Movie Review: “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

I finally found the type of comedy that I’m looking for… in the septic tank.

 

Venice’s Golden Lion, Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and the Academy’s Oscar. These three are considered to be the pinnacle of film-making and unfortunately, the Philippines is still empty-handed on winning any of the three. It feels frustrating that for a country teeming of artistic talents, we have yet to nab at least a nomination. Who else is more frustrated than the local filmmakers thriving for international distinctions that will stand on the dais of Philippine cinema history? While it’s still a work-in-progress, I wonder, what makes a Filipino film Oscar-worthy? Does it have to be a social or political statement, inspired by true events, or a cultural showcase? Does it have to settle in drama, musical comedy, or a documentary? Most importantly, who should play the lead: Cherry Pie Picache, Mercedes Cabral, or Eugene Domingo? These are just the important questions that three young filmmakers have to decide on helming the elusive Oscar-worthy film in Marlon Rivera’s independent comedy “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”.

 

Movie poster.

 

It’s not until the end of the film when the woman in the septic tank is identified. But how she’s gotten herself in that shit hole, and how the Oscar-worthy film’s production rolled is a carnival of how reality can break expectations. Producer Bingbong (JM De Guzman) and director Rainier (Kian Cipriano) believe that they all have the right elements of an Oscar-worthy film which they entitled, “Walang-wala”, a controversial story of Mila, a mother who was driven by poverty to sell one of her children to a foreign pedophile. All systems go along with production manager Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) as they are en route to meet with the lead star, Eugene Domingo (as herself) and inspect the perfect location, the infamous Payatas dump-site. Bingbong and Rainier are radiating of assertiveness of how their film will be their ticket to the Oscars. They are so self-assured that they easily dismissed a fellow filmmaker who won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival because of his conceited obnoxiousness and wrong grammar. An unwanted rendezvous with him erupted to a volley of mockery at the car that further smelted Bingbong and Rainier’s desire of creating Philippine Oscar history. While the earlier montages of playful genre-swapping gave a glimpse of their cinematic vision in “Walang-wala”, it was through that car scene fueled of sarcasm that I rejoiced for these filmmakers as they embraced the youth’s tenacity of unnecessarily having to prove themselves. It was spot on in reflecting every young adult’s idealism. But the hilarious process of how the vicious reality fails them began on their first destination.

 

Eugene Domingo as… ‘Eugene Domingo’ in “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

 

To have the Eugene Domingo on board was already a titillating Oscar prospect but first, Bingbong and Rainier have to make adjustments for the coveted star. Courteous and eager as she was, Ms. Domingo domineered on her demands that sparked creative differences between the producer and the director. Mila, in Ms. Domingo’s visualization, is more neatly dressed with slight make-up as contrast to the original famished character. Ms. Domingo opted to add dialogue to the silent scenes and asked for a double in Sequence 7. Bingbong was more lenient while Rainier soured on imbibing a mainstream-treatment to their indie project. Their second stop in the Payatas dump-site, however, glued them back to their Oscar goal… until the perfect location turned into a traumatic situation.

 

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is no short of situational comedy but how effective it is in delivering a bigger theme than the behind-the-scene difficulties of film-making. It’s a well-matched humor of how expectation and reality play against each other. The leads’ unguarded idealism often falls prey to the unfair predator that is real life. In their quest to make an authentic film, Bingbong, Rainier, and Jocelyn got their doses of poisonous predicaments that threaten to sabotage their Oscar-worthy film. We don’t know if they made it on the Academy’s shortlist. Ms. Domingo got her demands granted, much to her excitement, but at least we get to know who gets the last laugh, if you know what I mean.

 

It is in the septic tank that I finally found a worthwhile Philippine comedy that I’m looking for and how hearty my laughter was on the intensity of hilarity that the characters find themselves in. While I find Bingbong and Rainier’s characters as relatable, it’s their preemptive Oscar ego that landed them to their misfortunes. It would be easy to find other actors to take their place but De Guzman and Cipriano were naturals as they bounce of each other as the ambitious filmmakers. Cortez was without dialogue throughout the film but it was in two scenes that her hysterics perfectly summarized the overall mood. Lastly, Domingo was all game in acting as the ostentatious version of herself and the versatile character of Mila. Chris Martinez’s script was engaging from beginning to end, enough to make up for the crude production value.

 

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank was the country’s submission for the Best Foreign Film category in the Academy Awards last 2011 but didn’t make the cut. Still, it wouldn’t stop filmmakers like Bingbong and Rainier to aspire for the Oscar gold. It is typical Filipino humor to make fun of someone in their sordid state and Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank exactly ends in that manner. But the final scene is the culmination of what the film is about — the notoriety of reality that one can’t simply capture on a group selfie at Payatas, or in Ms. Domingo’s case, a dive into karma.

 

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Movie Review: Cinemalaya X (Part 2 “K’Na the Dreamweaver”)

K’NA THE DREAMWEAVER is an authentic design of romance and tradition, if you give it a chance.

 

“You have to look at the bigger picture. The pattern is always there, even if you cannot see it.” – Bey Lamfrey

 

Beauty, nowadays, is seen myopically, thanks to the availability of content underneath our fingertips. Aside from snapshots of photogenic dishes, the online album is populated by breathtaking sceneries and glitzy fashion deities who are worshipped by every likes and shares. Not digressing how K’Na the Dreamweaver comes into the picture, but first-time director Ida del Mundo offered Cinemalaya X a beautiful yet rare design that weaves the enduring stories of duty, love, and tradition from the often overlooked expedition of the vast Philippine ethnicity.

 

Across Lake Sebu in South Cotabato lives the indigenous tribe, the T’boli, who are renowned for their traditional clothing. But behind every design is the mythical inspiration of a Dreamweaver and for every Dreamweaver is a story waiting to unfold. Like the dyed abaca fibers strewn to create the unique T’boli cloth, K’Na the Dreamweaver was seamless in stitching its numerous themes into a pattern that dresses the film’s ‘beauty in the ordinary’. Among its many designs, it is a coming-of-age story of the youngest Dreamweaver who had to choose between her people and her true love. As a princess, K’Na must either submit to the proposed marriage to unify the T’bolis or follow her heart. The many aspects of love pierce K’Na because not all loves (young love, love for the society, and love for one’s dream) can make the final cut. Mara Lopez is luminous as the titular lead, as she embraced well the naivety and grace of a young T’boli princess under pressure.

 

The ceremony. 

Secondly, the film is a sporadic reminder of how rich the Philippine culture is. K’Na the Dreamweaver is a solemn immersion to an exotic community that is rarely seen onscreen and often taken for granted. The unadulterated, serene landscape of South Cotabato is a refreshing escape, along with the sweet-sounding T’boli dialect that fosters the film’s authentic look (it won Best Production Design in the New Breed Category). Lastly, it’s a tale about dreams and traditions that stood the test of time. The T’boli patterns have been part of the tribe’s identity but in the film, they symbolized K’Na’s ultimate dream and the tribe’s age-long customs. K’Na the Dreamweaver preserves what remains to be known in the diverse Philippine ethnicity which has not been much explored cinematically. Interestingly, the growing number of young Cinemalaya participants was able to see this unfamiliar society through K’Na who had her own share of heartbreak and responsibilities, making her no less different from her urban audience. Her personal struggles, along with the mysticism of a Dreamweaver and the invitation to the T’boli way of life, make the film an enriching and emphatic experience.

 

Young K’Na and Bey Lamfrey.

There is something magical and chaste about the film that echoes to the epic of Princess Urduja. Despite the film’s thematic richness, the beauty of K’Na the Dreamweaver will only be appreciated, if you give it a chance. The viewers’ tolerance for such subject matter is a bit testy as some may quickly dismiss it as ‘boring’ and ‘plain’. If only they look past their prejudice and see what makes K’Na the Dreamweaver a modest ethnic treasure. From the sweeping river shot in the beginning to the ingenious T’boli designs throughout, Del Mundo conditioned an exotic look in one of the country’s most colorful and thriving tribes. As what K’Na’s grandmother encouraged, viewers should “look at the bigger picture”. It may not be cinema’s grandest look into cultural life (the T’bolis live simply but were never short of history) but K’Na the Dreamweaver opened a new world rarely seen; it further justifies the beauty of Philippine culture, and the T’bolis are just a slice of it.

 

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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UP NEXT: The kids are not alright in ‘#Y’ and ‘Children’s Show’.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Pacific Rim, The Amazing Spider Man 2

Appraising the luster in the previous Blockbusters

Pretty late to post my opinions on the following films but for future references, these should be your voice of reason on re-watching/watching them for the first time:

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

What could be a more fitting platform for Marvel to dive into the spy and political thriller territories? CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is Marvel’s most sophisticated stand-alone superhero film yet as it infuses the old school spy work and conspiracy of the 70’s to create a premium comic book adaptation of serious S.H.I.E.L.D. intrigue. Still coping with his new life post-The Avengers, Captain America once again caught himself in tricky trust issues with edgy S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a slier Black Window (Scarlett Johansson), and the mysterious Winter Soldier (SPOILER! Sebastian Stan). Underneath the red, white, and blue costume, Chris Evans brings the delicate humanity in Captain America/Steve Rogers that resonates throughout the film (and that’s why he’s my favorite Avenger). Action sequences were exhilarating and ‘cleaner’ with fewer CGI effects that stick to the old-hat spy book. Aside from the genre-within-a-genre setting device (comic-book hero in a political thriller), CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 is more than just a follow-up to the endearing backstory of Steve Rogers. Story-wise, the sequel is (so far) the meatiest and most cohesive inclusion to Marvel’s cinematic universe.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

 

PACIFIC RIM

An engrossing ‘fan boy’ experience to the fault, PACIFIC RIM is an epic machination of a monster movie done right: a visual combustion of enormous kaiju proportions coherently matched with an emphatic back-story of the pilots behind the jaeger. Auteur Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project is a screaming vindication of a fan boy-and-girl spectacle, although the lengthy exposure to colossal collisions and cranky scientists could spoil the fun.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2

Hope is the recurring theme in the Marc Webb-directed franchise but the latest Spidey sequel seemed to be dangling from commercial hopes than creative optimism. THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2 is a web of excesses, stretching from unfocused story-lines, pickled romanticism, and unripe villain physiology. What it made up for the ‘amazing’, perceptive visual style, TASM2 lacked the narrative coherence that doesn’t require comprehension, making the sequel a brainless comic exercise. It’s a time-consuming and overstuffed installment of Spider Man’s past, present, and future. The tangled outcome doesn’t bode well for the succeeding Spider Man films but at least the performances (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s doomed relationship and Dane DeHaan’s menacing turn as the Green Goblin) should keep viewers in-thread-sted (pun intended).

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Movie Review: Cinemalaya X (Part 1 “Hustisya”)

It’s never too late for any firsts but in my case as a film enthusiast, attending the Cinemalaya Film Festival in its tenth year for the first time was overdue. Nonetheless, it was exciting to finally see independent films that don’t walk the banality of mainstream movies. Philippine Indies were a breath of fresh air and although this year’s lineup was a mixed bag of hits and misses, their rare abilities to trigger emotions (other than the usual kiligs and guffaws), and spark intelligent discussions are what make them worth celebrating.

I only managed to watch four entries this year but my 2014 Cinemalaya experience was never short of enjoyment. It felt like a trip to the places I’d already been but seeing them in a different light (Hustisya, #Y, Children’s Show). It was also an immersion to the forgotten (and sometimes taken-for-granted) community which also has a story to tell (K’Na the Dreamweaver). The unfamiliarity in the familiar (and vice-versa) is the trickery that had me fascinated and displeased. There’s also the common notion of “Don’t judge the movie by its poster” as what my friend said, and such film prejudice was shredded once I arrived to my cinematic conclusion. And that’s what I learned one Saturday in Cinemalaya X at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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HUSTISYA doesn’t live up to its hype.

The trip began in Hustisya, the film festival’s most talked-about entry which starred the Nora Aunor (the title aptly defining her exclusion from the National Artist awardees). The movie was heavy of attention, not only because of the industry stalwarts behind the film but also the moral dilemma it promised to tackle. But don’t get too overexcited during the two-hour trip in Manila. Disappointingly, no trace of justice was seen in Hustisya.

 

MUGSHOT. Film still of Hustisya

Hustisya chronicles the ladder-like ascent of Biring (Aunor) from Vivian’s (Rosanna Roces) errand girl to become her own boss in the human trafficking business. The lever of Biring’s transformation turned when she was accused of a murder she didn’t commit. Her ordeal in pursuing justice was, however, greatly under-served, or perhaps discarded what Hustisya could have been. Maybe I’m the only one who expected Hustisya to say something about the society (like those politically-charged films in the 70’s and 80’s). Considering that its selling point is the litmus test on morality, Hustisya doesn’t even get close to its message. What could have been a daring and thought-provoking exploration of injustice in the metro through the expressive eyes of Aunor, Hustisya strode safely to its cliffhanger. It was too safe that it’s frustrating that a film, which could have been a vehicle for a powerful social commentary, wheeled linearly to its ending: no detours, no curves, and no jagged edges to at least substantiate its ominous title.

 

AND THE PLAN IS… Aunor and Nacino in Hustisya

Notching the film festival’s Best Actress trophy, Aunor is of course, indisputable on her craft. But it was only through her that the audience sympathized Biring. Without Aunor, Biring is just a flatly written character whose makeover is just one of the by-products of the dog-eat-dog world portrayed in the film. Hustisya misses the point of its title. Instead, it directs to an omnipotent force that controls everyone’s destiny and it hangs without any resolution. Religious and superstitious, Biring offered written prayers and peso bills at the Manila City Hall (the shot of the building towering Aunor subtly affirms my take), not to mention Atty. Gerald (Rocco Nancino) and his cohorts who were the syndicate’s higher-ups. Hustisya turned a blind eye on dissecting the societal injustices filmed at the sore shambles of Manila. There’s no mistaking how dirty the city is, and seeing it onscreen was just another bitter pill to swallow. But in a scene where Biring imagined herself walking under the LRT Carriedo station, obscenity and delinquency lining up to her distress (and the poor CGI of a full moon overcasting her), it felt feigned that it was ludicrous. Hustisya tried too hard in staging Manila as a sin city that it became unrealistic (too think that its setting is already relevant and timely). Unlike the camera-works of CHILDREN’S SHOW that brilliantly framed its impoverished setting, Hustisya’s unnecessary use of conjured imagery is a crime to the already powerful, eye-stabbing Manila rubbish. Too bad the crew behind the camera overlooked what is already so obvious.

Justice is said to be the right of the weakest. But Biring isn’t exactly the person who needed it most. Destiny heeded her rituals at the city hall tower. She lived comfortably at Vivian’s; the latter punished when she turned against Biring. From the cellar, Biring was elevated to the luxurious floors of Traders Hotel and converted into an impassive business woman in the black market. Her maleficent laugh at the ending was the ringing bells of her metanoia. Still, Biring is merely a pawn that can be easily disposed to her bosses’ liking. Hustisya doesn’t engross itself to the complexity of morality. As an accomplice, Biring already has a clear understanding of the hole she’d dug herself into (she sees and hears no evil, according to the synopsis). And as a pawn, all she could do is follow her superiors as they blackmail her while she tried to reassure white lies to her family. What really disappoints is that Hustisya doesn’t seize the opportunity of exploring the gray area between right and wrong. A moral drama is an excellent, cinematic medium in exploring what makes us human and exposing the flaws that define a person’s morality. Plot-driven and susceptible to plot holes, Hustisya makes waste of not leveraging on Aunor’s ability to carry a character-driven story.

 

Ate Guy literally and figuratively having the last laugh.

The thematic absence of justice and inaccurate imagery ambush Hustisya’s parting message. Applause erupted when the post credits rolled but I was left sunk in my seat, convinced that Hustisya is an injustice of its own doing. It doesn’t live up to its hype, despite the cinematic triumvirate of Aunor, director Joel Lamangan, and writer Ricardo Lee. In a matter of comparison, Hustisya runs in the same universe of Erik Matti’s On The Job which successfully blended the parallel stories of corruption, violence, and morality into a thrilling Manila noir. Hustisya was absorbed in its social commentary at the expense of its authenticity. But if there’s one thing that struck me in Hustisya was that there’s always someone preying at the dog-eat-dog world, much like in a food chain… but where’s the justice in that?

P.S.

There’s also a scene where a victim thanked Biring and referred her prettier sister to be recruited for their trade of cyber sex. Redeeming value of human trafficking as an escape to poverty, anyone?

Also, Hustisya will be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this September under the Contemporary World Cinema category. We’ll see how international critics will react to the film.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

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UP NEXT: Weaving the review for K’Na the Dreamweaver 

Photos from Cinemalaya and The Pulse websites.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The To Do List

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES:

Brilliantly directed and emotionally gripping, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a rare package of an action/sci-fi blockbuster and a social commentary that succeeds in creating a more powerful and more satisfying entry to the franchise. The point-of-view camera framing is both elegant and haunting, with an underlying message of a new, dark world that humans and apes lived in.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

 

THE TO DO LIST:

While it isn’t an adventurous and hilarious 90s teen comedy that it appears to be, THE TO DO LIST leans on Aubrey Plaza’s plain comedic timing to bring out the pallor of her awkward character into something laughable and passable. The film boasts of a solid comedic ensemble (enter Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Clark Gregg, and Rachel Bilson who’s a mirthful surprise as the lead’s all-out sister) but the story comes short of hormones to fuel a guffaw-inducing throwback edition of a meticulously planned yet gauche sexual awakening.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Beneath ‘Under The Skin': Fascination, Fear, and Fur

My highest rated film of the year (so far). Let’s talk about…

Beneath ‘Under The Skin’: Fascination, Fear, and Fur

 

“Strangely fascinating and eerily beautiful, UNDER THE SKIN sees Scarlett Johansson in her most bizarre femme fatale role onscreen. Director Jonathan Glazer’s exotic mix of science fiction and art house is a one-of-a-kind experience that leaves you speechless out of terror and trance, with a disturbing ‘prey’ music that preludes one of the most shocking sequences in the genre.” 

I posted the above capsule review on my Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes accounts, with the assumption that I’ve already realized the fullness of this brilliant film from director Jonathan Glazer (Birth and Sexy Beast). But days later, more reasons emerged in further undressing the Scarlett Johansson-starrer. UNDER THE SKIN is simply a mind-blowing experience; an intricate fable about a beautiful predator who slowly acknowledges the humanness she briefly adapted in a chilly Scotland where unsuspecting man-preys are the real monsters.

I may have used a lot of adjectives to describe UNDER THE SKIN but all the same, the film still makes me speechless. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that not even any 3D/4D/IMAX movie can match. It was the surreal marriage of science fiction and art house that enamored me and Scarlett was just an icing on the wedding cake. Sounds cliché but the beauty of UNDER THE SKIN does not simply run skin-deep; it rushes to the nerves that tingles of fascination and fear on the woman wearing the fur coat.

Scarlett Johansson as the alien in ‘Under The Skin’

 

UNDER THE SKIN is flawless (no pun intended) of its cinematic elements, making the blend of art house and science fiction the most impeccable among its species. Most sci-fi production sets took significant resources to build their fictional settings, including the special effects. UNDER THE SKIN is a minimalist work of art, coated of plain vanilla but layered of subtle messages. Both the alien and the snowy town of Scotland share the same air of mystery; the weather chilly and her motives chilling. The camera is angled in such a way that implores viewers to not just simply watch Scarlett. Shifting the perspective from audience to alien, they do not ogle but absorb but what they observe. From that, UNDER THE SKIN embodies how the genre succeeds: science fiction is not a fleeting memory; it’s an experience.

And science is just one half of the film’s ingenious biology. UNDER THE SKIN is brimming of striking and haunting imagery. The film does not resort to violence which it leaves to the audience’s presumption (except the alien hitting the man with a rock). Rather, its peculiar horrors resonate, and even yield twice the desired effect. The abandoned crying baby stilled for more than five seconds was painful to watch. And when the eerie music plays to signal the unimaginable scene which was this: (SPOILER!)

…makes me lost of words. UNDER THE SKIN has the unique ability of fascinating and frightening its viewers. That scene, in particular, was the first of its kind that I have ever seen and what happens underneath was a shocker. How bizarre and brilliantly executed it was! But the tricky message UNDER THE SKIN bares is not the roaming extra-terrestrial threat but the helplessness on sexual abuse which the alien was not spared of.

Sure, the alien uses her skin to seduce her preys, but these men are sexual predators themselves. Letting themselves be caught off guard for the promise of pleasure, these men fall victim to their own lustful weakness. The first half of UNDER THE SKIN was a cautionary tale; the alien stripping as a beautiful woman who knows that carnal desire is a commodity of the world she is into. The sequence, glimpsed on the above screen cap, was frightening but not to the point where the audience fear for the victims’ lives. It is their choice after all, and even as they sink, they still ogle at the woman who only wanted their meat.

The second half, however, sees the alien becomes the prey. Prior to her eventful end, she is slowly acknowledging her humanness. The alien becomes conscious of her skin and unlike the emotionless trail she led as a predator, she began to feel sympathy on her last victim. In her awkward attempts, she experienced become a human being. Not that she liked it (she did not like the taste of chocolate cake), but she marveled on the kind of life that the skin exposed her. (SPOILER!) But her experience of human existence was short-lived because of an attempted rape, which even an alien was unable to escape.

UNDER THE SKIN undresses the monsters of science fiction and reality. On one hand is an extra-terrestrial creature, the other is the rapist. But who is the real monster? Who must be more feared and punished? (SPOILER!) The alien burned to her death as the physical struggle from her rapist revealed her actual form. It is queer to realize that what makes us human also makes us evil. I feared for the alien’s life but as the smoke from her ashes rose to the sky, it was clear to me that she was not supposed to stay on this world any longer. She is an alien, after all, but innocent as she was, it was still cruel for her to experience such crime.

 

Many men come and go but I consider UNDER THE SKIN as a one-woman show. Having played a seductress many times already, Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing as she brings her femme fatale role to the astronomical level. As the alien, she only speaks when necessary (with a perfect English accent) but it is through her eyes that Scarlett conveys her character’s feelings of stoic, curiosity, and terror effectively. Scarlett finds herself in a smart vehicle (no pun intended) that showcases her subtleties as an actress. UNDER THE SKIN was her first film which she bared her all, and it was not self-imposed and self-important. It was unpretentious and instrumental to the film’s message.

 

Loosely adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same title, UNDER THE SKIN is a must-see for sci-fi enthusiasts and even to those who are just interested on seeing Scarlett as an alien. One of the weirdest and thought-provoking films I had seen, UNDER THE SKIN is more than what meets the eye; it is an immersing experience that should not be missed. :)

“Sketches in Q” – a Homeland fan fic

“Sketches in Q” – a Homeland fan fic

Because PETER QUINN.

Because he’s my favorite character.

Because he’s not the typical CIA agent/assassin.

Because no matter how tough he is, you can see it in his eyes that he struggles with his feelings for Carrie. (Season 4!)

Because RUPERT FRIEND makes Quinn’s lovesickness so believable that I jumped to the Quinn-Carrie ship (but just right after S03E08 because I have to be certain of my feelings for them as well).

Because other than the romantic aspect, Rupert makes Quinn so humane and I hope to see more of his personal side in the next season (even if there are many new characters now).

Because I miss HOMELAND. Come back to me soon! Less than three months to go!

 

*To the person who wrote this fan fic, thank you because you just made my most favorite fan fic. :)