Microsoft outs the new features in Windows 8.1, resurrects “Start” button

Windows 8.1 Logo

Windows 8.1 Blue Logo

Despite criticism on Microsoft’s latest Operating System, the company has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses since its launched back in October last year. It is roughly in line with the sales made by the previous OS version (Win7).

Windows 7 was helped by the fact that it replaced the generally unpopular Windows Vista, whereas Windows 8 has confused many potential customers with its new-look ’tile’-based start screen and the omission of the traditional ‘Start’ button.

“The learning curve is real, and we need to address it,” said Tami Reller, Corporate VP and CFO for Microsoft’s Windows Division. “We’re not sitting back and saying, they will get used to it.”

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they will be bringing back the “Start” button, offering a stripped-down version among a slew of improvements aimed at winning over tablet users and placating PC customers alienated by Windows 8.

Availability for Windows 8.1 has yet to be announced, but Microsoft intends on releasing a preview version of the operating system at its Build developer conference on June 26th. It will be a free update for Windows 8 and Windows RT users. Head past break for the “first look” at Windows 8.1 and outline some of the improvements, enhancements and changes customers will see.

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

In Windows 8.1, you’ll be able to do more to personalize the experience on your device. You can now turn your PC or tablet into a picture frame by making your Lock screen a slide show of your pictures – either locally on the device or photos from the cloud in SkyDrive. The team has also added the ability to take pictures with the built-in camera right from the Lock screen without having to log in.

You can even choose your desktop background as your Start screen background, creating a greater sense of unity and familiarity. And the Start screen in Windows 8.1 features a variety of tile sizes including a new large and new small tile, so you can organize your Start screen exactly the way you want it (similar to what they did with Windows Phone 8). It’s also even easier to name groups and rearrange tiles. You can now select multiple apps all at once, resize them, uninstall them, or rearrange them when you press and hold (or right click) to move things around.

Windows 8.1 offers more colors and backgrounds for the Start screen – including ones with motion.

Windows 8.1 offers more colors and backgrounds for the Start screen – including ones with motion.

You can view all apps just by swiping from the bottom to view all apps, and the ability to filter your apps by name, date installed, most used, or by category. You want the Start screen to be about all the things you love. So when you install a new app from the Windows Store, they no longer put that app on your Start screen. Instead, you’ll find these apps under apps view as mentioned above and marked as “new” where you can choose to pin the apps you want to your Start screen.

Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best “answer” for your query. Hopefully, this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done. It is the modern version of the command line!

Improved multiple app running at once on Windows 8.1

Improved multiple app running at once on Windows 8.1

Apps and Windows Store:
There will be an improved built in apps that come with Windows 8 for Windows 8.1. For example, the Photos app now has some new editing features that lets you quickly edit or adjust photos when you view them in the Photos app or open them from other places like the Mail, SkyDrive, and Camera apps. While the Music app has been completely redesigned to help pick and play music from your collection. More updates on the built-in as well as brand new apps are on their way.

Windows 8.1 brings variable, continuous size of snap views. You will have more ways to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time. You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have a multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor. This makes multi-tasking even easier. Also in Windows 8.1, you can have multiple windows of the same app snapped together – such as two Internet Explorer windows.

The improved Windows Store in Windows 8.1 is designed to show more info than before in Windows 8 with detailed lists of top free apps, new releases, and picks for you on the homepage. The app listing is more descriptive and informative and includes an area for related apps to help with app discovery. Categories are listed with other app commands such as links to your apps and your account information. App updates install automatically in the background as well as they come through the Store. And search is available in the upper right hand corner for finding the apps you want.

The new SkyDrive app gives you access to your files that are on your device or in the cloud, and files are accessible even when offline.

The new SkyDrive app gives you access to your files that are on your device or in the cloud, and files are accessible even when offline.

Cloud Connectivity:
In Windows 8.1 your files can be saved directly to SkyDrive, so you can always have your files with you.

Also, when you log on to your Windows 8.1 device with your Microsoft account ( by default), your device magically becomes personalized with your settings and apps, making switching or setting up a new device really easy.

PC Settings:
The updated PC Settings in Windows 8.1 gives you access to all your settings on your device without having to go to the Control Panel on the desktop. You can do things like change your display resolution, set power options, see the make and model of my PC, change the product key, let me do Windows Update, and even join a domain – all from PC Settings. You can even manage SkyDrive from PC Settings as well and see how much available storage you have (and buy more if needed).

Internet Explorer:
Web browsing continues to be one of the most popular activities on any device. That’s why with Windows 8.1, you also get Internet Explorer 11 (IE11). IE11 builds on the advancements in IE10 and is the only browser that is built for touch. IE11 will offer even better touch performance, faster page load times and several other new features we think you will enjoy. For example, you can now adjust the appearance of modern IE11 to always show the address bar and you can have as many open tabs as you like. And you can access your open tabs in sync across your other Windows 8.1 devices.

Better Mouse and Keyboard Options:
PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and the team improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start “tip” to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop. There are also options to change what the corners do, and options to boot into alternate screens. For example, if you prefer to see the Apps view versus all the tiles, you can choose to have the Start screen go directly to Apps view.


Star Trek: Into Darkness – The Promise of Awesomeness (minus the Greatness)

Star Trek: Into Darkness Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Paramount Pictures

Star Trek: Into Darkness Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Paramount Pictures

Star Trek at its core is about explorers and their encounters with life outside planet Earth, new civilizations, suffice to say – new worlds. The previous movie (“Star Trek”, released 2009) focused on Kirk’s personal dilemma of losing his father and Spock losing his world.

I found myself raising my brows (already) at the first few minutes of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. The film opened when the NCC-1701 aka USS Enterprise was sent to a planet in the Nibiru system to “observe” a primitive civilization but Kirk (Chris Pine) and his fleet ended up saving them. This event directly violates the “Prime Directive” – twice! First, when Kirk decides to expose the USS Enterprise to the people of Nibiru when Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) life was put on jeopardy. But actually, this is the second offense not first, since this very mission is a direct violation to that very “Prime Directive” which states:

“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.”

— Articles of the Federation, Chapter I, Article II, Paragraph VII

While the crowd went gaga on that shot of the Enterprise rising underneath the water, I was scratching my head. What in the world was the Enterprise doing underneath the water? Enterprise is a “starship” and not a “submarine vessel” and there is no need to hide from a pre-warp civilization underwater when the ship can be perfectly hidden in space. Correct me if I’m wrong but unlike Voyager, Enterprise does not have the capability to land on a planet surface nor does it operate underwater. And going back to that argument, the ship have shuttles and transporters so why exposed the whole fleet?

This whole Nibiru arc was beyond forced and is totally forgettable as it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film. They probably added this to compensate to the dying drama scene (and exchange of vows) of Kirk towards the end of the film.

Another letdown for me was the addition of Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) touted to have this incredible scientific mind and yet I will only remember her on “that underwear” scene with Kirk. But brace yourselves, for Dr. Marcus will be the mother of David – Kirk’s son (ooops, spoilers). That ending was laughable too when McCoy (Karl Urban) ordered Spock not to kill Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) because of his regenerative properties that could reanimate Kirk. If that’s the case, wouldn’t the other 72 genetically engineered superhuman lying on a sleeper ship have it too? Not the mention that those capsules are with their possession? Writer Roberto Orci reached out and said “everyone is frozen, they could die if awakened improperly”.  Hmmm, okay, so the bigger question now is, should there will be a sequel, can anyone from the Starfleet die now because there are 72 sleepers + Khan on board that they could use to literally revive the dead?  And don’t go back to what Orci said because I would assume that by then (should there’ll be a sequel) alt-McCoy was already able to create a technology to wake them up.  They obviously kept the sleepers for a reason.  And furthermore, they can’t create a tech that would wake the superhumans and yet, they were able to build an extra cyro-tube for Khan that fast given the “complexities”?  Or was there an extra tube to begin with?  I don’t think so and I would assume that Khan’s tube was destroyed at Section 31 HQ.  And where did they put the extra body when McCoy asked the staff to make room for Kirk?  They can’t just put it somewhere given the complexities of the superhuman body.

On the plus side: it’s fast-paced and the visuals are absolutely engaging and outstanding. I think the casting was smart but special shoutout goes to Simon Pegg (as Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott).  I love it when he said: “You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tire!”, probably one of the most memorable lines if not the best in the movie.  And Benedict Cumberbatch did a very good job on playing the role of Khan (let’s not dwell on his back story anymore as he was described to be an “Indian” descent as depicted both in “Star Trek: Original Series” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”) and at one point, I guess he overshadowed Chris Pine.

There are so many callouts and Easter eggs to the Trek pop-culture too. One notable scene (if you are a Trekkie/Trekker) was when Kirk leading the shuttle to the Klingons and jokes on his crew and says: “take those red shirts off”. The “red shirt humor” refers to the characters who wear red Starfleet uniforms and winds up dead. Having said that, I won’t say that Abrams lifted the story from the remnants of “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” (and a couple of references from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) but I hoped his team explored other unexplored villains because there is a sheer volume of materials sitting out there.

New fans (from year 2009 after they saw “Star Trek” franchise reboot, *laughs*) will absolutely love this film but for me the overall story don’t fall together as coherent narrative because of the inconsistencies whether it’s Trek canon or non-canon. The promise of “awesomeness” from Abrams is there but it falls short of “greatness”.

I am a huge fan of Abrams + Orci + Kurtzman, having said that, I don’t think the addition of Damon Lindelof helped with the story. Here’s hoping to an EPIC “Star Wars: Episode VII” in 2015. Please don’t disappoint me J.J. Rating: 8/10

Check out my other Movie Reviews: Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge | One Piece Film: Z | Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie | Les Misérables

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Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge – Movie Review

Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge Promotional Poster. Image (c) Madhouse

Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge Promotional Poster. Image (c) Madhouse

I am totally new to the whole Hunter × Hunter (read without the “×”) verse so I have to read the manga and catch-up with the anime too in a short-span of time to give justice on my movie review. I intentionally didn’t follow this manga for the sole reason that the mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi just came from a cult phenomenon YuYu Hakusho (localized as “Ghost Fighther”, and he also did “Level E”) so I was bit hesitant because I’m not sure if this can equal his previous works.

Shortly after reading the first 10 volumes of the manga, I found myself connected and invested with both the story and characters. More than Gon, Killua, Kurapika and Leorio‘s dreams, the story highlights the tight friendship between the four of them more specifically with Gon & Killua and Kurapika & Leorio. They have different stories to tell, different personalities, dreams and pains but the four of them came to understood each other.

Now, as for the movie, it focused heavily on Killua’s psychological struggle from his brother Illumi that’s been torturing him, that as an assassin, he can’t afford to have friends otherwise, he’ll end up killing them (this is a recurring theme from manga/anime). It is weird because the movie based on the synopsis, posters and trailers that were released was about Kurapika’s back story who wanted to take revenge from a notorious group known as the “Phantom Troupe” who massacred his entire clan, and yet in the film, it was largely all about Killua and Gon – one wanted to abandon the newly forged friendship while the other willing to fight for it at all costs. I didn’t expect that and it was a major letdown for me, for someone that is new, who is already attached to the story.

What separates this movie from Road to Ninja and One Piece Film Z is the story and that is the downside when the original creator of the manga is not involved or doesn’t have any creative inputs. Since this is the first movie for Hunter × Hunter, I understand that writer Shoji Yonemura wanted to show the “core” of the whole Hunter × Hunter journey which is about “friendship” but tha manga has been around since 1998 and it’s very disappointing that I didn’t see any major character development from any of the four protagonist and Leorio is totally forgettable in this film too. Hisoka, on the other hand, got his spotlight. H×H is also known for its enjoyable and inquisitive fights and yet, I didn’t see that either. We’ve only got mediocre and forgettable fights.

Overall, the movie was a letdown. It’s weird because we’re getting high hopes since the re-animation of Hunter × Hunter back in 2011 and the anime was finally on Chimera Ants arc.

Probably the weakest among Road to Ninja and One Piece so I’m giving this film a 7.5/10 rating! But hey, I’m sticking with the manga/anime!

Apparently, there was an extra scene after the credits (I stayed until credits and I didn’t see any) which hinted that the next movie could cover the Ants arc.

Part of SM Cinema and Movie Punch’s “Animation Domination” this summer, Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge is now showing and exclusive to SM Cinemas nationwide. For the complete schedule and ticket price, click here!

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MRAZmerized – the Jason Mraz experience!

Jason Mraz with his band Live in Manila, May 2013

Jason Mraz with his band Live in Manila, May 2013

Jason Mraz made a promise to be back in Manila last October 30, 2011 after his successful “You Are Loved: Jason Mraz Acoustic Evening” concert with his longtime friend-percussionist Noel “Toca” Rivera. To-date, his Manila concert had the biggest audience for an “acoustic” gig; the response was indeed overwhelming. And since then, Mraz asked his management (Bill Silva Management – BSM) not to book him in room built for sports, for sole reason that it was an “acoustic” tour and meant to have “intimate” connection with the audience.

Nearly 2 years after that promise, 11,000 strong fans flocked at the Big Dome last Tuesday, May 14, to witness the fulfillment of that promise from singer/songwriter and Grammy winner – Jason Mraz with local artist Zendee opening the night. Armed with his new band, (Toca is just having some time off) Jason set the arena on fire. Dubbed as “Tour Is a Four Letter Word” the concert covers well-loved songs from his 4 studio released albums. Whoever coined of the headline for this marketing campaign did a very good job as it encompasses the overall branding strategy for “Love is a Four Letter Word” – his most recent and fourth studio album which was released last January 2012 and debuted at #1 on US Billboard Digital Chart.

Tour Is A Four Letter Word - Jason Mraz and His Band Promotional Poster. Image (c)

Tour Is A Four Letter Word – Jason Mraz and His Band Promotional Poster. Image (c)

I guess the release of his official lyric videos earlier this year helped this concert tour too as the audience get to sing-a-long with his songs. I have said this several times but Jason is at his best when live. The songs were thoughtfully arranged (performed) and he is able to inject wonderful organic blend of contemporary, jazz, blues, reggae, hip-hop and pop genres, with his hauntingly beautiful songs having their own unique story to tell. While he already performed half of the songs from the set list the last time he was here, it’s okay to me because these songs are the ones that put him on where is he right now. The up-beat “Make it Mine” (performed along with “Live High” both from his “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” album, released on 2008) earned himself a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal at the 52nd’s Grammy Awards back in 2010 while “Lucky” feat. Colbie Callait also from the same album (performed in Manila live with Zendee) gave him and Colbie the Best Pop Vocal Collaboration win at the Grammys the same year.

Mraz has his own and unique lyrical style of singing the songs with humorous lyrics in between, mixing the words and all, changing the lyrics, improvising, doing his thing. New Mraz audience can attest to that via the songs “3 Things” and “You F*ckin Did It” (from “Love is a Four Letter Word” album, released 2012) but one thing about him that maybe some people overlooked is the fact that he can write anti-love songs beautifully, how he’s able to communicate his emotions and the tenderness through the lyrics. That’s why I’m literally at the edge of my seat the moment I heard the intro keys for “Plane” (from “Mr. A-Z” album, released on 2003) feeling every bit of it. There is just too much emotion with that song and his band, too, did an excellent job with that number. At the encore, I was surprised that he did “Song for a Friend” (also from “Mr. A-Z” album) – the song as he explained many times before is actually “a song from a man to another man” (in a good, brotherly way though). With this song we go a little bit “deeper”, the overall message was very moving and it give me chills everytime I hear this song. There’s another version of this song with prelude from Senator Edward Kennedy’s moving eulogy to his brother Robert after his tragic assassination during the 1968 Presidential campaign in the US. Man, you have to check out that another version, really sad but very inspirational. Most of the audiences came to the arena obviously to have a good time and see Mraz perform. In my case, it’s far beyond that as I am very much attached with his songs physically and emotionally.

Jason Mraz with his band performs in Manila, May 2013

Jason Mraz performs in Manila, May 2013

Based on the set list, Mraz was able to navigate on different genres but I preferred Mraz ended the night with the song “I Won’t Give Up” (from “Love is a Four Letter Word” album, released on 2012) instead of “I’m Yours” / “3 Little Birds” (from “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” album, released 2008). Don’t get the wrong idea, I love the song very much and I literally have 50+ different versions of that song from different tours but I think “I Won’t Give Up” has earned that finale spot. It did really well on chart, and was a commercial success too, and that official lyric video was actually better than the official music video in my humble opinion. But hey, that’s just me. There are other good songs too, some were unreleased tracks that didn’t make it on his set list and hopefully, he’ll play them on his next visit.

To wrap it up, it was truly an amazing and unforgettable concert experience. The beautiful sketches/backdrop on the LED made the concert even more enjoyable. I can’t say that this is better than his previous gig 2 years ago because these two are two different concert experiences with the former dubbed as an “acoustic night” while the recent one with a full band.

If you missed the show or simply want to revisit that MRAZmerizing concert experience, then head over past break for the set list and accompanying videos.

Jason Mraz and his Band Live in Manila
SMART Araneta Coliseum, May 14, 2013

Set List (click on the title to watch the video on YouTube)
01. The World as I See It
02. Everything is Sound
03. The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)
04. They Shaped My Life (Who I Am Today)
05. Butterfly
06. 3 Things
07. Frank D. Fixer
08. You and I Both
09. Living in the Moment
10. Lucky (feat. Zendee)
11. Make it Mine / Live High
12. Only Human
13. Plane
14. You F*ckin Did It
15. I’m Coming Over
16. The Woman I Love
17. A Beautiful Mess
18. 93 Million Miles
19. I Won’t Give Up

20. Song for a Friend
21. I’m Yours / 3 Little Birds (Bob Marley cover)

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Nokia announces Lumia 928 – the world’s most innovative smartphone yet, heads to Verizon Wireless on May 16th

Nokia Lumia 928 for Verizon Wireless running Windows Phone 8. Image (c) Nokia

Nokia Lumia 928 for Verizon Wireless running Windows Phone 8. Image (c) Nokia

Nokia announced yesterday the latest variant of Lumia 920 – an upgraded version destined for Verizon Wireless, the all-new Lumia 928 touted as the world’s most innovative smartphone yet.

The Nokia Lumia 928 is the latest installment of the Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 line-up and comes equipped with everything you need to capture summer memories as they unfold.

Imaging is king
The Nokia Lumia 928 features Nokia’s powerful PureView imaging technology, including Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which makes it easy to capture blur-free pictures and videos every time, even in low-light. Along with OIS, the Nokia Lumia 928 features a Carl Zeiss lens – and photo buffs will love that a xenon flash is on board.

Nokia Lumia 928 camera captures the highlights even in low light. Image (c) Nokia

Nokia Lumia 928 camera captures the highlights even in low light. Image (c) Nokia

With a camera like this on the Nokia Lumia 928, you can leave your digital SLR at home this summer as you head out and about.

Make a lot of noise
To go along with the stunning imaging capabilities of the Nokia Lumia 928, we’ve built in three high-audio-amplitude-capture microphones to make sure you can capture high-end, distortion-free audio even in the noisiest environments.
It doesn’t matter if you’re at a monster truck rally, rock concert or summer party, you’ll have the best audio possible on a mobile with the Nokia Lumia 928 thanks to these high-performance microphones that record sound naturally and distortion-free, up to 140db.

Stunning design
This phone was built to perform, but it’s also is a joy to hold. The front of the Nokia Lumia 928 is dominated by a 4.5-inch OLED display covered by Gorilla Glass that extends all the way to the edge of the phone, bringing a quality feel. This phone is perfect for summer because the screen is easily readable, even in bright sunlight and the touchscreen works even if your fingertips are covered up.

For added convenience, the Nokia Lumia 928 features wireless charging built-in. Simply place your phone on the Nokia Wireless Charging Pillow by Fatboy, JBL PlayUp or one of our other wireless charging accessories and power up.

Nokia Lumia 928 HERE Maps

Nokia Lumia 928 HERE Maps. The “HERE” collection is available to all Windows Phone running 7.8. Image (c) Nokia

Nokia exclusive experiences built-in
The software and services that make the Nokia Lumia unique are included out of the box with the Nokia Lumia 928. First of all, the HERE Suite brings intuitive location services that ensure you’re never lost or wondering what to do when in a new city. You can count on HERE Maps, HERE Drive+ and HERE City Lens to help you navigate your environment each and every day.

Looking for some tunes to get your groove on? Nokia Music features unlimited streaming of free music playlists that you can even take offline.

To extend the functionality of the Nokia Lumia 928, you can count on the 145,000 apps in the Windows Phone store. Getting things done on-the-go is easy with Internet Explorer 10 for faster, safer browsing and Microsoft Office mobile integration.

Nokia recently announced the next generation Asha 501 phones on its India event last Thursday and is set unveil its next generation Lumia phone rumored to be the “Catwalk” on its London event this May 14th.

Check out the latest video from Nokia and Verizon!

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One Piece Film: Z sails at #2 at the box office! First week gross higher than Road to Ninja’s total gross receipts

One Piece Film: Z Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Toei

One Piece Film: Z Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Toei

Toei Animation’s “One Piece Film: Z” debuted at #2 at the Philippine box office according to BoxOfficeMojo beating the gross receipts of Trance ($89,217), Identity Thief ($84,068), and Dark Skies ($59,045) for the week of May 1-5. With a strong start of an estimated $127,197 (PhP 5,184,269) via 42 screens, One Piece’s first week alone gross higher than Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie’s total gross receipts of $123,613 (PhP 5,068,627) on its nearly three-week run.

Distributed locally by Pioneer Films and is exclusive to SM Cinemas, One Piece Film: Z is the twelfth overall film of One Piece. Original manga creator Eiichiro Oda executive-produced the film and features “Z”, as Luffy’s strongest opponent yet.

The movie is still being screened on select SM Cinemas. Check the schedule and ticket prices here. Next week, May 15th, sees the premiere of “Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rogue”, pitted against “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

UPDATE 2: One Piece Film: Z on its second week (May 8-12) earned a total grossed amount of $141,886 (PhP 5,820,631) and dropped from #2 to #10 spot according to BoxOfficeMojo.  The film saw a significant drop based on its 2nd-week box office ticket sales but still managed to outperformed Road to Ninja.  On the other hand, Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge debuts last Wednesday and is exclusive to SM Cinemas. For the complete schedule and ticket price, click here!

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One Piece Film: Z Movie Review – The Opposing Ideals, Fan-service and more!

One Piece Film Z Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Toei

One Piece Film: Z Theatrical Poster. Image (c) Toei

After manga creator Eiichiro Oda’s story contribution on “One Piece Film: Strong World” (2009), he’s back once again via “One Piece Film: Z”, this time, to oversee the overall production of the twelfth feature film from his long-running and fastest-selling manga in Japan – One Piece. The movie which revolves around the main antagonist, “Z” (also known as “Black Arm Zephyr”) and dubbed as the strongest opponent yet is non-canonical, meaning to say, this is a stand-alone story arc so everyone who hasn’t been following the manga journey can have a grasp of the story and will need not to worry.

The premise is simple. Former Marine Admiral Zephyr with the aide of his henchmen Ain and Binz want to destroy the world by blowing up three volcanic islands identified as the “End Points” with the help of stolen “Dyna Stones” – thought to be comparable to ancient weapons and are the marine’s “trump card”. But every story has a hero – The Straw Hat Team: meet Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky and Brook.

For me, the opening fight scenes between Z and Kizaru set the mood of the whole movie and I kind of hoped that it won’t disappoint me until the very end because some movies tend to have this rich and amazing opening scenes but the story-telling dwindles and got lost along the way. While I found the cherry blossoms party screen time a bit long, I think it’s necessary to show to the new audiences how close are they to each other and as a group – and also to validate Luffy’s action towards the end of the film.

I’m not quite convinced though why blowing up three volcanoes would lead to destruction of planet Earth. But other than that, I like the film and totally bought the whole Z’s back story. I felt the justification on his character as a good-hearted navy man who worked so hard to protect the government he trusts; turned into an exact opposite of himself when his wife and son was killed by a pirate which leads to his creation of Neo Marines organization. Oda incredibly managed to put a huge amount of depth on Z’s characterization that I actually developed an emotional attachment with Z given that he is the villain of this story. Need I say more why the film was titled after him?

One Piece Film Z Character Posters. Image (c) Toei

One Piece Film: Z Character Posters. First row: Luffy, Nami, Zoro, Sanji; Second row: Robin, Chopper, Usopp, Brook; Third row: Franky, Ain, Z, Binz. Image (c) Toei

As for the other characters like Nami, Robin, Brook and Chopper, they are basically there for the comic relief while Sanji, Zoro and Luffy had their moments on their respective climactic battles. On the animation part – it’s technically flawless, the camera angles, and the fight scenes; as expected from Toei. They did a really good job back there and you’ll immediately notice it on the opening scene, the texture, and the tone, kudos to the art director of this film.

The last few minutes where Z fights to his death and eventually came to his senses is just tear-jerking while showing a series of flashback from his childhood, where he plays the role of “Hero of Justice Z” – his own creation of a super hero. It’s a bitter-sweet but a fitting ending to bring closure to Z’s character.

To summarize, the movie isn’t about saving the world from volcanic eruptions; it’s about: your dreams versus principles – doing what you want, no matter what anyone says.

With an enjoyable battle and a well-done exposition, I’ll give this movie a 9/10 rating!

This review was also published and featured on PinoyExchange.
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“Me, You & the Music” Album Review – The Stellar Vocals of Jessica Sanchez

Jessica Sanchez - "Me, You & the Music" Album Cover. Image (c) Interscope Records

Jessica Sanchez – “Me, You & the Music” Album Cover. Image (c) Interscope Records

American Idol Season 11’s runner-up Jessica Sanchez released her much-anticipated debut album aptly titled: “Me, You & the Music” last April 30, her first under 19 Entertainment / Insterscope Records. The long-overdue 11-track album showcases Sanchez’s undeniable vocal prowess with a mixed of upbeat songs and powerful ballads. Though there’s no Emimen collaboration as Sanchez hoped, the album nonetheless features two tracks of duet from equally talented artist like Grammy winner Ne-Yo for the song “Tonight” which he co-wrote and is the current single; and Prince Royce – recipient of multiple Billboard Latin Music Awards, with the song “No One Compares” (original and Spanglish versions).

I instantly fell in love with “Crazy Glue” – a powerful ballad with a beautifully-written melody that is very distinct to her. She actually co-wrote this song and two others: “No One Compares (feat. Prince Royce)” – a pop/dance track; and “You’ve Got the Love” – an upbeat track with an amazing vocal range! Phew! It’s inevitable to compare her with Rihanna, Beyonce and Jazmine Sullivan but she’s definitely out there to create her own identity.

On the creative side, Sanchez managed to pull-off an amazing A-List of songwriters and producers with Toby Gad who worked with Beyonce, Fergie, Miley Cyrus, and The Veronicas among others; Mark J. Feist who have worked with huge artists like Celine Dion, Kelly Rowland and Natalie Cole; and Harvey Mason Jr. with Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross under his belt. Breakthrough and R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan co-wrote “Drive By”; award-winning writer LaShawn Daniels co-wrote “You’ve Got the Love”; Sia Furler which recently appeared on David Guetta’s Titanium co-wrote “Gentlemen”; J.R. Rotem made a new life to Tom Petty’s 1985 hit – “Don’t Come Around Here No More” now titled: “Don’t Come Around” with a more reggae feel.

"Tonight" - the current single from Jessica Sanchez featuring Ne-Yo. Image (c) Interscope Records

“Tonight” – the current single from Jessica Sanchez featuring Ne-Yo. Image (c) Interscope Records

Scheduled to appear on the last 2 episodes of Glee for this season and with the release if her debut album, Jessica is obviously one of today’s emerging young artists and hopefully she can cut her own niche in the music arena.

Top 5 songs: Crazy Glue, Plastic Roses, No One Compares, Tonight and Right to Fall

Rating: 8/10

You can sample (legally) “Me, You & the Music” here and buy it on: iTunes | Amazon | Amazon MP3 | Windows Store | Walmart

UPDATE: “Me, You & the Music” debuts at #26 on Billboard 200 with 14,000 units sold!

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