Sunday, December 07, 2014

Natalie Merchant, ex-Maniac, back

(Dec. 4, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Natalie Merchant’s recently released self-titled album (under Nonesuch Records) shows that the ex-10,000 Maniacs vocalist-lyricist has lost none of her introspection or penchant for scathing commentary, over a decade since she wrote all-original material.

The US artist’s last album under Elektra, “Motherland,” was released in 2001, and had songs she penned. She went indie in 2003, interpreting old folk songs via the album “The House Carpenter’s Daughter.” Later, she put mostly obscure nursery rhymes to music for the double album “Leave Your Sleep” in 2010.

It’s a welcome return; this year, her ’90s pop-rock contemporaries Sarah McLachlan, Sinead O’Connor and Tori Amos also released new, worthwhile material. The mini-revival of the Lilith Fair-era’s empowered, expressive songstresses couldn’t have come at a better time for those who’ve been missing their distinct artistry in the current soundscape.

“Natalie Merchant,” an 11-track album showcasing the now 51-year-old singer-songwriter’s warm vocals and insightful, if often dour, lyrics, is worth the wait—it’s got surprises for old Merchant fans and just might give new listeners a moody, heady experience.

“Giving Up Everything” is a string-accompanied ballad that speaks of surrendering “the master plan, the scheming.”

The upbeat, Gospel-tinged “Go Down, Moses,” meanwhile, is about a lonely survivor of Hurricane “Katrina.”

Merchant’s peppy beats belie heavy imagery as well in “It’s A-Comin’,” which enumerates “wild fires, dying lakes … apocalypse in store” as things to come, like a more musically mellow “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

But she sheds her doom-prophetess persona in “Lulu,” a sweet, light recounting of silent film actress Louise Brooks’ life.

One of the more universal songs, “Ladybird,” is about failing relationships. She croons: “You know the sweetest wine/it’s a witches’ brew/pours like honey down and burns a hole in you.”

Her way with words is intact, yes, and even pointedly demonizes a certain ex-US president in the thinly veiled “Texas”: “Papa says I’m a golden child/and the whole world’s gonna fall at my feet.”

“Natalie Merchant” is mature and melodic, if oft-morose. But that’s to be expected; Merchant was similarly serious—mostly!—in her 1995 debut “Tigerlily,” but became extra-playful in 1998’s “Ophelia.” Musically, this album feels and sounds a bit like the latter and “Leave Your Sleep,” but with heavier, more uncompromising lyrics.

Now unabashedly sporting gray hair, the ex-Maniac sings with renewed vigor and enchants with gimmick-free, brave and heartfelt music.

Blind weddings in new reality series

(Dec. 1, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The initial challenge was arranging blind marriages,” said Dr. Logan Levkoff, one of the behavior experts in the reality series “Married at First Sight,” in a phone interview. “These people had never met, so [we took] on this huge intellectual and emotional challenge.”

Each episode shows two strangers, who were screened and analyzed by four experts—a therapist, anthropologist, clinical psychologist and spiritual adviser. The participants were then fashioned into a perfect match. They got married and were followed around to see if they truly are compatible.

Levkoff, a sexuality and relationship expert, said she and her team had difficulty creating ideal couples.
She noted, “It was certainly an overwhelming process. What I loved about this experiment was that there were four of us looking at individuals through different lenses.”

Levkoff, also one of the show’s narrators, met up with the couples and newlyweds throughout the series: “I was responsible for interviewing them, and giving them lots of paperwork, scales and questionnaires. I got to be in other people’s lives, but I also got to speak to the audience as an expert,” she said.

Levkoff, who has written about sex and sexuality for the Huffington Post website, revealed problems that she encountered both on and off the show.

“I get a sense of who people are as sexual beings and what their values are, and whether I think they’ll be intellectually compatible with respect to sex, but can I know for certain… when they meet, if they’ll have instant sexual chemistry? No, I can’t,” she said.

“But [on the show] I got to ask the right questions, to see if our couples were willing to give a relationship like that a shot. Did they believe attraction could grow over time? Did anyone just expect there to be a physical connection and that’s it? In life, what I find most… frustrating is that we get so much misinformation about sex and sexuality and what it means to be a man or a woman, that none of us really feel comfortable speaking up for ourselves and being who we are!”However, she added, viewers can find relatable situations from this experiment.

“Everyone [will] see something of themselves in the stories that unfold. The commentary from viewers, the way they discuss what’s going on with a couple, and how they take that information and work it into their own relationships have been the most wonderful, surprising benefits of this show. There is a lot of take-home values.”

(“Married at First Sight” airs Wednesday to Friday, 10 p.m. on Lifetime.)

'Hunger' becomes war--and all bets are off

(Nov. 28, PDI Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

After the harrowing events of last year’s “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the latest sequel “Mockingjay–Part 1” depicts the serious escalation of hostilities between the rebel forces of Panem and the fascist government led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

A full-fledged war movie, “Mockingjay” is the penultimate installment in the series of films about a despotic rule that forces Tributes—young representatives of various “districts”—to slug it out to the death.

An unexpected heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the symbol of hope to the masses, which are subjugated by Snow’s forces and distracted with annual “Hunger Games,” a violent bread-and-circuses contest that Katniss wins in the first film.

Snatched by rebel forces in the last cliffhanger, the teen archer adjusts to the role of the Mockingjay, a freedom-fighting symbol that rallies the oppressed, struggling in the remaining districts.
From the get-go, “Mockingjay” is slightly darker than the first two films. Instead of children and teens pitted against each other in a forest arena, there are open executions of rebellious prisoners by government forces—among other atrocities—that are similarly televised.

Lawrence is nothing short of fantastic in this one; Katniss is the epitome of strength, empathy and desperation, not necessarily in that order. Not that she wasn’t before; she’s just doubly so now. Her desire to rescue her fighting companion Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from the clutches of the enemy is nigh-tangible.

“Mockingjay” is made aptly textured by acting from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, remarkably witty as Plutarch, whose publicity-honed mind contributes immensely to the rebels’ propaganda videos.

The film also stars Sam Claflin (as the considerably less-cocky Finnick this time), Elizabeth Banks (the considerably less-glamorous Effie), Julianne Moore (the astute rebel leader President Coin), Natalie Dormer (the shrewd Cressida) and Liam Hemsworth (Katniss’ dear friend and fellow rebel Gale).

Not surprisingly, the series has become an inspiration for real-life protests; “Mockingjay,” like “V for Vendetta,” strikes a chord with the disenfranchised and persecuted.

Depictions of political and personal struggles neatly intersperse, evoking all possible emotions—there’s even well-placed, well-timed humor, although briefly.

One can’t help but look forward to similarly heavy, intense conflicts in the climactic installment, to be released next year.

“Hunger” has inexorably turned to war, after all, and all bets are off.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Objectifixation, Twenty

What a cool toy. “Armor-Up Baymax” is approximately 8 inches tall. Shinier than what I’m accustomed to, but a good figure, nonetheless. The armor can be assembled and removed easily. I’ll make Baymax interact with my other Marvel toys now. I’m interested in getting related figures, too. They’re cute, hehe. Thanks, Jay G and Bandai!  #belatedbday #bighero6

"Hulk smash Ultron-controlled Hulkbuster Iron Man!"
"I will destroy the Avengers using Stark's weapons, like Ra's Al Ghul used Batman's JLA protocols in 'Tower of Babel!'"

Grimm candy coffin. #morbidmuch #sweetsurrender #lipslikesugar (Thanks, Lhen!)

Thanos triumphant.

Meat! Thanks for the birthday steak, Mark P.

Ancient Buffy mag.
"Real love isn't brains, children. It's blood. It's blood screaming inside you to work its will." – Spike #lovesickvamp #nottwilight

Inquirer Entertainment's table is filled with goodies. Thanks, Stratworks friends, for the awesome surprise. 

"Star-Lord, I want to meet Rocket. Where is he?"
"Oh, I dunno, he's probably busy... saving civilians!"
(Thanks for the toy, Benedict!)

The mango cheesecake (left) that Resorts World gave me was fantastic, as well. The other stuff are stuff I brought.

"I detect signs of alcohol abuse, Mr. Stark."
"Shut up, Iron Giant!"

Fil-Am ‘The Voice’ contestant recalls learning time on US tilt

(Nov. 23, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It’s Filipino,” said Fil-Am “The Voice” contestant Katriz Trinidad of her home in San Diego, during a recent phone interview.

Trinidad, 15, was eliminated from the seventh season of American talent tilt. A winner of 14 championships prior to the show, she was begged by singer-mentor Pharrell Williams in the fourth episode to join his team.
The teen singer described her family as “very close.” Her mom speaks to her in Filipino, which she understands. They eat Filipino dishes like lumpia, pancit and kare-kare.

During the interview, Trinidad expressed gratitude for the unwavering support of Filipino fans. Despite her elimination from the contest in a knockout round, she expressed optimism, and said she hoped to write her own songs eventually and tour as a performer.

What did you learn from joining, and from your time with Team Pharrell?
I went into it to win, make it really far. I realized that it’s not all about winning; it’s about the experience, too. And getting to work with Pharrell Williams, and (advisors) Taylor Swift and Alicia Keys is already a huge stepping stone for me. I mean, they’re [some of the biggest] people in the industry. I couldn’t be more thankful for learning so much from them.

How did you feel about your competitors?
Competing with Blessing (Offor) and DaNica (Shirey)–as you can see, they are extremely talented, so definitely, it was a huge challenge–I had to step up my game. DaNica definitely sings from the heart. And she’s just so experienced. She’s been doing this for many years.

Who are your biggest musical influences?
My biggest musical influences [are] Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Etta James.

When did you get interested in singing?
Actually, I never thought singing would be something I would [pursue]. My mom didn’t enroll me in singing classes when I was younger. But she did have my older sister take vocal lessons. One day, during her class in our house, I was sitting on the steps of the stairs and I started to hum. Her teacher said I had potential so my mom decided to enroll me, too. At the age of 5, I was performing in events. I started to compete at age 7.

What songs will you never get tired of singing?
“At Last” is one song that I truly love to sing. I’ve been singing that for many years. I was very familiar with the song before my blind audition. I sing “And I Am Telling You” for competitions, also “I Have Nothing”… those ballads.

What type of music do you wish to pursue now?
Before joining “The Voice” I thought I was more of a balladeer, but Pharrell said I had the potential to be more than that, to try [other types of] music. He said I just had to find the true feeling in every song and then really sing from the heart. I went with an idea of what I wanted to be. But I didn’t know the kind of artist I could be. I knew I loved to sing pop, R&B. Now I realize that soul, with a hint of jazz, is what I really want to do.

Do you have plans to perform in the Philippines?
A lot of my Twitter followers want me to perform there. That’s something that I truly want to do. Even if I didn’t get to [the finish line], I felt much love and support. Maybe I can give back and sing in a concert, hopefully soon.

(“The Voice” airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8:10 p.m. on AXN.)

‘Big Hero 6’: Boy and machine, team supreme

(Nov. 14, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

A cool reimagining of Marvel Comics characters, Disney’s animated “Big Hero 6” is relentlessly fun, action-packed, and uses a wide spectrum—it’s easily one of the studio’s most colorful films, and aptly so—a welcome addition to the flashy superhero “sub-genre” introduced by Pixar’s “The Incredibles” a decade ago.

At its core is the bond between a boy genius, Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) and his robot Baymax (Scott Adsit), originally a medical droid created by his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney).

Hiro, a teen robotics expert, becomes one of the founders of a super-team, a gathering of unlikely and hesitant defenders hailing from the amalgamized city of San Fransokyo. Their connected “secret origin” leads them to a masked mystery villain wielding powerful technology.

“Big Hero 6” has an “Iron Giant”-meets-“How to Train Your Dragon” tone, but gives its unique take via adventurers Hiro and Baymax, who figure out each other’s differences and become justice-seeking protectors of the city.

The four other rookie heroes—Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Fred (TJ Miller)—are similarly intelligent nerds and geeks who treat Hiro like a little brother.

Codirected by Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”), “Big Hero 6” attracts with glossy, shimmery visuals. The awkwardly named San Fransokyo is actually a sleek but homey melting pot. The “Amerasian” look helps provide a more creative backdrop; diverse and eclectic influences can be seen in the architecture, tech, and clothing.

Moreover, the drama and comedy make it easily enjoyable and accessible. The movie eschews two characters from the comics, mutant and “X-Men”-related characters Sunfire and Silver Samurai. And while those who knew “Big Hero 6” from the source material may miss those members, this re-interpretation is a sturdily built world, with fantastic imagery all its own.

Oh, there’s an extra scene—a rather silly but cute one—after the end credits, so you might want to stick around for that.

Hokey science, heart-tugging fiction

(Nov 13, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

No stranger to chaotic mindscapes and dreamscapes, filmmaker Christopher Nolan boldly traverses time and space with "Interstellar"--an ambitious if occasionally contrived, adventure about astronauts who leave a dying Earth in search of a habitable replacement planet.

“Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, fresh from his indelible “True Detective” gig, as Cooper, a father who abruptly leaves his family to pilot a ship with a small crew: Abigail (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and a big, box-like robot named TARS.

The mission, organized by Abigail’s scientist father (Michael Caine), brings the group to the farthest reaches of space, but the astronauts are still able to communicate with their loved ones back home.

However, the trip has unexpected variables, several surprises that tremendously affect the explorers.
Cowritten by Nolan and his brother, frequent collaborator Jonathan (“Prestige,” “The Dark Knight,” etc.), “Interstellar” clocks in at two hours and 49 minutes, a mind-bending space drama that tells, rather unevenly, a distinctly human story that raises existential questions.

It answers those questions, too, through the story of the everyman-explorer who discovers crucial truths about his place in the universe.

Thus, it feels like a couple of “Doctor Who” episodes compressed into one film—story-wise and in terms of emotion-tugging—but “Who” stories are considerably tighter especially with their signature time-travel story elements.

“Interstellar” has fantastical, showy scenarios, some of which bend existing rules of science to serve whatever’s required at the moment. Iffy or hokey aspects aside, the human element rightly stands out and keeps one transfixed—Cooper’s family drama is easy to identify with and keeps viewers accordingly invested.

“Interstellar” also manages to make full use of the talented cast—aside from the aforementioned actors, the film benefits from portrayals by Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Topher Grace.

There are some familiar Nolan tics, though. It gets a little numbing when Caine is heard repetitively as a voice reciting a poem. He’s a comforting presence, sure, but this technique got tiring in the “Batman” films, too.And then there’s a mentor figure withholding important, life-changing information, like in other Nolan films.

While it’s not as clever and original as it hopes to be, “Interstellar” wins you over with sheer attention to characters’ relationships and dynamics; ultimately, the film’s relatable components overpower its near-magical trappings and questionable parts.

Renewed focus on Anti-Camcording Act

(Nov. 10, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“Many Filipinos do not understand that piracy is stealing and it is a crime,” said Joji Alonso, legal counsel for the Motion Picture Anti-Film Piracy Council, in her opening remarks at a recent workshop on the Anti-Camcording Act in Taguig City.

“In 2010, a very important law was passed—Republic Act No. 10088, the Anti-Camcording Act of the Philippines,” Alonso noted. “There was a massive change. Our country was lifted off the international watch list—a small victory for the film industry. Last year, we were back on that list.”

Through the workshop, Alonso added, she and representatives of law enforcement agencies and film industry executives hoped to “make the camcording law a more effective deterrent against movie piracy.”

Another speaker, Police Director Benjamin Magalong of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), stressed that the event was aimed at reminding law enforcers and the public of the four-year-old law.

Magalong told the Inquirer that the CIDG worked closely with the Optical Media Board (OMB) in confiscating pirated video and audio materials: “There [is deputization]. Our operations are always in conjunction with the OMB’s. It [is] the lead agency.”

But, he said, “Our enforcement activities with the OMB involve only confiscation of pirated materials, nothing about camcording.”

He elaborated that such operations have not been as active, mainly because of the six-month suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman of OMB Chair Ronnie Ricketts in September for alleged “neglect of duty.”

High-profile, blockbuster movies, ‘X-Men,’ ‘Transformers’ [and] every single locally produced Filipino movie [are targeted],” he said. “We’ve had great support from the Philippine National Police, OMB and National Bureau of Investigation. The exhibitors, at their own cost, have increased security, produced trailers and signposts, and trained their own checkers to identify potential camcorders.”

Ingram added that the public’s attitude was generally helpful. “Yes, it’s typically [a few] bad eggs that spoil it for everybody else.”

In his speech prior to the workshop proper, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Metro Manila Film Festival Chair Francis Tolentino said the “landmark piece of legislation was hailed as a triumph for the film industry and a big blow to film piracy.”

However, years after the initial, dramatic decline of illegal camcording, the same old problem resurfaced, according to Tolentino: “What went wrong? Ningas-cogon? Were we, perhaps, so elated by early success, that we became complacent and soon dropped our guard? We must renew our commitment, collective will and resolve to fight this evil.”

A new trailer that discourages illegal camcording, starring Derek Ramsey and Kristoffer King, was unveiled at the event.

Copies of a handbook on RA 10088, with details on the law and corresponding police intervention procedures, were distributed to attendees and members of the press.

Rom-com cliches, cloying cutesies from 'A to Z'

(Nov. 10, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver  M. Pulumbarit

The new rom-com series “A to Z” is cloyingly cute, brimming with situations and characters that feel familiar—so familiar, that it’s like the “aww”-inducing love child of hit rom-com flicks.

That said, the saccharine romance of these factory-issue characters can be quite persuasive, thanks to decent storytelling and solid portrayals.

Created by Ben Queen (“Cars 2,” “Drive”), “A to Z” refers to lovers Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti). The series is a “comprehensive account of their relationship,” according to the narrator (Katey Sagal).

Titles are alphabetical (“A is for Acquaintances,” etc.), the chosen word corresponding to subject tackled, or at least mentioned, in the episode.

Andrew is a gushing romantic who works in a dating website; Zelda is a guarded, less-emotional person—unsurprisingly, she’s a lawyer who’s cynical about love. They make a connection, regardless, and start dating soon enough, intrigued by each other—it’s revealed in the first episode that they saw each other years prior, when she was in another relationship.

There’s a checklist of potential conflicts. Trust is a big deal; undisclosed matters get unearthed via the Internet, and so on. But whatever misunderstandings are presented, they almost always get resolved quickly and cleanly— it’s barely a half-hour show, and the rather formulaic story is stretched across segments.

Speaking of formulas, the main characters’ best friends Stu (Henry Zebrowski) and Lydia (Lenora Crichlow) share a romantic past, confoundingly, their more comical love-hate dynamic offsetting Andrew and Zelda’s more intimate rapport.

Feldman (“Living With Fran,” “Drop Dead Diva”) looks like Scott Baio’s doppelganger—it’s a little eerie, but he’s charming in his own way. There’s chemistry with Milioti (the mom from “How I Met Your Mother”), who makes the most clichéd moments watchable, even interesting.

It could benefit from more quirky bits, like the Lea Thompson guest appearance and a “Back to the Future”-related gag in the first episode.

However, the show’s days are numbered—reports say that it was recently canceled, but that finished episodes will be aired. That’s not entirely unexpected, but the abrupt shortening may still show sides to it that aren’t sappy replicas of other cutesy rom-com stories. Here’s hoping.

(“A to Z” airs Mondays, 9:30 p.m. on ETC.)

Cable channel has new name, lines up original Filipino shows

(Nov. 3, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Formerly known as AXN Beyond, cable channel beTV metamorphosed into Sony Channel in mid-October, a change expected to bring in more viewers who recognize the brand, according to Hui Keng “HK” Ang, senior vice president of Sony Pictures Television Asia.

“The Sony Channel has been in Asia for a while,” Ang said at the recent launch in Makati. “It was first launched in Latin America about 15 years ago.”

Sony, he added, will be “female-skewing,” but clarified that it will still be male-inclusive—there are shows for male viewers in the current lineup as well.

Ang’s colleague Jennifer Doig, Sony’s executive director for marketing, English content and communications, elaborated that the name change was inevitable: “The Sony brand is very powerful, globally… we really felt that the timing was right to refresh beTV and let it evolve into Sony Channel. The power of [the brand] is [calculated to] appeal to a very demanding audience here in the Philippines.”

In the roster of new shows are American programs “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Madam Secretary” and “Manhattan Love Story.” According to Ang, Sony Channel will air new episodes shortly after their initial US telecasts.

Older shows in the lineup include “Millionaire Matchmaker,” “Minute to Win It” and “Nashville.”

“Content is the key,” Ang stressed. “Sony is going to be fully strengthened by more new shows.”

Ang, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the absence of some Sony channels in the Philippines. So far, he said, only Sony Channel, AXN and Animax are currently airing here.

“It’s not enough. In [other parts of] Asia, there are six [Sony] channels. There are a few other brands that we have not officially introduced in this market for various reasons. We’re working on that. But having strong English-content channels that complement each other for this market, where Hollywood content is very popular and well-accepted, [is unique].”

Like other general entertainment channels in the region, Sony Channel will create shows meant to appeal to, and feature Filipinos, according to Gidget Policarpio-Lao, director and business head of AXN Networks Philippines, Inc.

“It’s in the pipeline,” she said. “AXN, for example, has been doing [reality competition series] ‘Apprentice Asia’… we will do the same thing for Sony. We’re going to do local productions. We’re looking at reality programs and talk shows.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Masks, Monsters, Magic

My Halloween drawings this year:

DC Mystics: John Constantine, Jennifer Morgan, Bat-Mite, Jason Blood, Arion, Tempest, Faust, Madame Xanadu, Ramban, White Witch, Doctor Occult, Traci 13, Phantom Stranger, Enchantress, Zatara, Extrano, Dr. Fate, Zatanna, Manitou Raven, Shazam.
Gotham Halloween.
Moments before the Bat-beatdown:
JOKER: My! They just don’t make Robins like they used to! Still, a piñata’s a piñata!
PENGUIN: Ooh, proud little duckling, swimming in the wrong pond! We’ll teach you some manners!
TWO-FACE: Cut him in half!

Drusilla and Spike. Vampires that "double-dated" with fellow undead lovers Angelus and Darla. Wreaked havoc for centuries.

Cameron Hodge. Mutant-hater/exterminator. Rampaged in Genosha during X-Tinction Agenda.
Baelish/Littlefinger. Dashing monster. Pimp and puppet master.
Marvel Mages! Agatha Harkness, Adam Warlock, Daytripper, Ian McNee, Dr. Strange, Talisman, Gracie Destine, Feron, Rintrah, Scarlet Witch, Loki, Forge, Nico Minoru, Magik, Clea, Druid, Dr. Voodoo, Wiccan, Jennifer Kale, Shaman. ‪#‎halloweenmonth

Doctor Who-lloween. Ten and some of his monsters (and some of  his other incarnation's): Beast, Cyberman, Dalek, Silence, Snowman, Shakri Cubes, Slitheen, Heavenly Host, Racnoss, Vespiform, Clockwork Robot, Weeping Angel, Empty Child, Sycorax, Vashta Nerada, Santa Robot, Scarecrow, Zu-Zana, Headless Monk.

Lexy, Nance and Argus as amateur wizards Presto, Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Orko, respectively. Happy Halloween!

Mane Attraction

Er, yeah. 1991 or '92-ish. #fotome #proofofhair #stilluncool #lastnewwavefan

And, here's me 22 years later. This was taken two months ago, in Cagayan. 

Fil-Aussie ‘X Factor’ champ revisits road to victory

(Oct. 30, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Filipino-Australian high school student Marlisa Punzalan, newly declared “The X Factor Australia” champ, is only 15. Her youth belies her experience as a powerhouse singer.

Her resumé is long and impressive: At 7, she held her first piano concert. At 9, she won top prize in Sydney Eisteddfod Performing Arts Challenge for her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” At 12, she had her own concert, “Marlisa and Friends.”

She landed guest spots in the concerts of visiting Filipino artists Jose Mari Chan and Sharon Cuneta in 2012. Prior to “X Factor,” she joined and won less-prominent singing tilts.

In “X Factor,” she was mentored by ex-Boyzone vocalist Ronan Keating, and performed, among other stunners, The Beatles’ “Yesterday” and David Guetta’s “Titanium.”

(A Filipino caregiver, Rose Fostanes, won the top prize in “The X Factor Israel” in January.)
In an exclusive e-mail interview (her handler sent scans of her neatly handwritten replies), Marlisa revisited her recent victory.

How did you get into music?
I was a special guest at my brother’s piano recital and I got good feedback. I decided to take singing seriously; I joined various competitions and performed in charity events. I enrolled in a singing school, Sister2Sister. I am currently being coached by (ScoopFX vocal coach) Roxanne Kiely.

How much have your parents told you about life in the Philippines?
They tell me a lot about life in the Philippines; I am very interested in the culture. I know that [almost] every Filipino household has a karaoke [machine], like we do!

Who are your biggest influences?
My singing influences include Celine Dion, (Australion pop singer) Jessica Mauboy, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. My grandmother was also a very important influence. She was a singer.

What attracted you to “X Factor”?
I knew that “X Factor” would be a great opportunity for me to [improve] my performance skills. I joined also because of the chance to get a record deal.

How would you describe Ronan Keating’s mentoring style?
Ronan Keating gave me great advice and support. He is very professional, very knowledgeable about singing techniques.

What was the most difficult aspect of your “X Factor” experience?
That would have to be competing against older and more professional contestants.

Are you planning to visit the Philippines to perform? 
I would like to visit the Philippines and perform there but, at the moment, I have to work on my album, which will be released in Australia.

What do you hope to accomplish with this coveted title?
I hope to sell a lot of singles and albums internationally and to perform in many countries.

What do you wish to become, ultimately?
I hope to become an international singer who will inspire others.

How did you celebrate your victory?
I attended the “X Factor” after-party. I got to sing my new song [“Stand By You,” now a single, available on iTunes] for everybody there.

Viola Davis gets away with faking confidence

(Oct. 27, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“I feel like I’m part of something progressive,” American actress Viola Davis giddily said of her hit legal drama series, “How to Get Away With Murder,” in a recent roundtable phone interview.

The film, TV and theater actress also graciously answered via e-mail the Inquirer’s unasked questions from that first round.

Davis, 49, has acted since the 1990s. A Tony awardee for her roles in “King Hedley II” and “Fences,” Davis was Oscar-nominated for her work in 2011’s “The Help.” Prior to her high-profile nomination, she appeared in films “Traffic,” “Syriana,” “Trust,” “Knight and Day,” and “Doubt.”

She also appeared in multiple episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Century City” and “United States of Tara.”

In “How to Get Away With Murder,” she plays a criminal law professor, Annalise Keating, a defense attorney with secrets to hide.

How did you and the show runners agree on this project?
It kind of fell on my lap! There was no dramatic story to it—I got the phone call that they wanted me for the role, and of course I jumped at the chance.

I had a sit-down with executive producer Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and creator Peter Nowalk (“Scandal”). I had an honest conversation with them because I wanted to approach this woman as a real woman of color and of a certain age. I wanted her to be grounded in reality.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a part of the show?
I feel like I’m a part of a world that hasn’t been seen on television. That’s the most rewarding part…Just doing what I do is different. People of different views, sexualities are represented. That’s what I love about it.

What makes the show’s gay angle intriguing?
That’s always what it’s like in “ShondaLand”—she really casts people who represent how America looks: different colors, different sexualities. You just want people to receive it, not reject it.

What’s the toughest part about playing Annalise?
People critique based on what they see…Everybody wants the answers, the characters to be likable. The hardest part is to play the character, ground her in reality and quiet the noise of the public. By the ninth episode, you’ll see why it’s such a challenge to play the character.

What’s the easiest?
Playing a character who is completely different from me—someone who is manipulative, probably unapologetically cold, asexualized and complicated. Playing all those things is great.

What can you tell aspiring actors about this career?
It feels great! There’s so much stigma attached to age, especially women in our culture. It’s great to be given a role that defies that stigma. There aren’t a lot of lead roles in Hollywood films for women who are like me. I always wanted to reach a certain status in my career so that I had the power to go after and create those roles on my own—it was the only way I was going to get them.

Who are your acting influences?
Julia Roberts said something that stuck with me. She was asked by acting students, “How do you deal with not feeling confident all the time?” [She responded,] “The best advice I would give you is to fake it.” I love that advice; I saw Julia a couple of months ago and should have thanked her. I just fake that I am extraordinarily confident.”
(“How to Get Away With Murder” airs Wednesdays, 9:05 p.m., on Sony Channel.)

When cartoon funnymen collide

(Oct. 20, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The iconic “The Simpsons” and its “rip-off” animated series “Family Guy” finally meet in a special crossover episode, an hour-long encounter, “The Simpsons Guy,” that utilizes some popular gags from both shows.

While some have called the meeting “desperate” prior to airing, both animated Fox shows continue to be long-running hits. “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” share enough similarities that an inevitable comedic teamup makes sense.

It is a cooperative and temporary crossover. “Family Guy” patriarch Peter Griffin becomes a cartoonist, but his sexist jokes drive him and the family out of their home city of Quahog. During a stopover, their car is stolen, just outside Springfield, town of “The Simpsons,” and are befriended by the dumb but kind Homer Simpson.

Soon enough, the two main families meet, and both riotous and not-so-funny situations ensue.

Save for its savage “Itchy and Scratchy” bits, the Matt Groening-created “Simpsons” can be considered wholesome compared to “Family Guy,” created by Seth MacFarlane (you know, that guy).

But because the latter’s humor is almost always crude and more adult, the Springfielders are influenced (infected?) in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Dullards Homer and Peter, for instance, figure in implied ickiness and unintentional sexual behavior involving fuel dispensers.

There is no shortage of analogue comparisons, which allow some fun, imaginative stuff. 

Rambunctious kid Bart and diabolical toddler Stewie and the outcast girls Lisa and Meg all have moments that make their core traits stand out.

Less attention is given to similarly loyal moms Marge and Lois and the baby Maggie, whose equivalent is the immature teen Chris.

Brian the bipedal, talking dog is likewise not given much to do; he is assigned to walk the Simpsons’ actual dog Santa’s Little Helper—and loses the less-intelligent animal almost immediately.

Doppelgangers from both Quahog and Springfield are seen together, side by side, although very briefly—that scene where they sit together in the courtroom should have been mined for more jokes.

There are interesting conflicts, like the Homer-Peter fistfight, inspired by a “Family” scenario where Peter fought a violent, man-sized chicken.

It is just as prolonged and brutal, and quite pointless—it feels obligatory, just like some of the episode’s meetings and gags. Still, despite the missed opportunities and could’ve-beens, the special shows that a crossover can, and must, deploy and employ intrinsic differences, the better to show more engaging clashes.
And now that the crossover has come to pass, a future one is entirely possible and probably just a matter of time. An occasional meetup would not hurt, definitely.

Perhaps that eventual collision of cartoon realms can deal with things that this first one missed, and truly be a meeting of two differently funny worlds.

(“The Simpsons” airs 4:40 p.m. and “Family Guy” 5:05 p.m., Saturdays on Jack TV.)

Dracula gets a popcorn-y makeover in 'Untold'

(Oct. 19, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Historical and mythical bogeyman Dracula gets a trendy, effects-heavy makeover in “Dracula Untold.”
But despite the stylish purging of the iconic vampire’s villainy, the film mostly evokes detachment.

It is not because it is an unemotional tale; it certainly has parts designed to tug at heartstrings. Central to the tale of Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) is his devotion to his family, whom he tries desperately to protect.

The film, while ambitious and punchy, gets repetitive and sluggish when not showing superhero-like battle scenes and tense confrontations.

This iteration of Vlad, a former child slave turned merciless warrior, is mostly noble and kind, despite his nearly forgotten reputation as an efficient killer. He rules as prince of Transylvania, a territory under the sovereignty of the Turkish Empire.

The Sultan (Dominic Cooper), however, disrupts Vlad’s reign by demanding that young Transylvanian boys be taken and trained into the former’s army.

This order includes Vlad’s son (“Game of Thrones” actor Art Parkinson), not surprisingly. At the last minute, however—and after much protesting from his wife Minera (Sarah Gadon)—Vlad decides not to hand him over, an act that is basically a declaration of war.

His desperation leads him to seek a higher power of sorts—he asks a supernatural creature (Charles Dance, also from “Game of Thrones”) to grant him power to protect his people. But it comes with a price—as he soon finds out the hard way.

“Dracula Untold” interestingly focuses on that revamped origin, a different take on how the notorious warrior became the feared monster of legend.

Like Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” it ties together the real and fictional figures’ tales, with much re-imagining along the way.

It does not focus on the Stoker story, where Dracula is a powerful count and villain. It works, sometimes, but it gets a tad tiresome at certain points.

Vlad the family man is intriguing, but that gets quite unappealing after a while, as he has to deal with predictable whining and mewling between action sequences.

It is in the vein of the “Underworld” series, in that it is a showy fantasy-action flick, although this does not look very promising as a series of films.

The popcorn-y bent also means less substance and less deep pathos; it mostly replicates video game-esque scenarios during crucial fight scenes.

It has Luke Evans going for it, though. The actor is versatile and dashing, granting the man-monster its humanity and understandable weaknesses.

And visually, the film has some utterly creepy and impressive monsters—none of the twinkly, gooey, emo type—and flashy enough imbroglios that are amusing and, sometimes, fun.

All told, “Dracula Untold,” while lacking bite and timeless, undying appeal, is a passable enough time-killer.

Powers That Be

Recently screencapped this from a super-lowdef (but legit) Buffy VCD from over a decade ago. This is from the first episode, written by Joss Whedon in 1997. In this scene, Cordelia tests new classmate Buffy's "coolness factor" by playing word association. This stood out for me:

CORDELIA: James Spader.
BUFFY: (gushing) He needs to call me!

Funny and cool because Whedon recently worked with Spader (albeit the non-heartthrob-y version) on Avengers 2. Dreams do come true.

Russel Wong's state of 'Grace'

(Published Oct. 17, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The tagline is ‘The Shining meets Fatal Attraction,’” Chinese-American actor Russell Wong said in a recent teleconference, describing the original HBO miniseries “Grace.”

The actor, 51, was born in New York and grew up in California. He appeared in episodes of the late-1980s teen cop-drama show “21 Jump Street” and the action-drama series “The Equalizer.” He played the lead in the 1995 series “Vanishing Son.”

Wong’s 1990s film credits include “The Joy Luck Club,” “Romeo Must Die” and “The Prophecy II.”
He also appeared in last year’s HBO original series “Serangoon Road.”

“I’m good friends with (actress) Joan Chen; I played her husband,” he said. “It was a good working environment. It was a good rapport; I like the Asian content in English.”

Wong plays Roy Chan in “Grace,” a four-part horror series that starts airing tonight (10 p.m. on HBO/HBO HD).
“My character is a family man. He basically makes a bad decision and it spirals out of control and impacts his family. Everything falls apart,” Wong said.

The miniseries was shot in Singapore early this year. The actor described working in Asia as similar to conditions he was accustomed to in the United States.

“I’ve been working back and forth between the States and [Asia]—Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong—over the last 26 years.

Basically there’s not a whole lot of difference. I wouldn’t say there’s anything that particularly stands out in my mind—‘this is the way they do it here.’ Of course, on certain projects, the budgets are different. That can always affect how work gets done. With ‘Grace,’ we had a very efficient crew; things went very smoothly.”

As an Asian-American actor, however, Wong said working in the United States has its share of challenges: “In the States, because of the demographic—the Asian population is maybe under 10 percent—there [aren’t many] roles written for Asians. So we have people doing independent films where we write our own stories. [Because] sometimes, the roles can be very difficult—martial artist or the Asian gangster, that kind of thing… After a certain time, it becomes repetitive and you want to find interesting material [that’s] a little more cutting-edge. In that regard, it can be challenging.”

Wong, who appeared as a dancer in music videos back in the 1980s, currently enjoys working out, attending martial arts and dance classes, and hiking. “I like to keep in shape,” he said, “And I do some writing. I’m working on a script now.”

Wong admitted that, while he was not a “big horror fan,” he enjoyed the Japanese flick “Ringu” (“The Ring”).

“People said, ‘you’ve got to watch this movie,’” he recalled. “At some point, I said, ‘This is so well-done; it’s actually scaring me!’ People like that feeling.”

He explained that “Grace” had that distinctly Asian element: “In Asian horror, there’s a belief of ancestry, and ghosts are in that realm. They hang on to this life and all the [relationships], which makes it interesting. The cultural things and customs also make it interesting. In ‘Grace,’ (costar) Pamelyn Chee’s character taps into it a little bit… And she’s also a jilted lover.”

The spooky, serious qualities of the series, however, did not reflect the mood behind the scenes.

“It was fun! Everyone was very professional… but we were relaxed,” Wong said.

Cartoon Network looking for new concepts by Filipinos

(Published Oct. 16, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“We’re looking for something that’s never been done before,” said Silas Hickey, creative director of Turner International’s Asia Pacific Animation Development, of Cartoon Network’s current talent search.

In a recent press conference, Hickey said the network had been looking around the region for the next cartoon concepts to develop.

“We do a lot of looking around especially here because there are so many people who can draw and animate really well.”

He added that, aside from artistic talent, Filipinos were familiar with classic and current animated shows. “I love this place—the thing about the Philippines that’s different from other countries is that I can have a conversation with anyone,” Hickey said. “Everybody my age knows about ‘Flintstones’ and ‘Herculoids’ and new shows like ‘Adventure Time’ and ‘Gumball.’ Everybody is enthusiastic about cartoons.”

Hickey was in town for the announcement and meetings with Wayne Dearing, founder of Cartoon Network’s local partner Top Draw Animation. Two new shows, “Exchange Student Zero” and “Monster Beach,” are being handled by the production house in its offices in Ortigas Center.

“Cartoon Network has an amazing studio in Burbank, which looks like Wayne’s studio here. It’s a conducive place [for creativity].”

Dearing, also Top Draw’s overall manager, told the Inquirer that Top Draw had been around since 1999, a company he founded after lengthy stints in other animation studios in Australia and the Philippines.

“[I and] many of the people who work for me, worked for (animation studio) Hanna-Barbera, which was, in the old days, buoyed by the same people who are in Cartoon Network. And, if you watch it, there’s a huge diet of cartoons made by Hanna-Barbera. So you might say that many of the Top Draw staff cut their teeth with the network.”

Dearing said Filipino animators could connect easily with foreign-made scripts. “The Philippines grew up … on a diet of Western culture [and] TV. [Top Draw] understands what the audience wants.”

Hickey added that he was “constantly surprised” at the “amazing drafting skills” of Dearing’s staff.
Hickey said he wished for original productions to originate here because of the impressive artistry he had seen.

Ideas for cartoons to be developed, he said, had to be humorous and unique and could be in any animation style: “We’re quite agnostic when it comes to medium; 2D, 3D … Eastern European style-animation … puppets, whatever works! Whatever tells the story better is going to be the medium that we will use.”

“Monster Beach” will air on Oct. 31, while “Exchange Student Zero” will premiere next year.

'The Walking Dead' returns today

(Published Oct. 13, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The fifth season of hit horror-drama series “The Walking Dead,” about the struggling survivors of a zombie apocalypse, will air starting Monday on Fox (11:35 a.m. and 8:55 p.m.) and answer questions raised in the series’ last season-ender.

The hour-long show will have 16 episodes this season.

In the cliffhanger, ex-cop Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finally reunites with his friends, fellow survivors of a brutal attack on their prison home by the psychopathic Governor (David Morrissey).

After episodes where they were separated, the longtime allies are individually lured to a place called Terminus, touted as a “safe haven” for humans.

They discover the lie soon enough. But while they have become prisoners of unknown captors, the survivors’ trusted leader Rick confidently tells his group, now considered his family: “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”

Toughened by recent trials, including the near-assault of his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) by a gang member, the destruction of the prison, and hordes of zombies/Walkers, Rick sees his thinned-down group as similarly galvanized, ready to give their new tormentors hell.

Still unaccounted for, however, are Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tyreese (Chad Coleman), who are caring for Rick’s baby daughter Judith (her dad thought she was killed in the previous season) and teen Beth (Emily Kinney), who was abducted in a separate incident.

Many of “Walking Dead’s” fourth season episodes centered on organic and significant transformations: Carol, who lost a husband and child early on, has become a more serious survivalist and had to dispose of potential and existent threats (including an insane girl); Michonne remains the stoic swordswoman to foes but has opened up and showed her more maternal side to Carl, and Daryl (Norman Reedus) has proven his true loyalty to the group by offering to die for his friends (although he has not said a word about Beth’s disappearance, which must be killing him).

“The Walking Dead,” based on the comic book cocreated by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, has featured many characters from the source material, but often deviates from it, occasionally killing off mainstays unexpectedly and in various horrific ways.

TV-exclusive ones, like Daryl, continue to be introduced, as well, adding to the show’s unpredictability.

Objectifixation, Nineteen

Jake the dog and Finn the human. Half price.

Gamora kicking butt on Monster Island. Yes, that was her comic book costume, which looks way better than her current generic anime warrior-looking one.

Gotham penguin plushie. Thanks for this, Grace and Havas!

Spidey gets defensive.
"Hey, my movie made money, too! And what do you mean it's a downer? That death really happened in the comics!"

"Atom, you're really Brandon Routh under that mask, right? Guy who played Superman?"
"Yes, Goliath. Why?"
"...No reason."
The wedding of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Good issue by Bendis and Coipel.

"Diana, you remind me of Xena!"
"Wanda, you remind me of twincest!"

Storm Educates Polaris

"This is no game, Polaris!"
Uncanny X-Men # 97 reprint. Badass Storm, covered in Kirby crackle, blasts a mind-controlled Polaris out of the sky. Nice Dave Cockrum art, too. I like how those two panels connect.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

From wedded bliss to wedded blitz, 'Gone Girl' thrills

(Oct. 12, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Filmmaker David Fincher does not shy away from dark or controversial stories and embraces his projects the way consummate storytellers do—by adding visual integrity and the characteristic edge to his movies.

His direction in “Gone Girl,” an adaptation of the novel by Gillian Flynn—also the film’s screenwriter—finely illustrates a smooth meshing of multiple elements into a cohesive whole.

Control and restraint are evident and there is also obvious collaboration, which makes the film—about a marriage gone terribly wrong—so absorbing and, in many ways, subversive.

Affecting at the right spots and possessing darkly comic twists and turns, “Gone Girl” is exactly that character-heavy piece that Fincher excels in, allowing him to play with a relationship that visits extreme territories—in this case, the well-guarded psyches of spouses who face the impending end of their union.

But it started oh-so-sweetly: Men’s magazine writer Nick (Ben Affleck) charms the bored and overachieving Amy (Rosamund Pike), their undeniable chemistry and mutual affection starting an intense bond that leads to wedded bliss—at first.

The partnership works, but after some time and real, tricky challenges, hidden glitches are revealed.
Part-satire, part-mystery thriller, it zeroes in on the couple’s relatable marital discord, which becomes exposed, as well, when Amy goes missing.

Not long after, Nick is suspected of being involved in her disappearance, as mounting speculation and incriminating situations point to his guilt.

Things, however, are not what they seem, especially in a Fincher film. We do get answers and they are incredibly twisted but plausible, making “Gone Girl” especially riveting and, at times, frustrating—because the viewer is uncertain of which person to root for, at least initially.

Affleck and Pike make their quandaries amusing, even frightening, with unabashed and dedicated portrayals. Pike, especially, is a revelation, radiant and stunning as the missing Amy.

Complementing the pair are Neil Patrick Harris (as Amy’s ex) and Carrie Coon (as Nick’s twin sister and confidante).

“Gone Girl” is a trickier puzzle than it looks; you will easily assume it is one of those rehashed thriller clichés with amnesiacs as protagonists because it cleverly leads you to think so. But it is not, mercifully.

Let’s just say that this is not the first time Fincher played mind games. In any case, it offers a jacked-up, messed-up analysis of wedded blitz, an entertaining way of seeing marital weaknesses through Fincher’s inimitable “psychosis.”

Mutant Memories

Jim Lee, X-Tinction Agenda. Beautiful double-page spread. 1990.
"And in absentia, Forge"

Brain power packs a powerful sting in 'Scorpion'

(Oct. 10, PDI Entertainment)
 By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Brainpower reigns supreme in the action-drama series “Scorpion.”

Inspired by a true story, it is about misfit geniuses who team up with America’s Department of Homeland Security.

Off to a favorable start, the series centers on a master hacker, Walter (Elyes Gabel), who, in the pilot episode, hesitantly works with a federal agent (Robert Patrick) on a huge and dangerous case.

Walter’s Scorpion team —behaviorist Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas), machine expert Happy (Jadyn Wong) and “human calculator” Sylvester (Ari Stidham)—contributes significantly to the mission.

But the unexpected new member of the group is the waitress Paige (Katharine McPhee), a nongenius mother of one. She becomes a crucial component to the success of that perilous first mission.

She later gets recruited as the team’s “translator,” who catches human and emotional nuances that the “brainiacs” might miss. In return, they help her with her son, an exceptionally brilliant, if largely misunderstood, kid.

 “Scorpion” gets pleasantly didactic, sharply focusing on each nerdy character’s strengths. They have their quirks and weaknesses and are obviously socially awkward, which make all of the smart characters intriguing and more than just eccentric.

“American Idol” and “Smash” alum McPhee’s more mature, nonsinging role is fresh; as the “normal” character, she seems like an outsider in this quintessential clique of outsiders. She also partly provides the perspective for viewers, a newbie in a world of high-stakes quests, high-tech espionage and complex puzzle-solving.

Patrick, ever-reliable in father and lawman roles, gets to combine both as the team’s government connection, atoning for past sins and acknowledging the mini-intelligentsia as useful assets. He becomes more human in the second episode when his past is briefly discussed; the new team reminds him of painful losses and that ever-elusive second chance.

Gabel, who previously appeared in “Game of Thrones,” impresses as an intelligent but periodically disconnected character. It is easy to like Walter—a smug, condescending know-it-all—despite his faults.

As for missions, “Scorpion” starts engagingly with a big-budget, effects-heavy scenario involving airplanes. The second episode’s threat involves a designer bio-weapon—it feels mostly like a procedural/cop show—a bit semi-smarmy à la “NCIS,” but it has its own charm.

And these early episodes, so far, have challenges that are neatly solved. The stories are ultimately feel-good capers despite dealing mostly with danger and potential disasters.

(“Scorpion” airs Tuesdays, 9 p.m., on RTL CBS Entertainment.)

Galaxy Far, Far Away

A Hutt, a Wookie, and Biker Scouts. Together. 1996. Practice page. 

Bono's daughter likens acting in Soderbergh series to boot camp

(Oct. 6, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Speaking sans an Irish accent, actress Eve Hewson, daughter of U2 frontman Bono, discussed her participation in the Steven Soderbergh-directed Cinemax series “The Knick,” in a recent teleconference.

“It was incredible,” Hewson said of working with the renowned American filmmaker. “I never thought I’d work with Steven early on in my career.”

Hewson, 23, grew up in Dublin and currently lives in Los Angeles. She studied drama and child psychology in New York University, and appeared in the film “This Must Be the Place,” which costarred Sean Penn and Frances McDormand, in 2011.

In “The Knick,” about a struggling New York hospital staff in 1900, she plays mild-mannered nurse Lucy Elkins.

She praised the makeup and special effects crew responsible for the realistic replicas of body parts and accoutrements for the surgery scenes: “It was exciting to watch them create these really gory moments!”
Excerpts from the interview:

How would you describe Steven’s directing style and personality?
He’s operating the camera and editing everything already in his head. He’s directing you and working with all the different departments. You wouldn’t believe how calm he is…and how he manages to look like he’s enjoying it. His team is a very well-oiled machine. They get things done efficiently, very smoothly.

What makes “The Knick” unique as a medical drama and series?
It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come from 114 years ago…we’re looking at the history of medicine, what doctors then had to deal with. They barely had electrical lighting. [And yet] it’s not all about the [procedures]; it’s also about relationships.

How would you describe working with Clive Owen?
He’s so good at his job, so beyond prepared. He was a sweetheart, so kind to everybody. There were moments when I didn’t think he was acting. In one scene, I thought he was actually going to vomit, and I was about to run and get the bucket! You learn a lot from someone that dedicated and prepared.

How do you see yourself growing through this series?
Working with Steven felt like boot camp. He doesn’t do a lot of takes. We don’t really rehearse. You go in there and you’re thrown into the deep end; you sink or swim. It was a huge learning experience for me.

(“The Knick” airs Saturdays and Mondays,  on Cinemax.)

Aussie 'MasterChef' a celebration of people, food

(Oct. 5, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“MasterChef is…not about the meltdown [or] other chefs who yell and scream demands,” said restaurateur George Calombaris, a “MasterChef Australia” judge, in a recent phone interview. “It’s a celebration of people who want to make a change in their lives.”

The show (airing Monday to Thursday, 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Lifetime) returns for a sixth season and is accessible to first-time viewers, according to Calombaris, one of three judges. “It’s about ordinary people [and] extraordinary food. It’s about a taxi driver making the most amazing agio chocolate [among other stories],” he said.

The Australian iteration, he added, has given a distinct twist to the reality-competition program, one of many spinoffs of the original UK series.

“MasterChef Australia” is seen in 101 countries…it resonates with people because the Australian Ridge is a multicultural boiling pot,” explained Calombaris. “Sudanese, Indian, Greek, Italian, Singaporean, Colombian, Afghani—we have people from all walks. That’s what makes Australia what it is.”

The judges had a tough time in the selection process for the sixth season, he said, because of exceptional talents. “With the Top 50, we experienced amazing food that made you go, ‘Wow! What is this?’ I was over the moon,” Calombaris recounted. “Seeing them in the Top 24 [was] a big deal. We went back to the drawing board…to raise the bar and the intensity of every challenge!”

Calombaris said the show has “learned” a lot from previous seasons, and is considerably better now at screening contestants: “People already know our expectations before they walk through the door.”

He said he related with certain contenders, in terms of personality and culinary styles. “We’ve worked with the contestants for over six months. I treat them like my staff, who are like my family, so it’s super important for us to succeed!”