Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ten Years of Blogging

Wow. Hard to believe but it's been that long. I look back from time to time, and see stuff that I wrote when times and things were vastly different. There are some entries here that I'm proud of, some I'm embarrassed by, and others that I totally forgot about but are actually intriguing to me now. I wish I could write more personal stuff--I wrote a lot of those when I had more free time, when I was a freelancer--but I'll keep posting articles that I wrote for the newspaper, aside from some blog-exclusive stuff. What have I learned about blogging in 10 years? Well, you can keep sharing about yourself, without really giving the most private, personal things away. Ultimately, the entries are just a fraction of who you are--and that's not a bad thing. Blogging for me now, and I'm guessing, for a few others, hasn't been as urgent anymore, probably because time online has been eaten by social media, which is differently distracting . That said, I'll keep posting, as this blog has become a time capsule of sorts to me.

Thanks for reading.


KROSOBER. Or, Walang Katapusang Lihim na Krisis. Clockwise from top left: Tasyo, Makaryo, Kuting Magiting, Mr. Funesto, Kuka Manster, Kidlat Kid, Dark Future Trese, Alexandra Trese, Leading Man, Rodski, Ambrosio, Zsazsa Zaturnnah, Rianka, Bathala, Elias, Jake Gallo.

Recent Eighteenths

Country Road bar in Bangkok's Soi Cowboy district, Dec. 18. It doesn't look it, but I was giddy to have met and interviewed Christian Antidormi earlier. 

Nah, not pulling it off. Friend's cigarette. Jan. 18. #nonsmoker #coldnight #thaifood

Thingamajiggery, Two

"Don't call me Beast Boy!"
Changeling. Finally appreciating the character, and these figures, after reading the first two volumes of the Teen Titans Omnibus.

Third omnibus! National ATC.

Bookmarks from Japan that Allan P gave me a few months back. Awesome-looking!

Ang galing ni Manix dito. Silent comic book. Creepy and cool.

Multiversity Guidebook. Man, I hope this is good. Quickly checked it; it looks like it's patterned after the old Secret Files one-shots.

Cute tikoy! Thanks, Resorts PR team.

Kathy Griffin revs up 'Fashion Police'

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

Comedian Kathy Griffin is quickly proving herself a worthy replacement for the late Joan Rivers in E!’s irreverent “Fashion Police” panel of commentators. This comes as no surprise, really; Griffin has talent, gumption and the penchant to speak her mind—no matter the consequences!

The dynamic has changed, of course, and while many may miss Rivers’ more succinct, sharper jabs—the icon made crude or scathing critiques of celebs and their fashion choices with just a few words and a punch line at a time—Griffin brings to the equation her more anecdotal but nonetheless brash and observational brand of humor.

Which isn’t to say that she overshadows her copanelists, Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne; far from it, and Griffin is generous enough to let them talk just as candidly. Rancic is showing a more pointed wit, and is more verbally vulgar, while Osbourne has been offering surprisingly more mature and wiser assessments of their chosen celebrities’ fashion snapshots.

Another new addition to the panel is fashion stylist Brad Goreski, who manages to give snappy and catty insights, as well. This revamped roster made its debut some weeks back, just in time for the Golden Globe Awards. It wasn’t immediately smooth, but the host-critics found themselves bonding soon enough.

By the second episode, the quartet had become somewhat tighter, and much easier to watch.

Griffin, who previously hosted her own talk show, manages to slam some celebs for what she sees as ill-conceived fashion statements. Some standout “critiques” are her digs at Amal Clooney’s gloves, which have been mentioned by the “D-List” stand-up comic in two episodes. Just for the heck of it, she playfully lambastes an actress she ran into, Patricia Arquette—not because of what she wore, but because she previously told Griffin not to include her in the worst-dressed segment!

No stranger to feuds and controversy, Griffin also jokingly dismisses pop star Rihanna’s dress, the comic admits, because she hopes to start “what you kids call a Twitter war!”

Rivers’ inimitable and distinct comedy is much-missed, but the show is differently funny with Griffin’s addition. And the show remains amusing; nobody is sacred. It’s still an odd platform for smart, sometimes-nonsensical dissections of celebrity couture—and culture.

Perplexing numbskullery

(Jan. 25, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“Mortdecai,” reminiscent of such sleuth comedies as the “Pink Panther” movies, is strange and unusual, in both good and iffy ways.

The film adaptation of a novel, “Mortdecai” stars Johnny Depp as English art trafficker Charlie Mortdecai. He is married to an English art connoisseur, Johanna, (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is constantly grossed out by his twirly new mustache.

That’s the tricky part. If you can’t suspend disbelief 20 minutes into the movie—sure, they’re two competent American actors pretending to be wealthy, genteel Brits, but really?—it would be difficult to swallow the rest of the film’s contrived, artificial elements.

Since, out of sheer curiosity, one sticks around anyway to see how it plays out, well, you’ll find that it perturbs as much as it disappoints.

The situations are aptly over-the-top, so the acting often comes off as exaggerated, overemphasized. Not that there are no cute, light, charming parts—the flirting between Johanna and the smitten Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), and the spousal banter between the Mortdecais are quite agreeable.

The stolen art angle—the characters, tracking a long-lost Goya painting, encounter interested thugs from across the globe—is actually intriguing, but rather disjointed.

Directed by David Koepp (screenwriter of “Carlito’s Way,” Spider-Man,” etc.), the film, aside from its gaggle of A-listers, has in its cast Jeff Goldblum (as a rich American eccentric), Paul Bettany (as the Mortdecais’ sexually active manservant), and Olivia Munn (as a hot nymphomaniac).

“Mortdecai’s” humor is a mix of slapstick, icky gags and adult language—unfortunately, this results in unfunny, perplexing numbskullery.

Depp dips with a seeming parody of his previous roles. Charlie is an out-of-touch misfit—which would have been a perfect match, but it’s almost like he’s just doing a mash-up of his Tim Burton characters, with a dash of Jack Sparrow.

That’s a tad unsettling. At some point, you’d give up; it’s a cartoon-y crime caper-heist flick that, while welcomely outlandish and different, baffles way more than it amuses.


Crayon sketches I did at Burgoo last December. Thanks for the food, Mark P.

‘Glee’ starts over for the last time

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

And now, the end is near.

Musical-comedy/drama series “Glee” kicks off its final season with just about everything you’ve come to expect from it. And that’s not a bad thing.

The show has long been known for jumping the shark—in TV lingo, that’s a scenario equivalent to desperate stunts executed to recapture erstwhile glory—but “Glee” does that on a semi-regular basis anyway, that it’s hard to keep track.

Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), is fresh off the demise of her short-lived TV show. She returns to her old high school, still being run by tyrannical coach-turned-principal Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). Long story short, Rachel finds renewed purpose and spearheads a new glee club, with the school board superintendent’s blessing.

Also, Rachel’s pals, engaged gay couple Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) had broken up; the latter is now dating a former bully-turned-openly gay friend, Karofsky (Max Adler).

The over-the-top situations, tempered by somewhat realistic dramatic ones, are characteristically “Glee.” It’s gotten major story shake-ups on a regular basis that the nonmusic scenes have long been mere bookends to the songs—sprightly covers of current pop tunes and some classic numbers.

Not that it didn’t produce standout episodes last season; the tribute to Cory Monteith, who played Finn for four seasons, was among those well-written, standalone stories that meshed flawlessly with the music.
But much experimentation has been done, story-wise, that subsequent parts felt cluttered and forced. Looks like it’s attempting to rectify failures, at least, with a back-to-basics approach.

The songs and performances are typically inveigling, but there are fewer characters.

Michele’s emotional rendition of Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited” opens the sixth season dramatically; she does the mega-hit “Let It Go” just as powerfully at the end of the hour.

And the all-male group Warblers, now coached by Blaine, performs Ed Sheeran’s “Sing,” easily a musical highlight.

The show, still very much about the underdog’s struggles and eventual triumphs, nevertheless keeps emphasizing such themes, even when storylines tend to lack coherence and consistency. But the gay characters’ empowerment issues continue to be tackled impressively, and may remain that way in these remaining episodes.

The long-running “misfit” angle extends to other beloved outsider characters—handicapped, dyslexic, or biracial kids, etc.—that fans genuinely respond to. Many turn that rapport to music purchases; the end is near, yes, but if the consistently strong sales of songs from “Glee” episodes are any indication—the music will never die.

The show understands its place in the scheme of things, and will undoubtedly keep churning out resonant and significant material until its last day, shark-jumping scenarios notwithstanding.

(“Glee” airs Saturdays, 8 p.m. on ETC and Tuesdays, 9:40 p.m. on Jack TV.)

‘Hobbit’ movies end with poignant finality

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

The final part of the “Lord of the Rings” prequel series “The Hobbit,” directed by Peter Jackson, gives a fine ending to the fantasy saga, despite unavoidable comparisons with the more spectacular trilogy that preceded it.
“The Battle of the Five Armies” brings to a close this epic sojourn to Middle-earth, a realm threatened by various conflicts between races, as well as by monstrous forces seeking conquest. Surviving them is the hobbit burglar, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who has fought and fled from such dangers alongside staunch allies, in two previous films.

A year after the cliffhanger of “The Desolation of Smaug,” the fate of the heroic band of adventurers is finally revealed. The titular dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) gets to unleash chaos on the world, cutting a fiery swath across a town in a neighboring territory.

A land dispute is introduced, as the dragon’s treasure-filled mountain castle is reclaimed by the dwarves, led by the now-ensorcelled Thorin (Richard Armitage). The elves, led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), seek a relic belonging to his people, ready to storm Thorin’s stronghold if a peaceful solution is refused.

Bent on their destruction, however, is the bloodthirsty Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), who is marshalling his monster forces—orcs, trolls, giant bats, etc.—and commands a multitude of minions that may just crush both formidable armies in one calculated attack.

“The Battle of the Five Armies” is truly epic in that regard; the special effects give glorious life to the fantastical; after Smaug’s convincing display of might, the various goings-on on the battlefield are just as awe-inspiringly real.

The prolonged one-on-one duels, however, can inspire impatience, despite being impressively choreographed and rendered. Still, they’re not a drawback, as there are lengthy battle scenes that often switch to other elaborate sequences.

And yes, as for the unavoidable “Return of the King” comparison, this part ends the “Hobbit” series in grand fashion, but it’s not as thrilling as the “Lord of the Rings” conclusion—and it doesn’t have to be.

If one was hoping for a scene similar to the “Eowyn moment”—she boldly defeated that mighty Witch-King in battle—there’s a brief declaration of Middle-earthen woman power by the nondescript females of this installment, apart from Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) short but explosive fight scene.

“Five Armies” has its share of decidedly pyrrhic victories, keeping it from being a thoroughly feel-good conclusion. Still, this is a defining chapter for many of the characters in the “Hobbit” series, giving this worthy prequel films its own memorable figures and clashes.

And “Five Armies” is accessible in that it offers interesting parallels to real-life struggles, from the “interracial” attraction between the elf archer Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner), to the territorial dispute initiated by Thorin.

Coming full circle, the series is bookended by a scene that connects to the first lauded “Rings” trilogy, reiterating the poignant finality of this much-appreciated saga.

Psigns Gone Hot, Circa 2007

Adult versions of the kid team Psigns, created by Benedict Bartolome. These are drawings I forgot about but I recently rediscovered them when I was looking at my old art blog.

Top of 2014: Relevant escapism

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

Cable lures with smarter, flashier fare

“It was … the ‘silly, lightweight’ medium compared to film. Now … the real quality work in smaller features is on television and cable,” Kurtwood Smith, star of “Resurrection” told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in May. He was discussing the changes in the entertainment industry and blurring of media lines.

“There’s so much crossover; you can do a bunch of films, then a TV series, then go back to film,” said “Suits” star Gabriel Macht when he visited the country in March.

Recent years have been described as among the best for television, as US shows offered eclectic or original content. Chris Messina (“The Mindy Project,” “Damages”) told us in 2011: “It’s the golden age of television. There’s mostly better stuff … than [in] the movies.”

Many big film actors have come to share this sentiment. Programs also seem competitively designed—and they certainly don’t look like they’re run on a tight budget. While the old slew of view-worthy interactive reality tilts and, sadly, voyeuristic “unscripted” shows about dubious ditzes will always be popular, 2014 was an especially good year for cable TV viewers who wanted more escapist, better-written series. Here are those that stood out for us, in no particular order:

‘How to Get Away With Murder’
Viola Davis as a no-nonsense criminal law professor with marital problems, check! Overachieving, kinky protégés who try to outsmart one another, check! A nonlinear murder mystery that ties everything together, check!

“How to Get Away With Murder,” among the American Film Institute’s top TV shows last year, binds these disparate, intriguing elements into one killer of a show. “I feel like I’m a part of a world that hasn’t been seen on television. That’s the most rewarding part,” Davis told the Inquirer in October.

‘True Detective’
“True Detective” stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play reluctant cop partners investigating the handiwork of an elusive killer. It’s grim, gritty, ruminative, and barely stops for a breather. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is exceptionally portrayed.

His sometimes-drunken existential rants and musings stun and sting. “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door,” goes one Cohle-ism.

We hope to see a differently powerful show next season. The all-new cast has big shoes to fill.

‘The Walking Dead’
After losing their prison sanctuary, survivors in the zombie apocalypse face new threats. Like “Game of Thrones,” the show lures with interesting characters that bite the dust in unexpected, horrid ways. But the season has been characteristically tight and unpredictable. Andrew Lincoln consistently does well as ex-cop Rick Grimes, leader of the weary but formidable survivors.

“They’re screwing with the wrong people,” said the character, tougher than ever, in one episode.

This dark and edgy prequel series examines the early days of Bruce Wayne, shortly after the demise of his parents. Characters from the “Batman” comic books are reimagined; future super-criminals are introduced—if this show lasts as long a
s “Smallville,” we may yet see the first appearance of the Caped Crusader.
For now, it’s a sleek cop drama—future commissioner James Gordon is the sole, true do-gooder in Gotham’s police force—and the early part of an archetypal hero’s saga.

There’s a deliberate artificiality to it that works well. Jada Pinkett Smith dazzles as the sassy, sinister Fish Mooney, a gang leader whose machinations inadvertently help create some freakish fiends.

‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’
The Marvel movies’ TV spin-off, cocreated by Joss Whedon, started passably but gradually turned into a more focused—and action-packed!—show after events in last year’s second “Captain America” film. SHIELD, revealed to have been infiltrated by the terrorist organization Hydra, is essentially dissolved into a small set of heroic operatives led by the perpetually embattled Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Characters from the espionage-themed comic books continue to appear in this TV version. Followers of Marvel’s cinematic universe should expect another show, “Agent Carter,” to provide extra layers to the mythology.

‘House of Cards’
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright enliven this political drama as an ambitious, manipulative and cold-hearted couple. The labyrinthine US political arena is given an extensive exploration by Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, entertaining with commentary during the occasional breaking of the fourth wall.

One of our fave Frank quotes: “Power is a lot like real estate—it’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

Spacey won, deservingly, a Golden Globe best actor in a drama series award this week.

Silicon Valley
A timely parody, “Silicon Valley” is populated by über-rich eccentrics, ultra-competitive geniuses and the suck-ups who make the formers’ lives somewhat easier. It’s smart, but isn’t above going lowbrow once in a while.

We watch with fascination as a brainiac who develops an algorithm, Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch), chooses a venture capitalist’s offer of $200,000 and 5-percent ownership over a $10-million buyout of his new company. Trouble and hilarity ensue!

The show was included in the American Film Institute's top 10 shows of 2014.

‘The Legend of Korra’
The sequel series to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” learning from its somewhat rushed first season, makes up for it with better-told subsequent seasons, superbly developing main heroine Korra along with fan-favorite supporting characters. It treads territory that its predecessor did not, integrating mature themes into the story lines from time to time.

The series has wrapped up, but online discussions continue on topics it explored, like political structures and gender identity.

Recently nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series, Louis CK is no regular comedian, as evidenced by this unconventional show. Often addressing the drudgeries of life, “Louie” revels in its unique brand of irreverence, never failing to impart valuable insights with every episode.

Colleagues recognize that unique perspective and his pervasive talent. Guest appearances by Chris Rock, Parker Posey, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, among others, made previous seasons even more special.

‘Game of Thrones’
Unruly dragons, petty royals and vengeful warriors make the fourth season of the fantasy series more chaotic than usual. As in previous seasons, characters we root and care for are horrifically destroyed—for instance, the tragic figure Oberyn Martell, played by Pedro Pascal.

Pascal told us in October that he enjoyed playing the bisexual prince: “This character refuses to limit himself [in] experience. To him, that is true logic … I’m behind him all the way.”

A few villains get their comeuppance at long last, good enough reasons for fans to stick around for another harrowing season!

Meet ‘Chozen,’ rowdy gay rapper

(Jan. 9, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The titular misbehaving character in the animated comedy series “Chozen” used to be a law-abiding, aspiring hip-hop artist. His dream is hindered, however, by many years in the slammer; he served time for crimes he didn’t commit.

Making a comeback, hardened ex-con Phillip Cullen, aka Chozen (voiced by “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan), hopes to reclaim his rightful place in the artistic firmament, where his rapper foe Phantasm (voiced by Method Man), who sent him to prison, now reigns supreme.

The thuggish Chozen is determined to be a rap star, and he won’t let his being both white and gay stop him.

The riotous 10-episode series is developed by the creators of comedy shows “Eastbound & Down” and “Archer.” There is swaggering, countless adult situations and unpredictable shenanigans—but they are balanced out by accessible humor and heart.

Though slightly toned down for local cable, it retains its edge and charm. It’s hard to not enjoy the half-hour underdog misadventures of the big, burly “bear” (in gay lingo, this refers to a certain body type and/or hirsute quality), whose crazy dealings include relentless partying (often involving illegal activities).

The struggling, openly gay protagonist is flanked by other misfits, like his more focused sister Tracy (Kathryn Hahn) and childhood friends Crisco and Ricky (Hannibal Buress and Michael Peña), who now perform at kids’ parties.

The amusing, sometimes baffling, dysfunctional dynamic that Chozen has with them and new pals such as his frat boy-boy toy Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) and the straight nerdy kid Troy (Nick Swardson), keeps the series watchable. This, despite the main character being quite unlikeable because of his gruff demeanor or unbearable attitude malfunctions!

Nonetheless, “Chozen” consistently delivers with cleanly animated visuals, sheer audacity and unapologetic irreverence. It’s quite addictive, for all the right reasons.

More importantly, the gay empowerment messages aren’t lost in the blustering, boisterous revelries.

(“Chozen” recently aired on Jack TV. Visit the channel’s Facebook page for re-airing dates.)

Breaking the language barrier, one giggly scene at a time

(Jan. 7, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It’s nothing new or earthshaking, and it has more than its rightful share of predictable predicaments—but “English Only, Please” works. It’s a simple feel-good film that stands out in a field often populated with grand and bombastic productions.

Verbal communication takes center stage in this Dan Villegas romantic comedy that proceeds on an uncomplicated premise: Jilted Fil-Am business analyst Julian Parker (Derek Ramsay), hires kooky language instructor Tere Madlansacay (Jennylyn Mercado) to translate an angry letter, written in English, to Filipino.
This setup presents ages-old tropes and parameters: Boy meets girl, they get the hang of initially baffling idiosyncracies, are exposed to each other’s vulnerabilities, then mutually acknowledge a spark between them that’s worth pursuing.

This Metro Manila Film Festival entry is typical and familiar in parts. The inevitables are a given and the filmmaker evidently understands that, hence the spiced-up script (by Antoinette Jadaone and Anj Pessumal) and tight focus on characters that more than make up for the latest iteration of the worn-out “romance recovery” plot.

Sufficient communication quirks and minutiae keep Julian and Tere’s bond relatable, too. He gets a crash course on Filipinos’ bilingual nature, or at least their familiarity with another language, taught in unceasingly perky ways by his patient teacher.

Tere’s take on the lingo is rife with “Tagalized” words and mutated slang, explained in cutaway, animated “dictionary pages” (reminiscent of the interspersed cartoon gags in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” among other flicks). The technique isn’t wasted and somewhat adds to the already cute scenario. And boy, does it milk the cuteness factor everywhere else!

Apart from the main tutor-student bond, there’s Tere’s obsessive relationship with an ex-boyfriend-turned-f-buddy (Kean Cipriano), obviously doomed to everyone else. (Cipriano is aptly sleazy and pesky as the ladies’ man who gets his way a lot, a persuasive guy who gets Tere to buy him expensive gifts).

But Julian and Tere, who give themselves the nicknames “Tanga One” and “Tanga Two” for being fools for love, gradually appreciate each other as much for their faults as for their strengths. Will the cutesy new friends—and potential lovers—survive the ultimate miscommunication scene?

Mercado imbues Tere with enough verve and tireless enthusiasm that these qualities translate on the viewers’ end.

The rawness is complemented by Ramsay’s mostly easygoing but sometimes impassioned character.

To those familiar with Ramsay’s hosting and veejay stints, the role fits, no problem—except for the parts where he speaks “Americanized” Filipino. It may send some into eye-rolling or cringing fits, although to the unfamiliar (yes, there are still those), he delivers just fine. In any case, he’s a good fit—his regular diction and intonation are put to good use.

Together, they share a unique, coruscating chemistry; they’re a functional enough tandem—they pleasantly reacquaint themselves with an oft-evolving culture, and break language barriers, one giggly scene at a time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Year That Was, Apostrophe Fourteen

Man, where did the time go? The year zoomed by so fast. Lots of things to be grateful for, and a few things I’d rather forget. But there are lessons galore. It was a year that often reminded me of my mortality. But it was also a year for renewed creativity. Happy 2015, friends. May the new year be a more satisfying, beneficial and more prosperous one for all of us, in all the ways that matter. 

Comfort and Joy, 2014

This year's Christmas drawings:

X-Men Holiday. From the team's Christmas party in 1985.

Deadpool Saves Xmas. The Merc With a Mouth feels the holiday spirit.

Hulky Holidays. Hulk, his cousin She-Hulk, son Skaar, daughter Llyra, ex-wife Red She-Hulk, ex-dad-in-law Red Hulk, and sidekick A-Bomb.

Underneath the Mistletoe. Anole and Cullen Bloodstone, a match made in Marvel Limbo. (Both survived ordeals in dark dimensions.)

Star of Wonder. Donna Troy, a.k.a. the former Wonder Girl, amid stars and snow.

Christmas Lights. Dazzler and the Glow Girls (luminous heroines Aurora, Dagger and Captain Marvel) perform at a superhero party in 1987.

Xmas Miracle. Magneto and his kids Scarlet Witch, Polaris and Quicksilver ditch the dysfunction and hug it out.

Gotham Winter. Young Bruce and Selina Kyle. Free-falling.

Pop goes Taylor Swift's world

(Dec. 28, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Taylor Swift transitions to a full-fledged pop princess with “1989,” a taut and playful offering that bustles with creative energy, while still highlighting her inimitable talent for writing searing confessions.

It comes as no surprise that she’s fully exploring pop, given that her previous two albums had very few country-flavored songs—it was becoming clear she wanted to experiment with other sounds. She confirms this “need” in the album’s foreword.

The title is the year of the singer-songwriter’s birth; she also reveals in those notes that music from the decade interested her. About half of the resulting album does sound like it was inspired by synth-pop classics from the era, but the rest have either a 1990s vibe to them or a melding of throwback touches—but ultimately, Swift’s hooks are memorable, her songs audibly diverse and given a contemporary edge.

She opens with the strange but peppy tourism anthem “Welcome to New York,” an awestruck perspective. Not as odd, she makes fun of misconceptions and rumors with “Blank Space,” summing up how she feels about getting scrutinized, specifically on her failed romances.

Just as self-aware is the mega-hit “Shake It Off,” which tells off haters—she’s had tons of them, who judge her for her boy problems and her vocal range, among other things.

“1989” has important songwriting collaborations: Swift teams up with fun.’s Jack Antonoff on the ethereal pop-rock track “Out of the Woods”; she crafts with Imogen Heap the soft, gliding ballad “Clean”; there’s also OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder on the aforementioned “New York” and “I Know Places.”

As with her older material, the lyrics are primarily detailed accounts about exes; “Out of the Woods” presumably speaks about a vehicular mishap that she and an ex, One Direction member Harry Styles, figured in. While she pours her soul out about the incident, she also sings of the guy’s vulnerable side during the ordeal: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon?/20 stitches in the hospital room/when you started crying, baby, I did too.”

Meanwhile, “Bad Blood,” some listeners suggest, alludes to Swift’s alleged feud with fellow star Katy Perry.
Not that every song refers to someone she’s had pen-worthy encounters with. The upbeat “New Romantics” is similarly cathartic, an ode to singlehood that emphasizes, “The best people in life are free.”

Swift gets to be a little vain in the CD version, as it contains “Polaroids” of her (actually sheets of glossy paper made to look like them) posing rather playfully, with short, clever captions (her song lyrics ) scrawled on them.

If anything keeps “1989” from being perfect, it’s the set of behind-the-scenes tracks that details her songwriting process. It’s interesting to hear her talk about the origins of a few songs, but they could easily have been posted online—they do disrupt the otherwise energetic flow of the finished, polished music.

As an album, “1989” is an invaluable addition to her already impressive discography. Swift, now fully confident and showing a keen business acumen, establishes herself as a force to reckon with anew, coming up with universal things to say, no matter how specific she gets with her melodic tell-alls.

LNA: SGRR, a Decade Later

My first “child,” "Lexy, Nance & Argus: Sex, Gods, Rock & Roll," is now 10 years old. It was self-published; John Toledo helped me get the thing printed. It's a compilation of my old strips published by Pulp, and 50 pages of unseen material. Benedict Bartolome helped deliver the first batch on Dec. 23, 2004, to Comic Quest Megamall (and other branches, eventually). I’m thankful to all the people who talked about it and glowingly reviewed it, and sold it in their stores.

A decade later, I’m finally doing the spinoff, "Psychic Love," the Sabrina to Lexy’s Archie, if you will. I realized, long ago, that I can only do comics every few years, as it depends heavily on free time and other factors. So I hope to make ‘em count.

One Night in Bangkok

Was sent to Thailand to attend a Cinemax junket.

My hotel room in Bangkok last Dec. 17. I covered the other bed with my stuff so it wouldn't be creepy at night.

Rockin' around the Christmas tree. Not really. Just needed to have my pic taken near the dazzling tree at the Hyatt Erawan lobby. Preparing for the Strike Back set visit.

Thingamajiggery, One

Bought myself early Xmas gifts: New Teen Titans Omnibus Vols. 1 and 2. Thanks, Danry! Ambigat!
Walang kamatayang prutas. Feels great to fit into old clothes again, though.‪#‎surviving

Guyito wants to open the box of fruits that Stratworks sent me. (Thanks, Mark and company.)

"To me, my X-Men! We're leaving the 616 Universe!"
Blue and Gold teams. Just got a Jean Grey. Rogue is a decade old; her left leg broke and she's actually one-legged in this pic. And Gambit is wearing Thomas Jane-Punisher's coat because his brown coat's paint broke into tiny flakes.

Komiks! Finally bought these. National Bookstore.

Five seconds before Star-Lord's demise.
♪♪ "Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier..."♫

Veggie Chips! Yummy. Like Pringles, but less salty. And if it is to be believed, healthy. Nice package; it's laid out like a neswpaper, with articles all over. Thanks, Sis!

Cinemax series films in Bangkok

(Dec. 22, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Bangkok—The fourth and final season of the Cinemax action series “Strike Back” recently wrapped up filming for the last time in Bangkok, Thailand.

Southeast Asian publications, including the Inquirer, were invited to visit two sets on the last shooting day of the latest season, which will air in 2015.

The first set was at the Makkasan Station, also known as Bangkok’s City Air Terminal. The other location was within the red-light district Soi Cowboy.

Costars Sullivan Stapleton of “300: Rise of an Empire” and Philip Winchester of “Camelot” and “Fringe” spoke with reporters between takes.

Other actors who granted interviews were series regular Michelle Lukes and new cast members Christian Antidormi (“Spartacus: War of the Damned”) and Paul Swain, a former soldier injured in Afghanistan.

The new season will also feature actress-martial artist Michelle Yeoh and “Highlander” actor Adrian Paul.

The show previously filmed in Europe for the same season. Australian actor Stapleton plays a Delta Force operative, Damian Scott, while the British-American Winchester plays Sgt. Michael Stonebridge.

“Strike Back’s” final season will have 10 episodes. The airing dates will be announced in 2015.

No mess: Deliciously devilish ‘Murder’

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

A legal procedural, murder mystery and education drama series in one, “How to Get Away With Murder” cleverly interlocks these elements without resulting in a messy hodge-podge.

Starring Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, a lawyer and criminal law professor, the show starts with a bang—in the debut episode, some college students are arguing over a dead person, while each and every player in the drama is introduced via flashbacks.

Keating teaches her students how to defend their clients in the courtroom and win—hence, get away with murder.

It’s not a whodunit; it’s clear from the get-go that her top students are the ones arguing over the disposal of that aforementioned body. But the circumstances that lead to that incident months later unravel in each episode, connecting with the characters’ fleshed-out lives and/or shenanigans.

Viola Davis is, in a word, fantastic. Annalise brooks no overbearing or unnecessary posturing from others, at least most of the time. The show centers on truths, so there are mind games, duplicities and secrets galore.

The esteemed thespian, now Golden Globe-nominated for the role, is remarkable in layering the complex Annalise. She is at once a believable and an unflinching person who demands only the best from others, a fighter who is also vulnerable and deglamorized as a wife wanting to bear children.

While relatively not as complicated, her mentee-assistant characters are still rich, and are explored accordingly. There’s the wide-eyed idealist Wes (Alfred Enoch); the entitled rich girl Michaela (Aja Naomi King); the quiet but cunning Laurel (Karla Souza); the sneaky-smart gay guy Connor (Jack Falahee), and the frat boy jock, Asher (Matt McGorry).

Add to that mix a drug-dealing bartender, Wes’ neighbor Rebecca (Katie Findlay) who knows details about a missing student, and the dynamics are simply combustible.

There are no saints here; by the ninth episode, the big questions are finally answered, which reestablishes the characters in a major way—sort of in a “Desperate Housewives” manner, back when that old show was good, but somewhat crossed with “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” But it is definitely its own show; there is cohesion and a mindful consistency. Darkly humorous, deliciously devilish, racy and edgy—the show gets away with a lot of things, and it deserves to.

(“How to Get Away With Murder” airs 7:20 p.m., Saturdays on Sony Channel.)

Evolutionary Warp

First Year, Fine Arts-Advertising. Emo kid, before the term was coined.

Not sure if I.T. guy or Mormon preacher last Halloween. This has a bespectacled variant.
Unshaved for nearly a month, caused by something resembling a depression. (But I'm all better now, hey.)

Viral sensation Grumpy Cat costars with young actress

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

Young American-Canadian star Megan Charpentier is thrilled to star with viral sensation Grumpy Cat, the perennially “frowning” feline with over 7 million Facebook fans to date, in Lifetime’s live-action special, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.”

“I haven’t worked with a lot of animals before, but with Grumpy Cat and all the animals on the set, it was the coolest thing ever,” the 13-year-old said in a phone interview. “The trainers were great,” she added.

Aside from hanging out with Grumpy, Megan said, she enjoyed the company of a “cute” bird and puppy. “I definitely had a bond with all the animals,” she said.

Grumpy, a mixed-breed female cat whose photo became a meme and has been captioned countless times since 2012, is Tardar Sauce in real life. She is voiced in the movie by “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza.

Megan recounted, “They [recorded] Aubrey’s voice after filming the movie. The director’s wife read the lines, then they edited her voice out and put Aubrey’s in.”

Of filming “Grumpy Cat,” Megan said, “All the scenes were so much fun, even if I had to cry my eyes out. One of the most fun parts was getting to drive the Camaro; [that] was awesome. And there was this little buggy that I also got to drive for real!”

Megan previously appeared in such high-profile films as “Resident Evil: Retribution,” “Red Riding Hood” and “Mama.” She had roles in TV shows “Supernatural,” “Fringe” and “Psych,” among others.
Megan sees herself working as an actor for many years: “So far, I’m happy with what I’m doing. I hope to [do it for] a really long time.”

Her career goals: “I definitely want to work with some of my favorite actors and actresses and directors. I want to show young girls that, even though we’re younger and people think we’re not capable of doing anything, we can! As an actor, I’d really like to play more (varied) roles, meet new people and travel the world!”

(“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” airs Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. on Lifetime.)

US actor says he’ll miss ‘intellectually fun’ TV role

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

“I’ll miss so much about Neal; it’s impossible to boil it down to one trait,” disclosed American actor Matt Bomer of his character from the TV series “White Collar,” which is down to its last few episodes.

In a recent e-mail interview, he acknowledged fans who have supported the show since 2009. “They are a steadfast, incredible group of people who have blown my mind with their kindness and generosity.”

The openly gay Bomer, 37, was in TV shows “Tru Calling,” “Chuck” and “Guiding Light” before landing the “White Collar” gig. He plays con artist Neal Caffrey, who helps the FBI in nabbing white collar criminals. The sixth/final season airs on Jack City, Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; the series finale airs Dec. 19.

The actor played a stripper in the Steven Soderbergh film “Magic Mike” in 2012 and was Emmy-nominated (outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or movie) for his closeted reporter character in the Ryan Murphy-directed “The Normal Heart.” He recently appeared in an episode of Murphy’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

How would you describe your character’s growth in “White Collar,” and how is this final season adding to that?
I feel in many ways that Neal’s story in Season 6 is the most true to his dual nature. He’s his most authentic self, and his most duplicitous self. You don’t know which cards he’s playing, and which ones he’s holding back. That’s what has always been so interesting to me about getting to play a con artist.

Since this is the longest you’ve played one character, what’s the most important thing that you will miss?
It was just a really fun role in so many ways—intellectually, emotionally, sartorially. I’ll definitely miss walks and talks with (actor) Tim Dekay in New York City, and laughing with (actor) Willi
e Garson between takes as well. In five years… I’ll probably have a better answer.

How has the show helped you in other acting projects?
This show has helped me in a multitude of ways. But mostly for me it was an education—I learned a lot about working in front of the camera, and from watching the actors around me. I owe a great deal to the creator, Jeff Eastin, who took a risk and gave me the job.

Who are your acting heroes?
Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Alain Delon, Robert Shaw, Tom Hanks, Peter Sellers, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Foster… the list goes on and on.

Anything scary about your “American Horror Story” experience?
I didn’t find it terribly scary. I actually had a great time there. I wasn’t on set for long, but I actually felt quite at home at the freak show. “American Horror Story” is a mix of so many things that fascinate me—it’s like Stephen King as interpreted by Tennessee Williams.

What other projects are you currently pursuing?
I’m currently trying to get a Montgomery Clift biopic off the ground—and that’s going really well so far. I never really know what interests me until I see it. I’d like to take a little time off to read something other than a script, see my family, visit some art galleries, that sort of thing, to refuel the tank. I know that I’d like to write and produce as well.


Status updates, compiled.

Nov. 19. Fighting fate, for real this time. ‪#‎dietchange
Nov. 25. Seventh day of skipping fried/fast food, alcohol, soft drinks, etc. Been subsisting on healthy stuff. The cravings, they're hard to ignore sometimes. But so far, I am prevailing. ‪#‎newdiet ‪#‎survivalmode
Dec. 20. One month of skipping KFC--but I still get their garden salad (I'm probably one of the few who buys that from the nearby branch)--and thankfully, I don't miss fried chicken that much. At the flights to and from Bangkok, I was given a cup of ice cream each, but both times, I only ate about a teaspoon, content with just tasting it a bit.
A month ago, I reeled from the doctor's diagnosis: I'm in danger of either a heart attack or stroke--I'd be a "dead man walking" if I didn't change. My bad cholesterol was off the charts; my liver and uric acid were similarly problematic. So it was goodbye, fast food, seafood, alcohol, coffee, nuts, etc. I dreaded losing chances to hang out with friends; we only seem to get together and converse over food and drinks--lots of 'em!--these days. And I have to take some meds to complement the new diet.
I do feel better now. The struggle continues. I need to be healthier, stronger. I will have my cheat days, eventually.
Dec. 27. Got my new blood chem results. Cholesterol is back to normal! Uric acid level's actually below normal by a few points. Will have to ask the doctor about which meds I can stop taking. But yeah, will continue this healthier diet. I fit into more clothes now. I do feel lighter and am more mobile. ‪#‎yay

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!"