummy! Of course, 5 out of 5 stars!
I sipped on a Strawberry Margarita while we worked our way through the food fiesta! There is also a variety of cervezas available too! 
These are just a few of what they sell.
The place is kitschy and the people are fantastic. Sandra took great care of us. 
I did feel the love in their food. I'll need to go back and take my taco-loving husband and kids ! Get there early because you may work up an appetite trying to find parking and the place is smallish with limited seating.  There was a woman who didn't mind wiping down a table just to get a seat and Sandra immediately stepped in and said she would take care of it! That's how popular this place is! City Tacos has locations in North Park and La Mesa, and are opening up other locations in Imperial Beach and Encinitas so you can find one that is closest to you!  

If I were Rachael Ray and still had that show, City Tacos would definitely be at the top of my list!  A taco, if you could choose just one, an order of guacamole and chips (to eat with the addicting cilantro salsa!), and one of their sides or an order of churros would be very filling and under $20! Go live every day like it is Taco Tuesday and visit City Tacos!  

Follow City Tacos on social media: Facebook, Yelp and Instagram, @CitytacosSD
Disclosure: Me and a guest received complimentary fare in exchange for this blog post.
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