Thursday, July 24, 2014

Unsung

Tyrion Lannister. Black sheep.

Simian siege, evolution of ‘Apes’

(July 20, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Darker and more ominous, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a worthy, rampaging sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” sturdily continuing the saga of the chimp champion Caesar, default leader of similarly smart simians.

The latest installment in the prequel/reboot series, the Matt Reeves-directed film works well in enhancing the decades-old mythology, first introduced in the 1963 novel “La Planete des Singes,” and translated later to the first “Planet of the Apes” film in 1968.

In “Dawn,” much has happened to the world, a full decade later. The intellectually evolved Caesar (motion-acted and voiced by Andy Serkis) is now leader of a peaceful tribe of apes, simultaneous to the decimation of the human race by a relentless virus.

Human survivors in San Francisco, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), seek to restore power in the city. A small team is sent to the California wilderness, where a hydroelectric dam is situated, and where Caesar’s tribe lives. Man and ape grudgingly cooperate and compromise, but some members of each group are just antagonistic and untrusting, which predictably leads to disaster.

From the get-go, “Dawn” benefits from seamless special effects, resulting in busier, more hyper-real scenarios, whether they’re thunderous clashes, hunting scenes, or quieter, more intimate parts (specifically the bits that focus on Caesar’s family). The apes here are rightly more expressive, strange but fascinating amalgamations of simians with unsettling human mannerisms.

There is much to appreciate, drama-wise, as the human family tasked with working in ape territory gives the film some dimension. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smith-McPhee portray weary survivors who bond with the non-humans well. But just as dramatic are the main ape family members—Caesar fathered two sons with an ailing female. Their travails are surprisingly just as relatably human, their ordeals terribly affecting.

The theme of family is wisely utilized and explored; flashing back via video recording to Caesar’s younger days (with James Franco’s fatherly character) at one point, the film connects to its predecessor’s focus on father-child dynamics, replicating much of the pathos with “Dawn’s” new rapports.

It is elating to see Caesar as a mature, progressive, sympathetic leader, just as it is exciting to see his primitive culture advancing in undreamed-of ways—we root for him and his loyal compatriots, despite the fact that these events all lead inescapably to their kind inheriting the Earth.

Reeves, no stranger to wrangling “real” and fantastical elements—he directed the horror-drama “Let Me In” and scifi flick “Cloverfield”—handles the primate politics of “Dawn” with precision and texture, making its chaotic flashpoints especially grand and epic.

Objectifixation, Sixteen


"Woohoo! I have a TV show! Take that, Pietro!"
“I don't know. I keep seeing Grant Gustin as an evil Warbler."

Targaryen sigil pillow. Thanks, Art Navarro and HBO Asia!

Found this old vinyl record under a stack of drawings. A friend gave it to me in '89, I think.

Sale stuff. That Supergirl 1 Million issue is weird.

Longshot and Psylocke.
"Dazzler needs an intervention! That costume!"
"I know! At least you left that Limahl look in the '90s."

Unforgettable 1991 ad for (adjectiveless) X-Men # 1 that appeared in many Marvel titles.
 
"A talking raccoon, Frank! Maybe they'll give me a reboot."
"Yeah, that'll probably happen after I get my fourth doomed movie, Howard."

X-Terminators

X-Terminators. The original X-Factor's trainees: Rictor, Boom Boom, Skids, Rusty, Wiz Kid, Leech, Artie.

Cloud-based service allows real-time viewing

Couch potatoes have gone beyond viewing favorite shows only on TV screens, thanks to the Internet. One company provides an orderly, easily accessible system for such dedicated viewers, via tablets, phones and/or other gadgets.

A cable TV-streaming service launched last year in the United States, NimbleTV (nimbletv.com) is cloud-based. Subscribers around the world can watch the shows as they air in their countries of origin on most Internet-ready devices.

Inquirer Entertainment was invited to test the service. In the limited time offered, much was discovered—intriguing channels to browse, shows to see, and see again. Surfing took up much of the time; it can be hard to decide which programs to view now or save (record) for later. 

The NimbleTV dashboard is easily navigable; the page layout is intuitive. The show may be viewed full-screen or shrunk into a corner if you wish to check out the schedule for other shows.

Nearly all genres are offered—reality TV, game shows, cartoons, and so on.

While the shows are recordable, one drawback is when something you’re watching gets interrupted with the notice, “Please wait while we verify your subscription with your provider. This may take a minute.”

It doesn’t take that long, but still. Or you are asked to wait while the channel guide is being updated. At times, it resets to where your show started, so it can get confusing.

In any case, it’s still convenient and generally reliable. Plus, shows like “True Blood” are aired without jarring cuts.

Interested parties may try the service for a limited period. Visit http://bit.ly/1y7CxOo. Viewers who wish for the service to be made available in the Philippines should contact NimbleTV via Facebook  (www.facebook.com/NimbleTV) and Twitter (@NimbleTV).

Age of Kulan Gath

Age of Kulan Gath. From Uncanny X-Men 190-191. Manhattan and its denizens were transformed by the master spell of the wizard-king Kulan Gath, who was opposed by the X-Men and other freedom-fighters.

Found Lost

Thanks for the book, Danry! At sana masaya ka na at may issue 2 ka na ng Lost! And thanks, Aileen, for the pic. 

Local comic book collector Danry Ocampo finally got the Lost comic book that I promised a month or so back, and the Deathstroke sketch he requested. He brought a copy of Rodsky Patotski, when he dropped by the office, too! Nice. Salamat, Danry.

Catwoman, Pre-Crisis

Catwoman. Pre-Crisis Selina Kyle.

Brainiac blunders and breakthroughs abound in ‘Silicon Valley’

(July 14, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Lewd and lowbrow elements often make up most of  Mike Judge’s humor, but the “Beavis and Butthead” creator’s new HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley” is primarily smart and geeky, although it can still be crude and downright silly at times.

Judge, with John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky (collaborators on Judge’s animated series “King of the Hill”), cocreated “Silicon Valley,” an eight-episode foray into timely success stories in the tech world, mainly inspired by Judge’s stint at a startup company based in California’s Silicon Valley hub in the 1980s.

And similarities with current-day brainiacs abound, as “Silicon Valley” follows the life of promising genius programmer Richard  Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch), who develops a groundbreaking data compression algorithm, which makes him suddenly sought-after by eccentric billionaires who wish to be part of his impending success.

Richard chooses a venture capitalist’s offer of $200,000 and 5-percent ownership, over a $10-million buyout of his new company—not an easy decision to make and stand by, but a path that would be more rewarding for him, he figures.

But while Richard charts his own course now, he has to deal with all the challenges that come with a potentially profitable future, from his company’s name to the nitty-gritties that his new endeavor entails.
Interestingly, his eager and willing colleagues and housemates join him in ensuring that he gets things done, despite the occasional derailing subplot. 

Entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller), who has been with Richard since the beginning (Erlich runs an incubator of startup businesses), is supportive of the young up-and-comer while acting as a meddlesome middleman.

“Silicon Valley” wryly pokes fun at the unique absurdities of the “techspert” culture, while presenting an easily relatable underdog story with the shy protagonist, who now faces the might of a spurned Internet giant (with nigh-unlimited resources to reverse-engineer his vaunted breakthrough).

And while it deals with the funny world of intelligent people who are ill-equipped to handle “real” problems, it still inspires guffaws through Farrelly-esque irreverence (Erlich attacking a young bully who tormented the defenseless Richard is priceless). The show also periodically resorts to adult/green humor to emphasize the more human side of the characters. In the season-ender, there is actually a lengthy joke that’s both lewd and intelligent, but works hilariously.

May the show mine its offbeat, otherworldly realm for more effective laughs next season, and offer more scathing and spirited satires!

(A “Silicon Valley” marathon airs July 20, 12 p.m. on HBO Signature.) 

‘Game of Thrones’ artist visualizes the fantastic

(July 11, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“With my comics background, it was an easy transition to do the work on ‘Game of Thrones,’” said Northern Irish storyboard artist William “Will” Simpson, during a recent phone interview with the Inquirer.

Simpson illustrated iconic comic book characters such as Batman and Judge Dredd, before shifting to doing storyboards for movies. He stressed that disciplines he learned in comics continue to be useful to his current work.

“Comic illustrating is a pressurized art job where storytelling is everything, and clarity is important … when I got into storyboarding, I was drawing detailed and clear illustrations. It’s a natural kind of progression. ‘Game of Thrones’ was such a breeze to walk into,” Simpson said.

His film credits include “Reign of Fire” and “City of Ember,” among others. He said that being a storyboard artist requires him to work closely with directors.

“The great thing is, you’re trying to do a version of their vision, their idea of what we’re going to shoot,” Simpson said. “It’s important that I connect with all of our different (‘Game of Thrones’) directors. I have to be able to adapt to their way of solving problems within a script. A lot of the time, it’s moving camera angles … [it has to be] clear to the directors of photography and everyone else involved. ”

Simpson related that if the directors like his approach to telling assigned scenes, they approve and immediately work on it; if not, he makes appropriate changes like adding very specific shots or changing angles.

He works primarily in black and white, drawing scenes onto frames, but has done color designs when asked by producers to create conceptual artwork for certain sequences and characters.

“I like just drawing storyboards in black and white … there’s a clarity to them that helps, rather than hinders. Conceptual work, it’s different; you’re trying to get the feel of what you’re trying to portray. I got to do that back in the beginning. The White Walkers, [monsters that] were going to be part of the main story even though we just see them briefly—they were probably my favorite thing to conceptualize.” 

On author George RR Martin’s blog post last year, which indicated that the American writer imagined the Iron Throne differently, Simpson responded that changes are inevitable with the HBO adaptation.

“There have been many conceptualizations of the Iron Throne by lots of different artists [and fans] over the years. When we came to the stuff in the show, it was with fresh eyes … When you see it on the set, it’s a marvel; it feels right for what our show is. I think it’s become an acceptable thing. When you look at fans who want to get photographed on the Iron Throne, George should be happy about the fact that it’s actually done its job. It definitely has helped create an identity for the thing,” Simpson said.

While being a storyboard artist doesn’t require one to draw exact likenesses of the actors, Simpson explained that he imagines them while working. “You have their images in your mind when you’re drawing, and you have to get some of their approaches to acting into your characters. You try to instill all that into the boards, under pressure,” he said, laughing.

(The “Game of Thrones” marathon airs Saturday and Sunday, 12 p.m., on HBO Signature.)

Life, loss and ‘The Leftovers’

(July 5, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Inspired by the religious belief called “The Rapture”—mass vanishing of innocent and righteous persons prior to the end times—“The Leftovers” is an aptly bleak HBO series that tackles the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of millions.

Created by Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and Tom Perrotta (“Election”), the fantasy-drama series focuses on the aftermath of the global event dubbed The Departure, three years after people of all ages and races disappeared.

Still reeling from the loss, denizens of one town react differently to the unprecedented occurrence that continues to baffle scientists, and even the religious. It’s not all-out chaos, as things seem normal, only somber and much quieter. A cop, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) tries to maintain order, attempting to make sense of his life and keep his disassembled family together. His wife (Amy Brenneman) left him to join a cult of silent (nonspeaking) protesters; his daughter (Margaret Qualley) keeps rebelling; and unknown to him, his son (Chris Zylka) has become the henchman of a self-styled prophet.

Life goes on for the abandoned, most of them silently questioning the still-unanswered mystery. Some deal with feelings of unworthiness; but there are those who carry on, unruffled. A priest (Christopher Eccleston) dispels the belief that The Departure took only the virtuous and sinless; he gathers and spreads proof that some of the vilest, most hateful people were included in the “cosmic” culling.

“The Leftovers” has a tone similar to some fantasy and sci-fi drama series about encompassing cataclysms or “miracles”—“FlashForward,” “Resurrection” and “Revolution” easily come to mind—but it certainly is more dour and less optimistic,  its small-town setting giving it a strange, “Twin Peaks” vibe. (Kevin’s sanity is questioned a few times owing to some odd encounters.)

It has quirky, “Lost” touches, as well; by the third episode, it is easy to sympathize with the characters. Not that it isn’t easy from the get-go, it’s well-acted enough to inspire emotional rapport—there’s just a deeper understanding of their dysfunctions once the massive, soul-searching backstories unfold.

The focus on Eccleston’s religious character, for example, reveals his various frailties, illustrating in detail his life prior to, and after The Departure. He exposes the fact that the despicable were among the disappeared, exemplifying the serious conflict within his being. While he is perplexed at the randomness of the calamity, he gives voice to those who want to remember that a clear demarcation still exists between good and evil.

There’s enough interconnected drama that effortlessly establishes the despairing, befuddled world. Theroux does admirably as the layered cop, touched by guilt and a struggling family man, observing change and disruption from a unique spot. Liv Tyler is warm and pleasant as the unhappy woman searching for purpose; Zylka and Qualley do impressively as the jaded youngsters with corresponding angsts and respective shenanigans; Eccleston is just uncommonly remarkable as an unwavering naysayer.

It’s easy to get into “The Leftovers” despite its predictable, world-weary tone and unrelenting moodiness. The post-apocalyptic drama’s melancholy musings offer a fresh look at societal upheaval, and answers more relatable human mysteries while doing so.

(“The Leftovers” airs July 6, 8:45 p.m. on HBO and HBO HD.) 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Psychic Love, First Five Pages

Psychic Love! Yeah, I'm showing the first five pages, and will probably post more in the future.
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Marvel's live-action universe expands with 'SHIELD'

(June 26, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” the 22-episode TV spin-off of Marvel Studios’ movies, gives fans of the blockbuster superhero films their action-suspense fix, if slowly. The show focuses on a small team under the agency SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), a group of human operatives shining separately from the big, showy sci-fi-fantasy flicks. The show is cocreated by Joss Whedon (“Avengers,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).

Like many Whedon endeavors, there is an almost-consistent balance between mostly flippant dialogue and intelligent storytelling, although there have been a few misses, episodes that dragged due to various factors. Still, the season-long arcs merge quite fantastically near the end, rewarding those viewers who stayed despite some less-than-stellar chapters.

Lead character Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads the 616 SHIELD team, tasked with investigating and analyzing superhuman or extraordinary occurrences. Forming his trusty team are the reliable field agent Ward (Brett Dalton), combatant extraordinaire May (Ming-Na Wen), brilliant science geeks Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), and plucky “hacktivist” Skye (Chloe Bennet).
The show expands Marvel’s live-action universe by centering on Coulson, who was slain by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in “Avengers.” The mystery of his resurrection is very gradually explained, a puzzle that is answered fully by the season’s end.

It utilizes its movie connections wisely by bringing in previously seen characters, played by guests Samuel L. Jackson (SHIELD head honcho Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) and Jamie Alexander (the warrior-woman Sif, from “Thor”). But it also is able to create new, interesting main characters of its own, and decent iterations of existing comic book creations.

Events in the “Captain America” sequel, “The Winter Soldier,” have direct and lasting impact on the story lines: The revelation that SHIELD has been infiltrated thoroughly by terrorist Hydra agents gives the series a good jolt, granting viewers the twists they have patiently been waiting for.

The big-budgeted show, while swimming in fancy effects and nicely choreographed punch-a-thons, relies heavily, and benefits greatly, from its dynamic characters, whose loyalties and fortitude are tested by the ordeals in the last few episodes of Season One. In typical Whedon fashion, there’s treachery and trauma, girl power, and heart-wrenching and fanboy moments galore. (De Caestecker and Henstridge, particularly, are really good actors, especially in the season-ender.)

While “SHIELD” started rather unspectacularly but passably, it has gradually become what its creators intended it to be—its own intriguing individual saga that still connects to, and cleverly enhances, Marvel’s tight cinematic mythology.

(“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Wednesdays, 8 p.m. on Fox.)

Objectifixation, Fifteen

Unearthed this ancient issue of Us magazine (Feb. 1996). Revealing Natalie Merchant interview. "I definitely notice people for their physical beauty, but that's pretty transparent. If someone isn't behaving beautifully, they don't appear beautiful to me anymore."
Powerbooks ATC warehouse sale. Comic book compilations, P250 each!

What If Gwen Stacy had lived? She and Peter get married, but the ceremony is suddenly crashed by J. Jonah Jameson, who now knows Spidey's identity. (Green Goblin sent him proof.) Good issue, but that cover caption is nuts: "Whatever you do, Spider-Man... don't save her!"

Remastered original trilogy. VHS! Sadly, the player broke in the late '00s. Oh, well.

"Hulk don't understand. Hulk wanted to watch 'Fault in Our Stars.' Hulk getting angry!"
"Tell me about it, comrade. Eight cinemas for a 'Transformers' movie is too much."

Piotr and Katya

Drew this in 1988, I think. I nearly filled a few textbooks with sketches of some of my favorite characters back then.

Resurrection Sandwich

With "Resurrection" actors Kurtwood Smith and Omar Epps last month, Raffles Makati. Thanks for the pic, Louise! Ooh, trivia: Kurtwood played Red Forman, dad to Eric in "That '70s Show," while Omar played Dr. Eric Foreman in "House."  (Btw, the title was inspired by a coworker's joke.)

China Crisis still suave, playful

(June 23, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

China Crisis cofounder and vocalist Gary Daly expressed appreciation for returning to Manila for a fourth time during his spiel at the English pop-new wave group’s show at Solaire’s Grand Ballroom Friday night.

“[It’s] our pleasure to be here,” Daly said, before singing his fourth song.
Way before the English group’s set, front acts Kudos Loves 80s and Mark Mabasa and Friends opened at roughly 8:50 p.m.
 
Kudos Loves 80s, a young band with Union Jacks painted on half their faces, led with a medley of new wave favorites from the era and the early 1990s.  “Enjoy the Silence,” “Catch Me, I’m Falling,” “Pretty in Pink,” “I Go Crazy,” “Tenderness” and “Just Like Heaven” were given a moodier, heavier take, heralding a throwback to simpler, more melodic musical epochs.

At 9:12, Mark Mabasa and Friends, a quartet of young pop-R ‘n’ B crooners, went onstage. The switch in genres was jarring to those expecting a purely new wave-y night. The group did a couple of retro numbers: “Baby, Come to Me,” “Dance With My Father Again,” and songs from the soundtracks of “Dreamgirls,” “The Bodyguard,” “Rent” and “Footloose,” among others.

Mabasa is clearly talented and charming, and his group mates awe-inspiring singers, so a sizeable part of the audience was won over, unmindful of the sudden detour.

Photo by Aldrin Ignacio
China Crisis emerged at 10, opening with the lively “A Higher High,” followed by numbers where Daly and guitarist-cofounder Lundon shared vocal duties.

Backed by a younger band, they sounded a bit different, a tad more adventurous than some of their recordings, but less-wrangled and focused, instrument-wise.

During Daly’s spiel of gratitude, a female fan yelled, “Black Man Ray,” requesting one of the group’s biggest hits, to which Lundon replied, “Soon!”

China Crisis, named for “the mystique and mystery of the East,” as the core members previously told the Inquirer, offered evolving styles in its heyday, and even after. The reggae-influenced “Strength of Character” had a lively bounce, an interesting deviation from their more guitar- and keyboard-driven ditties.

Immediately after, they played “Black Man Ray,” a poignant ballad that sent diehards singing along: “Yes, yes, I could be wrong/why, why should I pretend/God only knows in the end.”

It was followed by “Tragedy and Mystery,” “Working With Fire and Steel” and “Best Kept Secret”—distinctly playful nostalgia inducers. Daly dances with a suave, Bryan Ferry-like demeanor, holding a mic with his right hand while his left rested on his hip. (Young ones were probably reminded of Hugh Grant’s parody-dancing in “Music and Lyrics.”)

Daly and Lundon, heftier now in their early 50s, parted ways with their slimmer selves a long time ago, but the energy and charisma remained. “Christian” was still solid and lilting; “King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)” still characterized subversiveness and verve. “Stranger by Nature” was light and pretty sultry. It was surprising that it was about Daly’s firstborn daughter, now 27. Prior to that revelation, he sang it to a young back-up singer like he was serenading her. 

After the anthemic “African and White,” one of their earliest hits, came the much-awaited “Wishful Thinking,” which prompted those with recording devices to whip them out and save the moment. Midway, Lundon encouraged the audience to sing along, and many did. Sadly, that was the last song; they didn’t even get to do an encore (not even the 1994 song “Thank You”). Talk about wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, it was a good, hour-long set worth the patience-testing wait, and a sturdy enough show that made unperturbed China Crisis fans happy and heady.

Last chance for 'True Blood' to make an indelible mark

(June 19, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Season 7 of the fantasy-drama series “True Blood” opens with a melee, a bloody purge executed by savage vampires passing through the Louisiana town of Bon Temps. It’s somewhat symbolic of the chaos that has characterized the past seasons, but the fast-paced action sequence seems, intriguingly, like a necessary move intended to bring back some semblance of much-missed order.

It starts with a mainstay’s unexpected death, rallying the core characters in no time and giving them renewed purpose, at least for now. And while it truly has gotten difficult to care for them—the messy story lines and inconsistently written personalities saw to that a few seasons back—its longtime viewers may find their curiosity piqued for this final, euthanizing season.

Fairy heroine Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is now paired with the werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello), after a string of truly horrid monster boyfriends. It’s been a long time coming, as the partnership makes sense, and the actors have chemistry. But this back-to-basics last hurrah may not augur a happy ending for the two, as hints are being dropped that she and vampire ex Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) might reconnect, in some way.

“True Blood” started out strong as adult fantasy fare, giving a different spin on vampire mythology: The existence of such nocturnal beings is known to the public, and the mass-produced drink “Tru Blood” is introduced as an alternative to actual human blood. Peaceful coexistence, however, is another matter altogether, hence the conflicts. Malevolent vampires, ignorant or predatory humans, other antagonistic creatures—they’ve threatened Sookie and company season after season.

And while the conflicts have been many, in time, it became hard to stay invested in the fates of the characters. The situations have gotten silly, not to mention repetitive. When it was establishing its unique vampire hierarchies and political structures, it offered creepy but fun scenarios. Even when the show expanded on the other beings—the shifters, the werewolves, and to some extent, the fairies—much was shown of this distinctly bizarre universe. But alas, the potential was not fully realized.

At times, it dwelled too much on the main character’s topsy-turvy world, Sookie’s discovery of her nonhuman identity, as well as her obligatory hooking-up with the man of the season. The previous relationship was iffy; the focus on her kinky imbroglio with the fairy-vampire Warlow (Rob Kazinsky) dragged a bit, their scenes mostly titillating (aptly so), but ultimately, empty and disconnecting. The shape-changing Sam (Sam Trammell) had a similarly rushed and questionable relationship last season.

So, are things looking up? If the first two episodes of Season 7 are any indication, the show can improve. So far, the villains are nondescript characters, but things are made a tad lively by the collection of loopy, crazy regulars. There are interesting developments in the individual arcs of young vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), jaded immortal Pam (the incredible Kristin Bauer van Straten, who always gets the best lines) and relapsing addict Lettie Mae (Adina Porter). 

It’s the last chance to make up for the last few seasons’ largely unaffecting and inconsequential story lines. With only 10 episodes this season, this could be the only opportunity for “True Blood” to redeem itself and leave an indelible mark.

(The final season of “True Blood” premieres on June 23 on HBO Go, and June 29, 10 p.m. on HBO.)

'River Monsters' reveals freshwater enigmas

(June 16, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

"Angling guru” Jeremy Wade hosts the Discovery Channel show “River Monsters,” where he puts his vast knowledge of fishing techniques to good use. Fishing has become a challenge because, he said, the crew is given a very limited time for filming.

“If we don’t catch a fish, we don’t have a program,” said the biologist-host in a phone interview.

According to Wade, the most important thing to remember about angling is to think before throwing the bait in the water.

He explained: “I stop and think; I imagine that I am a fish and I am trying to work out where I would be in the water and that relates to the underwater geography. This is very important for the show because we have about two and a half weeks to do all the filming. For the actual fishing, I may have only three or four days.”

“River Monsters” tackles freshwater mysteries, and focuses on Wade’s tracking of underwater culprits. Captured fish are returned to the bodies of water whence they came, after identification and cataloguing.  

For the sixth season, Wade and his crew visited a different ecosystem to investigate deaths that may be caused by dangerous species of fish. Wade recounted: “We were in a very remote part of the Amazon. It was in Brazil, close to the Peru border. The problem with this kind of place is that, if anything goes wrong, we can’t just take somebody to the hospital, we have to deal with that situation ourselves. We don’t take a paramedic; we have training… but [it’s better to just] avoid getting in trouble.”

The six-episode “River Monsters” makes for entertaining viewing, he said, because it required him and the show’s creators to explore new avenues.

“The list of large, dangerous freshwater fish is quite short. And because we thought we were getting short on material, it made us think a bit deeper. For example, we normally investigate just one victim. But for this coming season, there was a passenger boat on the Amazon that sunk, and nobody knew [how] exactly. More than 200 people disappeared. And we looked into that.”

Filming was often demanding, due to the unpredictable behavior and activities of Wade’s targets: “[With] freshwater life, you are working in the dark. This makes ‘River Monsters’ so challenging. I have to predict where a certain fish is going to be at a certain time in order to bring it out and show it to the cameras.”

Wade said operating in tough environments can be difficult especially for the Season 6 episodes, but stressed that the job is ultimately very rewarding.

“We set out to reach a wide audience. We didn’t want it just to be people who go fishing, which would probably just be a small segment. The surprising thing is we are watched by a lot of children, including some very young [ones]. So, to get people interested and enthusiastic about the outside world, that is very electrifying. I gave up teaching because it was too hard. But now, I’m reaching a very wide audience!”

(“River Monsters” premieres July 8, 9 p.m. on Discovery Channel.)

Chemically Altered

Magazine illustrations for someone else's article (What if other actors played Spidey, or something like that). Chemical, first issue, 2002. Leo DiCaprio, Chris O'Donnell, Heath Ledger.

Magic and mirth mesh in AXN series

(May 30, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The most important thing as an illusionist is to always keep the magic real,” said Japan-based magician Cyril, in a phone interview on his latest AXN series, “Cyril: Rio Magic.”

“[I have never forgotten] how magic made me feel the first time… that’s the feeling I have to always remember to pass on to others,” elaborated the street magician, who was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Cyril became interested in the craft at a young age, and was trained during his teen years at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, which counts professional and established illusionists among its roster.

His previous mini-series, “Cyril’s Family Vacation,” brought him to Hawaii, where he masqueraded as various “family members” who performed magic for unwary spectators.

“Rio Magic” (Sundays, 8:30 p.m.) will be “a bit different,” disguise-wise.

“In this season, the disguise inspiration was not [that] pre-planned,” he revealed. “I went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the producers had prepared a closetful of different types of wardrobe that were very local-based. We kinda played dress-up and figured out what the next characters would be… the intention was to blend in and go local.”

It was harder than usual because of the language barrier (he did not know Portuguese), but he nevertheless enjoyed mingling with cooperative Brazilians.

“I had a lot of fun coming up with different characters… I played a coconut vendor; I dressed up as a hippie character, one of my favorites—he has no care in the world,” he recounted. 

“Also, Brazil is known for delicious coffee. I wanted to play a barista—the character I created was basically my interpretation of [one]. When in Brazil, you gotta have soccer, so I created a crazy soccer fan character, too. And there was a fruit market, so I challenged myself to play a vendor!”

Cyril, 40, is currently planning his first international tour, which will begin near the end of 2014. He expressed interest in bringing his “magic storytelling” to the Philippines, which he visited in 2012, when he promoted “Family Vacation.”

According to the fan-favorite magician, he was influenced by many performers. “But I would have to say that the biggest name in magic [when I was growing up] was David Copperfield. He has always been one of my heroes and he’s really evolved through nearly three decades of magic. It’s inspiring to see someone like him keep the magic strong and real,” he said.

“Magic has evolved. When I was growing up, it was a very rare art form. You had to go to a special venue, in Las Vegas, or you’d have to be lucky enough to have a magic show travel through your city. But nowadays, magic has become more recognized. You don’t actually have to go to a theater to see it. The magicians are now coming to the audience, in everyday situations.”

'Game of Thrones' star loves bisexual character

(June 9, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Oberyn Martell is a new “Game of Thrones” character but in just a few episodes, the Prince of Dorne, played by Pedro Pascal, has figured prominently in the HBO series. The bisexual warrior-prince has volunteered to fight for the life of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), wrongfully accused by his kin, the ruling Lannisters, of a crime he did not commit.

“Oberyn has positioned himself as Tyrion’s champion for the trial by combat and will finally face a man he’s been wanting to confront since the death of Oberyn’s sister,” Pascal said in a recent teleconference, sans the thick Chilean accent he uses for the character. “Fans of the (George RR Martin) books who are fans of the show have never been dissatisfied with any of the major events and, I can assure you, they are not going to be dissatisfied with this one, either.”

The eighth episode, which aired last night, featured the momentous confrontation between Oberyn, also known as The Red Viper, and the brutal executioner monikered The Mountain (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson).

Bjornsson, Pascal said, is a towering, 6’9” strongman who weighs 420 lbs. “Physically, it was very intimidating,” said Pascal, who stands 5’11”. “But he’s a very kind person and we get along beautifully.”

Born Jose Pedro Balmaceda Pascal, the Chilean-American actor previously played roles in “Homeland,” “Nikita,” “CSI,” “The Good Wife,” “Touched By an Angel” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He was also in the 2011 fantasy-drama film “The Adjustment Bureau.”

He went through difficult times as a young, struggling actor, Pascal, now 39, said. “I studied Theater in New York University. When I graduated, I started auditioning right away. I had these cliché experiences, waiting tables, getting fired from different restaurants, making ends meet. My earlier work was in New York theater. I managed to make a home for myself there; it’s probably the best training ground.”

Pascal disclosed that he read for the “Game of Thrones” part in Los Angeles. “I was a fan of the show before I got the audition, and I was in the middle of watching the third season. In the script that I read, a lot was revealed…initially, I was actually upset. My first concern was that the fourth season was spoiled for me, and I might not even get the part. It didn’t turn out that way, much to my incredible surprise!”

He is thankful that his audition video was singled out by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. “Next thing I knew, they were flying me to Belfast to meet them, and there they told me that I got the part,” he enthused. “To say that I was happy is an understatement—I was over the moon!”

A fan of Dinklage’s for many years, Pascal described working with his costar as “an incredible honor.” He also thinks Tyrion should be king, ultimately. “He is the smartest person in every room he is in. Alongside that, contrary to the previous rulers, he has empathy and experience.”

As for Oberyn, Pascal said the Chilean accent was partly influenced by his father, and that the actor immediately admired Oberyn’s fuss-free personality. “I think he’s brilliant, because of how liberated and free-spirited he is,” Pascal said. “This character refuses to limit himself with regards to experience. To him, that is true logic; he’s not trying to prove any point. He wants to see and do as much as he can. It’s sort of fantasy living for many of us. I’m behind him all the way.”

Pascal said he was easily accepted into the show by cast mates. “I had never met such a large family of wonderful people. I got along really well with everybody…it’s [a welcoming atmosphere],” he said.

The adulation has begun; Oberyn has become a fan favorite among viewers of all orientations, and the actor has started getting interesting reactions to his portrayal. “I’m in New York right now, rehearsing a play…I get around by walking or taking the train. Every now and then, I get a very friendly smile and a thumbs up from a stranger. Or somebody who’s kindly serving me coffee says, ‘Are you the Prince of Dorne?’ When I haven’t had my coffee yet, I have a moment of confusion: ‘No, I’m Pedro.’ And then I realize what I’m being asked [so] I say, ‘Yes.’ All of the instances have been very sweet and flattering!”

(“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays, 10 p.m. on HBO/HBO HD and Mondays, 10 p.m. on HBO Signature.) 

Life is a Show

The Inquirer Entertainment staff was treated by our editor, Ma'am Emmie last month to Club Mwah. 'Twas her birthday, and we had a great time just watching the elaborately designed and choreographed show.

After 'Gutz', cable channel to feature more Filipinos

(June 13, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“We think it’s going to be an enormous show here; from a production point of view, it’s a program that we’re very proud of,” said Christine Fellowes, Asia Pacific managing director of Universal Networks International, of E! Channel’s new reality show, “It Takes Gutz to be a Gutierrez.”

At 71 Gramercy in Makati City, an hour before the show’s launch recently, Fellowes told the Inquirer  that E! was growing “increasingly stronger” in Southeast Asia, hence the tapping of local content and talents.
When the Gutierrez family pitched the project to E!, she said, “We all felt the show would work really well for the channel’s values. They have great ambition and they’re very connected as a family. For us, it was an obvious fit.”

Fellowes noted: “E! is one of the most successful international cable channels in the Philippines because Filipinos love celebrities. They like the glamour, the fun and the aspirational side of Hollywood. We’ve had great success with ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ and that [spawned] a number of spin-offs.”

Inspired by the Kardashians’ long-running reality series, “Gutz” likewise depicts “normal” situations that “humanize” celebrities, Fellowes explained. The Gutierrezes easily adjusted, she said, because of their individual show-biz experiences.

“I’ve met with the family as a group,” she recounted. “They all bring different things to the conversation. They’re accomplished businesspeople. They have a very long history with show business, and a very good eye for what will work on TV.”

Universal is slated to approve similar shows, Fellowes added. “There are [other] big personalities coming out of the Philippines and from across Asia, who have interests beyond their borders. We will definitely be doing more productions with local partners. We do E! News Asia, which covers celebrities and events around the region; we produce E! specials. Last year, we did one on Anne Curtis, which was fantastic for us. That was just as successful elsewhere in Asia. We have another special coming up later in the year from the Philippines. We’ll continue to do that type of production.”

Fellowes declined to comment on specifics of the budget, but emphasized that there was no scrimping involved. The Gutierrez family was followed by cameras while on a cruise around the region. “It’s a very high-production-value program. It’s up to the standards of our international and Hollywood programming. We felt that the cruise was an interesting idea… Putting them in a situation where they’re together on a boat could create some really interesting and dramatic adventures.”

Agreeing to appear on such a show also required the family members to be “more open” than they had been in the past. “You’re definitely going to see some things in the show that nobody knows,” she said. Indeed, for starters, actors Richard Gutierrez and Sarah Lahbati revealed in the initial episode on June 1 that they had become parents to a baby boy, Zion

The six-episode show will have a second season, it was recently confirmed by Gutierrez. The christening will be shown in one of the future episodes.

Another Universal channel, Diva, is again focusing on Asia, Fellowes said. “[We have a] continued investment in local production for Diva. ‘Supermodel Me’ was very successful. There will be a new season in November, with contestants from all around the region.”

Fellowes related that Universal has done a lot of research on women in Asia, and continues to gear specific shows based on relevant findings. “Filipino women like comedy and American programming more than [their counterparts in] any other part of Asia. Women here put a great [premium on] creativity. The research showed us that they have strong friendships and family ties. Such themes as overcoming adversity, looking after the family— Filipino women relate to them very strongly.”

(“It Takes Gutz to be a Gutierrez” airs Sundays, 9 p.m. on E!)

Spawn and Angela


Pencil practice page, 1999. Spawn and Angel versus Violator. Double page spread on 22" X 17" vellum.

Enduring, universal comedy for all ages

 (June 2, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Humor, when done well, blurs cultural lines.

Cartoon Network’s Curtis Lelash, vice president of comedy animation, explained that the shows airing on the popular cable channel were doing just that.

“Great comedy is universal and I think we’ve really tapped into something with our shows over the past five years,” Lelash said in a recent e-mail interview.

The California-based executive visited Southeast Asia recently to look for original content that can be introduced to other markets.

“Part of the success is that our shows have become more positive and optimistic,” he said. “It seems that kids are responding to that. And, you know, we think they’re funny, too!”

Lelash said Cartoon Network’s most successful comedy series right now were “Adventure Time,” “Regular Show,” “The Amazing World of Gumball” and “Steven Universe.”

But what type of humor is universal and well-received in Asia?

“No matter where you are in the world, physical comedy always works,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of smartly written jokes go right over kids’ heads, but if someone trips and falls down, it’s pretty much always hilarious. It’s part of the reason that ‘Tom and Jerry’ has endured for 70 years.” 

Lelash said Cartoon Network  made their shows known, apart from multimedia platforms, via occasional mall events. In the Philippines, specifically, these activities attracted fans and casual participants alike and made them aware of new shows.

“Locally, we’re looking to build on our…ratings success in the Philippines. We’re the undisputed No. 1 kids’ channel. Already this year, Cartoon Network Toonfest in Manila attracted thousands of fans and their families and the…new comedies ‘Uncle Grandpa’ and ‘Steven Universe’ proved successful. ‘Adventure Time’ continues to be a fan-favorite across the board, as demonstrated by its popular consumer products and toy line, as well as ‘Adventure Time: Live On Stage,’ which is currently touring Ayala Malls nationwide.”
Humor had changed over the years, Lelash offered, but certain comedy cartoons could survive—and had survived—changing tastes and trends.

“Comedy can be seen as commentary on the world, so they always evolve along with society. Maybe that’s too deep, but sometimes really fantastical things are popular, sometimes it’s more grounded. Whereas I think ‘Looney Tunes’ and ‘Tom and Jerry’ have survived a long time on really great execution…When physical comedy works, it really works and lasts. And that’s our goal, to make great comedies that resonate and hopefully have a long lifespan in the memories of kids and older cartoon-lovers.”

Cartoon Network Studios in the United States, Lelash revealed, was looking to launch many new shows and deliver as many new episodes as it could. The channel would be introducing the Australian-made series “Exchange Student Zero,” as well as other stand-out projects from Southeast Asia, to the world.

In the meantime, Cartoon Network continues to bring classic and fresh American shows to Asia: “We aim to make the smartest, funniest and most appealing shows possible…And we’re overjoyed that kids are responding to our latest productions! From ‘The Powerpuff Girls,’ ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and ‘Johnny Bravo’ to ‘Adventure Time,’ ‘Regular Show’ and ‘Uncle Grandpa,’ Cartoon Network aspires to create beloved characters that last.”

BBC World focus on PH ongoing

(May 23, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

BBC World News felt it was important to focus on the Philippines six months after Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda,’” revealed writer-TV host Rajan Datar via a recent e-mail interview. “The typhoon, and the effect of those dealing with its consequences were huge breaking news stories for the channel and we felt it was important to share [the recovery story] with the world,” Datar told the Inquirer.

The “Philippines Direct” season currently airs on the 24-hour BBC World News channel. A series of documentaries and programs started airing last Monday and continues until May 30. 

Datar’s “The Travel Show” (tomorrow, 8:30 a.m., 9:30 p.m.) visits earthquake- and typhoon-devastated areas and will focus on the victims who survived and coped after the calamities.

Other programs in the lineup include “Working Lives: Cebu” (tomorrow, 12:30 p.m.; May 25, 6:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m.), presented by Rico Hizon and focusing on a diverse set of disaster-affected people and their livelihoods; and “Talking Business: Philippines Direct” (tonight, 10.30; tomorrow, 8:30 p.m.), hosted by Linda Yueh and set at the World Economic Forum in Manila

Excerpts from the interview:
How would you explain BBC’s decision to focus on the Philippines?
The reaction to the Bohol earthquake and Supertyphoon Yolanda is of interest around the world, has had a great impact on the country’s tourism, and reveals something about the Filipino character. Also, the Philippines’ economic growth and how that is filtering down to everyday society are of huge interest.

What is “disaster tourism” and how is it gauged in the Philippines’ calamity-stricken areas?
Disaster tourism can be defined as focusing on an unfortunate event and, through tourism, helping with the recovery process. In the case of the Philippines, as with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and for countries like Sri Lanka, the bond with regular tourists is so strong, that many people from abroad want to help. When we filmed in Bohol, we saw that the churches affected by the earthquake relied greatly on money from tourism to survive and rebuild.

How is the Philippines distinct in Asia, from “The Travel Show’s” perspective?
The clearest differences are the Spanish and American influences and largely Catholic faith. Also, while Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia sell themselves as more “exotic,” Filipinos are more grounded about who they are and display an incredible resilience in the face of adversity.
In “The Travel Show,” we visit Manila, Bohol and Panglao. In Manila, we challenge the idea that the capital is not an attractive city to visit. We meet a dancing cop (and dance with him in the middle of a busy four-way junction!). We ride in a “pimped-out” jeepney, visit Intramuros, and look at the more interesting contemporary music scenes in the capital.
On the islands, we look at ongoing recovery and restoration efforts, go up to the Chocolate Hills, take a river cruise, get really close to a tarsier that sat just behind me in a tree for a full 20 minutes while we filmed…

What makes the country’s entertainment scene different in the region?
Island mentality makes a country’s psyche a bit more extroverted, anarchic, carefree and fun-loving. But also, I noticed a special obsession with entertaining others and being entertained. Everyone seems to have music in their blood and so many can turn their hand to dancing, singing or playing.

What is the most important thing about creating travelogues?
The most interesting thing is that I get to dig below what guide books and newspaper articles tell you about a certain destination—as a result, we are able to find out what people in the country are actually talking about, and we get to explain different cultural idiosyncracies. These days, it is important not to underestimate the experience and knowledge of our viewers.

(For related multimedia content, visit BBC.com/Philippinesdirect.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

‘Future’ intense

(Some spoilers ahead.)

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” brings together the casts of both the original trilogy and 2011’s momentous “X-Men First Class,” a fitting, ambitious union that matches the epic adaptation of the comic book story. Directed by Bryan Singer, “Days of Future Past” presents a dystopian future where mutants, believed to be the next step in human evolution, are nearly eradicated by the powerful Sentinel automatons.

The psyche of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, playing the character for the nth time) is sent back in time to his younger body in 1973. Tasked with stopping the assassination of weapons designer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by the shapeshifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Wolverine enlists the aid of ex-friends Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

There are many fan-pleasers, from the star-studded cast to new mutant characters (Quicksilver! Blink! Warpath!). The mission to prevent the subjugation of mutantkind via time travel has been a recurring concept in the monthlies, but the original one from the early ‘80s is rightly adapted for the big screen, reworked into a visually spectacular, similarly urgent and affecting scifi caper.

And fans who were disappointed with 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” rejoice: Due to the X-Men’s continuity-altering mission, the messy installment is eventually wiped out of existence, along with the Sentinel-ruled timeline! Reality is “Back to the Future’d,” but it’s a justified, rewarding restructuring of the X-films’ mythology.

The assemblage of actors, again, makes the film extra-fleshed-out: Fassbender is still complex and intense; McAvoy plays a disillusioned Professor X; Lawrence gives depth to Mystique; Ian McKellen plays a more subdued, resigned Magneto; Patrick Stewart offers a wizened Charles; Jackman is still good as Logan, a decade and a half later; Ellen Page is given a significant part this time.

The extra scene after the credits heralds the arrival of a new character, which will make its presence felt in the next film, another story inspired by the comics. For now, though, “Days of Future Past” makes the X-universe cohesive, fixing the franchise and offering an exciting future.

X-Treme X-Men

X-Treme X-Men. The team that left Xavier’s school, circa 2002. Roster: Storm, Rogue, Lifeguard, Thunderbird, Bishop, Gambit, Sage, Slipstream. 

Gay-themed 'Normal Heart' beats for recognition

(May 25, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Painfully illustrating the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, the HBO movie “The Normal Heart” is based on Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play. Powerful and nuanced performances vivify the drama, which revolves around conflicted members of New York City’s gay community.

Mark Ruffalo stars as proactive writer Ned Weeks, who witnesses the sudden rise of what some had dubbed “gay cancer.” Ned and Dr. Emma Brooker (Julia Roberts), baffled by the mysterious disease, break the news to gay friends and acquaintances. The response is resounding confusion, with many of them dismissing the announcement as needless and alarmist.

But far from having cried, “Wolf!” Ned sees the reality of gay men, many of them promiscuous, succumbing to what would later be called AIDS. He and a small group of friends and colleagues inform the community via a newsletter and, eventually, a gay advocacy-volunteer group.

The group has its share of infighting, though, as members disagree mostly on Ned’s gung-ho tactics. They struggle as well with convincing the city’s indifferent mayor, who has yet to recognize the onslaught of the disease.

“The Normal Heart,” directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Kramer, is based on the latter’s 1981 hosting of a gathering, which eventually led to the cofounding of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis advocacy group.

The film is a taut, heart-wrenching look at the challenges faced by the gay community at the time, a period rightly depicted as pivotal and uncertain. The gay minority is silently being decimated, and it would take years for the American government to address the issue openly.

An eclectic, aptly chaotic bunch, the characters each react differently to the destructive pestilence. Ruffalo is surprisingly moving as the disenfranchised Ned, whose mettle is tested when his close friends and a lover are affected in varying ways.

Roberts veers away from typically feel-good, thoroughly bubbly roles for the nonce and plays a polio survivor, moving around on a wheelchair, seemingly a prophetess of doom, initially. Seriously perplexed, Dr. Brooker experiences a righteous and inevitable meltdown, which the actress delivers with corresponding verve.

The ensemble is sublime; the film benefits immensely from the presence of openly gay actors Matt Bomer (as Ned’s journalist lover) and Jim Parsons (as a no-nonsense activist). Other gay actors, Jonathan Groff and BD Wong, have smaller roles.

Taylor Kitsch plays a gay guy adequately; he does okay as Ned’s dear friend and eventual rival for leadership, but is ultimately less noticed because of the parade of overwhelming performances.

“You cry and you cry until you think you can’t cry anymore—and then you cry some more,” Ned says during a realization, practically describing scene after scene of affecting circumstances. The two-hour movie does have a nigh-consistent focus on loss—and losing battles.

Apart from the fight for knowledge about the disease, the film repeatedly presents the ongoing struggles of gay people for acceptance, as exemplified by Ned’s disagreement with his older brother, solidly played by Alfred Molina.

“I will not speak to you again until you accept me as your equal,” Ned angrily asserts, adding, “your healthy equal!” 

“The Normal Heart” is a timely, precisely crafted reminder that such fights for recognition, and the casualties of apathy, should never be forgotten.

(“The Normal Heart” airs May 26 on HBO Go and June 1, 10 p.m. on HBO/HBO HD.)

Lilandra

Lilandra Neramani. Former Majestrix of the Shi’ar, Starjammer, and wife of Charles Xavier. Was assassinated during the War of Kings.

Objectifixation, Fourteen

Still... standing...!"
"I love that Molly Hayes."

Beautiful mess. Just read and looked for specific issues.

Plastic easter egg with two chocolates inside.

 They don’t look like much but they’re actually huge. #angsarapmo #singlentendre #bdaymerienda

“First movie version! Take that, Flash!”
“I must admit, Pietro, I was afraid that it would suck! But I was pleasantly surprised.”

Starman Omnibus, Vol. 1. Finally reading the series. Had to buy it; it compiled the first 17 issues. Excited!

House of Cards playing cards. Oh yeah.

Tabi Po compilation! Absolutely enjoyed this. For mature readers only.