Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Iron Maniac

Iron Man opens today. Saw it last night at TriNoma. Whoa, it didn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty darn good! John, Benedict and I were entertained by it. Stay put when it finishes, because they’re showing something really cool and important after the end credits.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rock Hard Women

(Published yesterday, April 26, Phil. Daily Inquirer-Super)

Some must-hear music by some illuminating ladies
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The better female singer-songwriters have been around for years, their compositions possessing that very specific and distinct perspective that continue to give voices to many fellow women--and even men--everywhere. Sensitive lyrics, made tangible by a multitude of personalities, celebrate womanhood and countless other subjects. There have been, and will always be such bodies of work that will remain intrinsically feminine (and about exclusively female experiences), but the good ones will still be universally relatable.

Here are a few exceptional recordings by women artists or female-fronted bands that connect, inspire and empower, definitely worth listening to and relishing even after International Women’s Month:

Joni Mitchell, “Hits” - Any Joni Mitchell album is worth listening to repeatedly, but this essential compilation gathers 15 of her best songs. From the ‘60s to the ‘90s, the grandmomma of gifted singer-songwriters crafted pure excellence, evident in such classics as “Circle Game,” “Both Sides Now” and “River.”

Sinead O’Connor, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” - Before angry women rockers became all the rage in the late ‘90s, O’Connor made songs that were fueled by emotionally transparent lyrical content, her most prominent ones focusing on disappointment, betrayal and heartbreak.

Sarah McLachlan, “Surfacing” - This is perhaps the Lilith Fair founder’s most accessible album; you really can’t tire of her elegant, powerful voice and her songs that coruscate with attitude and grace.

Heather Nova, “Oyster” - Nova’s rock ditties have that ethereal quality to them because of her seductive, siren-like voice. She’s no slouch in the writing department, either, as this album alluringly proves.

Sheryl Crow, “Sheryl Crow” - This sophomore effort is a more cohesive, smoother collection of songs. Musically and lyrically, this set is easy to listen to, and discusses topics ranging from grown-up angst to playful optimism.

Aimee Mann, “The Forgotten Arm” - The 2005 concept album by the former ‘Til Tuesday vocalist follows chapters of a larger story, each song exposing sides to a romance tarnished by imperfections and unhealthy predilections.

Tracy Chapman, “Tracy Chapman” - She sings about unemployment, racism, domestic disputes and imprisonment. But there are uplifting songs as well in this special gem.

Color It Red, “Hand-Painted Sky” - Cooky Chua and the band’s debut album evokes a range of emotions and inspires vivid imagery. And there’s even a song sung in the perspective of a dolphin. Really.

Alanis Morissette, “Jagged Little Pill” - The hit album’s very honest confessions and personal ponderings made people listen, the Canadian artist’s success paving the way for more young scorned or hurting women with cathartic songs to sing.

Sugar Cubes, “The Great Crossover Potential” - Before Bjork simultaneously wowed and weirded out listeners and music video watchers as a solo artist, she and her band made bouncy, trippy music. Their songs “Motor Crash” and “Regina” eventually became alt-rock/new wave faves.

Dar Williams, “End Of The Summer” - Williams is a gifted folk-pop storyteller whose ruminations on teen paranoia, therapy, and other seemingly mundane things are creatively and interestingly presented.

Liz Phair, “Whitechocolatespaceegg”- The 1998 album has some disparate female perspectives, creatively flavoring such catchy and cleanly produced tracks like “Johnny Feelgood,” “What Makes You Happy” and “Polyester Bride.”

No Doubt, “Tragic Kingdom” - Gwen Stefani and the boys made really infectious ska-pop back in the day. “Just A Girl,” “Excuse Me Mister,” and “Spiderwebs” still sound cool and relevant after all these years.

Milla Jovovich, “The Divine Comedy” - Many years before Jovovich starred as beleaguered heroines in “Resident Evil” and, er, “Ultraviolet,” she released an excellent folk-pop album back in 1994. It’s a smart, audibly winning debut effort that should’ve gotten more attention.

Garbage, “Version 2.0” - It’s sexy, techno-organic and a worthwhile sonic journey every time. Shirley Manson can be feelgood and freaky, apart from being fab.

Edie Brickell, “Picture Perfect Morning” - Brickell’s sound evolved and matured, her lyrics becoming even more heartfelt viewpoints that focused on love, loss, envy and tragedy, among other things.

Indigo Girls, “Rites of Passage” - Emily Saliers and Amy Ray complement each other well in this well-received 1992 album, giving vocal texture and variety to their mostly inquisitive material.

10,000 Maniacs, “Our Time In Eden” - Among Natalie Merchant’s most memorable songs are those with her old band. Socially aware, political and cleverly written, this album showcases their signature janglepop-new wave sound, as well as ska-ish numbers.

Imago, “Probably Not, But Most Definitely” - Definitely a great CD; the strength of Aia De Leon’s voice is apparent early on. It’s easy to like the smartly worded songs with Celtic-like string arrangements, and even the funny spoken parts.

Regina Spektor, “Begin To Hope” - She plays with interesting scenarios, so you can’t help but picture her chosen images. She juxtaposes Samson with Wonderbread, for example, while mostly accompanied by dramatic piano-playing.

Suzanne Vega, “Tried and True” - Vega’s consistently lilting voice is haunting; her changing musical styles are catalogued and collected in this special compilation.

Luscious Jackson, “Electric Honey” - The all-girl trio created an album that’s unified by a focus on fun, translating superbly into pulsating and edgy cuts, atmospheric ballads, and catchy song titles such as “Alien Lover,” “Sexy Hypnotist,” “Space Diva” and more.

Melissa Etheridge, “Yes I Am” - The celebrated lesbian musician’s 10-song album showcased her powerful voice and remarkable songwriting skills. Almost every track speaks about freedom, or her declaration of individuality.

Cynthia Alexander, “Insomnia and Other Lullabyes” – Melodic ditties, introspective words and Alexander’s distinct voice make this first record an unforgettable one.

Tori Amos, “Little Earthquakes” - She’s a one-of-a-kind artist whose art rock sensibilities keep breaking down traditional perceptions of song structures and religious concepts. She sings about violation, self-inflicted suffering, and sex quite expressively.

Friday, April 25, 2008

‘Gossip Girl’ has the dirt

(Published April 24, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Moneyed teens figure in catfights and mini-scandals in the popular American show “Gossip Girl,” the latest series about young romance, social cliques and petty rivalries. Some gorgeous up-and-comers make up the cast, the new characters easily memorable because of the actors’ distinct good looks. But substance-wise, while the teen drama’s pretty predictable--a few shows before it have examined high school hi-jinks quite elaborately and entertainingly--it’s still quite addictive because of its hip take on superficiality, complicated friendships and sexual intimacy.

In the show, a famous website reports juicy details on the escapades of Manhattan’s young elite. The anonymous Gossip Girl is voiced by Kristen Bell (of “Veronica Mars” and “Heroes”), who impeccably narrates with just the right balance of sarcasm and curiosity. The blog-worthy subjects include the “Mean Girls”-ish rivalry between self-centered Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and former wild girl Serena Van Der Woodsen (Blake Lively), and their fluctuating relationships with family and friends.

The lives of rich kid Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Serena’s longtime admirer Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) also liven up the technology-aided rumor mill. Dan and his sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) are the wealthy kids’ new schoolmates, good-natured souls slowly getting assimilated into a world where shallow catfights, spending sprees and duplicity seem to be commonplace.

“Gossip Girl,” inspired by a series of books, is cleverly written; its dialogue is mostly contemporary but has the potential to age well. It also utilizes classic teen show story formulas. There are defining love triangles, for instance, among them one that involves the reformed Serena, her former paramour Nate, and his girlfriend Blair. Another working formula centers on the transformation of an unrepentant bad boy, Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), into a lovesick pup. His backfiring machinations elicit guaranteed sympathy! And problematic parents--sometimes more messed-up than the kids--are tried and tested elements that give the young characters needed definition or contrast.

The cast is an appealing ensemble with obvious, cookie-cutter roles, but the actors fit them seamlessly. However, Matthew Settle plays a dad to two teens, but he looks only a few years older than co-star Badgley! Still, the actor is competent and has a working chemistry with Kelly Rutherford (“Melrose Place,” Home Front”), who plays Serena’s single mother. Their characters figure in two love triangles, too!

Despite having dramatic scenarios that inevitably result in, yes, ruined parties, balls and soirees, “Gossip Girl” manages to push the right buttons. A working symbiosis with its soundtrack helps (key scenes were aptly flavored by Angels and Airwaves and One Republic). This new show already feels like it learned from the better episodes of “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” in that a couple of storylines mostly offer speedy, mature resolutions. Whether it’s reflective of how youngsters in that scene act and react is anyone’s guess.

Regardless, a few things are happening way too fast, so hopefully, it doesn’t burn out and exhaust story ideas before subsequent seasons. For now, though, “Gossip Girl” has the dirt on these heartthrobs and heartbreakers, and you can’t help but keep yourself updated on the latest scoop.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Final Crisis Creators’ Crisis

Funny pics from Newsarama. JG Jones shows original Final Crisis pages to Grant Morrison. I’ve read Morrison’s CBR interview about the series and boy, now I’m excited. I hope it doesn’t end like his Seven Soldiers, though. But I loved his JLA run, and he’s handling them again in FC, so I’m optimistic. Jones is a damn good artist too. Will also get the tie-in series, Legion of 3 Worlds, by Geoff Johns and George Perez! Wow. Three Legions!

Sunsets Sailing on April Skies

I’m rereading my April 2007 blog entries. Wow, it’s been a year since I first listened to the music of Mozzie. Been a year since Beer Guy Mark introduced me to Mojitos at Greenbelt, too. Things felt different then, as I was experiencing some kind of burnout, mixed with some desire to break from the monotony of work and personal routines that I’d gotten used to. That summer, I’d write later, was a “bittersweet bitch.”

One year later, I feel much, much better. I think I know myself and understand my quirks more, at this point. I’m still characteristically fidgety sometimes, but I’ve been learning to loosen up now. I’ve been looking at certain things differently, too.

I’ve been able to focus more with work, and manage my schedule better. I wish that translated to better sleeping hours, though. A year later, I’m writing press releases for Beer Guy’s company, too. And I’m loving Mozzie’s “So Bad.”

So there. Heart’s still on my sleeve, summer’s sweet and no bitchin’. I miss the Mojitos, though.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gossip Monger

Now isn’t that a pretty cast. I adore this show. Gossip Girl is pretty predictable but still cleverly written. And Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Elle Bishop) as the sarcastic narrator Gossip Girl? Just perfect.

Penn Badgely, who plays Dan, looks like the miracle offspring of Freddie Prinze and John Mayer. I can identify with his character the most, so far; he’s sort of the outsider who’s gradually getting to know the characters amidst the catty, sometimes shallow, conflicts. It’s hard to believe Matthew Settle as his dad, though (they look like they were born less than five years apart!), but I’m glad that he’s got a regular gig. Same with former Homefront and Melrose Place actress Kelly Rutherford, I’m glad she’s doing great here.

“Ex Oh, Ex Oh!”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dear Mr. Christ

Heya Jesus,

It’s been a while. Last time I “spoke” with you, I worshipped you. That was a long time ago, yes? I write this now because, after all these years, I still wonder.

It shouldn’t matter now, really. I’ve long accepted that I couldn’t believe in you, at least in the version of you that was documented in that book, and in some interpretations today. Now I know some friends and loved ones still believe in you, and I won’t begrudge them that. But worshipping you, or your dad... it’s just not for me.

I haven’t thought about you in a while, but when certain people take their beliefs too far, I think of you, the deified symbol. Some people make a big deal when the possibility that you’d been married or had kids gets raised. Why is consensual sex between adults so wrong? Why do people feel that it diminishes you in particular, or what you’re supposed to represent, if you had mortal urges that you succumbed to back then? You were half-mortal, weren’t you? And the debates don’t stop there, no?

Some say you died on the cross; others say you didn’t. Some say you’re black, others white. Some believe that you’ll be coming back soon with fiery judgment in tow. I find it hard to believe that you existed at all. Did you really rise from the dead and fly to some heavenly realm, or is your body still buried somewhere on the planet? People still make a fuss.

You were written as someone selfless, someone who hung out with the outcasts. But you were depicted as a butt-kicking, peddler-hating guy whose patience was tested outside that house of worship, too. You had nice things to say, and cryptic ones, as well. As you’re the Son in the Holy Trinity, I used to believe that you were a vital component to the Father’s plans. Ah, God the Father. Now, he’s not as well-written as you, sadly.

According to those old stories, he started out as an all-powerful, ever-living God who's somewhat vain, who wanted to be worshipped above all. He created humans to have devotees, and tested their EQ by forbidding them to partake of the fruit of that one special tree. He gave his experiments free will but mercilessly punishes them with floods or plagues anyway, when they stray or pursue their own destinies. He supposedly changed, matured and sent you to teach people compassion and selflessness. But, wait, the book says repeatedly that he’s all-knowing and perfect. Why does he have his occasional hissy-fits when his creations decide to live their own way? Oh, God.

I don’t get it. It still makes me cringe when certain fanatics use religions devoted to you--and consequently, your name and your father’s--to justify division and repression. From time to time, there are homophobic idiots or religious extremists that feel justified every time they use their faith to condemn and persecute others. You probably know that, if you are indeed all-seeing now. There are horrible turf wars and lives made more miserable by old arguments. It’s hard to believe that these things happen, that those people who claim superiority through religion still exist in a supposed civilized age.

But, well, if you existed today in this troubled world, you’d know and understand firsthand that some people are actually making others’ lives hell. What would you do, Jesus?

Did you or your dad foresee the changes, the existence of fighting factions that claim to represent the one indisputable truth? It’s a more complicated world, now.

But despite all that, the experiences, the individuality of people are more felt than ever. Many people experience God and goodness in different ways, through different people, and not necessarily through you. Spirituality isn’t just achieved through strict religious codes, anymore.

I lost faith in you, also, because I couldn’t believe in that other divine aspect--God the punisher, God the jealous guy--anymore. Nor do I believe that to achieve some form of salvation, faith in you is the only way to be spared some celestial penalties. But, you know, I still have faith in the goodness of some people. I’m far from perfect, but I don’t believe I’m bound for eternal punishment because I didn’t believe in you or God’s other established incarnations.

I’m not missing you, Jesus.

And I feel happier and more fulfilled, now.

Your erstwhile worshipper,


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Burnham Parked, Session Obsession

Here’s a more detailed recollection of my Baguio visit. The pic that accompanied this article for Super is me posing at SM’s rooftop, as taken by our photog Christian. That’s the one I posted in the “Session Ode” entry below. Some people I know, the ones who saw the photo, were kinda amused that my mug’s in the paper. This is the third time that a picture of me appeared, but I still find the thought of my face getting printed on thousands of copies surreal and daunting. And yeah, quite cool, admittedly.

Chilling out in breezy Baguio

Words by Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Photos by Christian Aldrin Garcia

Ah, Baguio. The City of Pines is still the place for that quick summer getaway, if you prefer something chilly and relaxingly familiar to escape your scorching home metropolis.

Going there via bus is its own separate experience; prior to reaching elevated Baguio’s comforting embrace, you get to see and cross provinces that you don’t normally visit. Going northbound at night meant that you get to see quiet, tranquil spaces lit by a few star-like lights in the engulfing blackness, too.

Interestingly, the restrooms at some bus terminals and stopover places at certain provinces require you to pay a small fee--depending on what you intend to do--just like some comfort rooms in Baguio. They’re clean, mostly; but declaring your specific business to someone by the door takes some getting used to, though.

Catching some z’s in the bus came in useful for this trip, especially when there’s little else to do during the 6-hour-plus ride. But once you set foot on good ol’ Baguio, you can’t wait to freshen up in your hotel room, get out, and re-acquaint yourself with the city. Session Road feels like it used to, but the addition of popular food establishments common in Metro Manila makes it an architectural fusion of decades-old structures with contemporary commercial design. It’s probably inevitable, but the change gives it a unique disparity.

Walking to the “C2 Explore” event at nearby Burnham Park meant that you get to see more changes in the surrounding area. The Park, however, is still big and busy, made lively by a wide assortment of visitors such as picnicking families, peddlers of trinkets and other souvenir items, relaxing tourists, and biking and skateboarding youngsters.

The C2 weekend event, which lasted till the late afternoon, attracted park visitors to its invigorating series of activities. Geared towards the improvement of “the body, mind and soul,” these involving presentations that lured spectators and enthusiasts all day long. Taichi sessions were received favorably, attended by the young and elderly alike. There were aero-hiphop numbers led by a gifted, nimble dancer named Kimberly, who never seemed to tire. The petite instructor also taught participants the rudiments of bellydancing in a separate, equally well-attended class.

At the C2 tent, where sudden gusts of aircon-cold winds wafted in periodically, visitors got to join different activities that catered to their creativity. Classes for bead jewelry-making, sculpting and basket-weaving were held; attendees enjoyed getting informative lessons in unique sessions that lasted a few hours each. C2 buyers got free henna tattoos, too, for every purchase of the beverage.

The C2 Explore event successfully finished that Saturday afternoon, before a big downpour drenched the place. But the soaked tents were ready and cleaned up early the next day. The series of entertaining dance exhibitions proceeded as planned, like it never rained.

The streets leading back to the hotel at Session Road were alive by nighttime with different people, many of whom seemed to be walking to the nearest food joints, ukay-ukay stalls, or convenience stores. There were a number of net cafes across the place, as well as comfy-looking restaurants that look like they’ve been around for generations, and would stay for more to come. Again, the meshing of the old with the new gives the area new character and it’s easy to appreciate the different textures that the changing landscape brings.

Hailing a cab is quite easy, as they’re pretty common in the area. Next stop: the hip and happening Nevada Square, where the young and some young-at-hearts converged, dined and had fun. A few snazzy bars and restos surround a wide courtyard that has tables for diners and drinkers. The Square attracts a wide clientele that, judging by that particular Saturday night, included all persuasions and even non-Pinoys. The music varies; if you fancy thumpa-thumpa house stuff, acoustic cover bands, or ‘80s-themed remixes, there are bars or bistros there that have them.

The evening was a few times cooler, and you could see your breath as a mist whenever you exhaled as a result. Since the hotel’s at the heart of Session Road, getting quick breakfast meals aren’t a problem. Also, this Metro Manilan soon discovered that, while most SM malls look and feel alike, SM Baguio has the distinction of being one with the chilliest top floor. There’s an open area there that gives visitors amazing views of the city, apart from a perpetually cold breeze.

For something that practically just popped into the work schedule unexpectedly, the trip and short visit were the highlights of that week, definitely. Thoughts of going back soon and staying longer to literally chill out and explore the sights and sounds of Baguio lingered. The bus ride home allowed for views of provincial greens, gradually fading into darkness and getting lit by those tiny star-like, earthbound lights.

Game, Set, Mash

I only had about two hours sleep, but I had to rush to Megamall before 11 a.m. yesterday to register for the Iron Man Mind Mash contest. The Iron Man movie toys were being launched, so it attracted collectors who wanted to pick up some rare figures from the set. Anyway, I found out about the new trivia game days before, so I began reading and reviewing handbooks devoted to the character. I actually memorized the names of Tony Stark’s many ex-girlfriends.

Anyway, long story short: Patrick, the first runner-up in last October’s Marvel Mind Mash, won top prize this time. It was weird though, I didn’t feel like I’d make it to the final round because I made a number of mistakes earlier. But there we were again, the two of us facing off. If you’re reading this, congrats, Patrick! You’re a tough opponent. See you at the next game.

Met Martin, the guy whose hip exterior belies a super-knowledgeable comics geek. Ran into the Brookers’ friend, lawyer-writer Drew Fornier, whom I chatted with a bit before the contests. Will post photos of them in a bit. Also saw Dennis, an old classmate from college, who had bits of intriguing info about some of our old classmates. I posed with an Iron Man mascot, posters, and fellow contestants. I felt really tired because I lacked sleep, but it was a fun event, nonetheless.

After the launch, I felt really woozy. Yeah, the feeling of losing sucks, too, but I got over it quick. Dicky boy gave me a toy he won in the Ozine event last week, and he’s been waiting to give it to me for days. Yeah, it’s a “limited edition” Iron Man figure from the movie line. So I didn’t go home empty-handed. We ate yummy pizza and called it a day.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Trapped in a Box

I drew this for last Saturday’s Super section of the Inquirer, “Drawing Inspiration” (April 5, 2008… thanks, Katrina and Pam!). Actually, I did about four other drawings that had other ideas on them last Wednesday evening. Every illustration started out good, but I couldn’t feel inspired enough to finish them. Some of them would’ve sported superheroes and a semi-realistic style, while others started out as surreal, fantasy-inspired pieces. But I had to stop because I wasn’t feeling them.

I was about to quit drawing altogether that night. I told John over the phone that the muse just wasn’t there at that moment. I was assigned to do that cover drawing, something that’s supposed to visually represent Super, and I couldn’t think of anything that I could finish. Then John said the words, “Think out of the box.” That was all I needed. He actually had some ideas that beget other interesting ideas after saying those words, but I didn’t think about them anymore. I just knew what I had to draw.

I opted for a cartoony style, and this is what came naturally. I did this on a comic book backing board. For me, Super is about ideas, thinking out of the box, thoughts that can be big, analytical, appealingly alien, or monstrous… a section prepared for, and by, those that are different, hence its title, “Thinking Outta the Box.”

That’s what the drawing above is about. I enjoyed doing it. Thanks for being intelligent and for being the muse, John.

‘Horton Hears a Who’: Rare, winning formula

(Published March 23, 2008, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Beloved children’s book author-artist Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, created original and appealingly weird characters in his career, but just as importantly, he imbued some human familiarity into his imaginative stories. That’s especially present in the new animated feature “Horton Hears a Who.”

The timeless tale is likewise populated by his distinctly odd-looking beings, as well as smart and ponderous animals. They all possess human-like behavior and quandaries, and even their own varying cultures. “Horton” is cute and visually kinetic enough that kids might dig it as much as Seuss’ illustrated books. But it’s got enough substance and some tugging philosophical ideas that can inspire deep thought among grownups.

That’s a rare, winning and working combination. It’s a smart yet heartwarming film, vividly rendered by Blue Sky Studios, who previously did hit cartoon films “Ice Age” and its sequel. Visually, it really is a Seuss book come to computer-animated life, its two featured worlds’ eccentricities made three-dimensional and textured. Moreover, the film captures that uniquely playful and dreamlike atmosphere, so it rarely gets boring aesthetically.

It does, however, start off a little slow. But the pace picks up and one soon gets the hang of watching the escalating adventure of the earnest elephant, Horton (voiced expressively by Jim Carrey), who discovers that a tiny speck that is actually the microscopic world of the Whos. Civilized and cultured, these people are unaware of his existence, but they do feel his hovering, monumental presence occasionally.

Horton directly contacts one of them--the Mayor (Steve Carell)--a dedicated but oft-ridiculed guy who connects sudden environmental and atmospheric changes to various goings-on in the elephant’s humongous home environment. The cross-dimensional communication isn’t always smooth or obvious to others, which gets both of them in trouble in their respective worlds.

The stern and self-important Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) thinks that Horton is insane and becoming a bad influence on the young animals of their forest society. The Mayor is similarly mocked and chastised for speaking of the existence of something that he can’t easily prove.

Such an unusual premise soon expands and ultimately, treats the viewer to existential themes, as well as individuality-versus-mob consensus debates, and even situations portraying generational parent-child rifts. There are fun physical conflicts in “Horton,” but the deeper and more lingering ones take place in the scenes depicting allegories for ideological battles and authority-questioning in our reality. It’s good that it’s presented in a way that’s easily comprehensible by the younger audience, too.

It’s not difficult to appreciate the maturity and relevance of Seuss’ story. “Horton Hears a Who” is a rarity, yes; it’s as enjoyable as the quirky live-action translation of the Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (which starred Carrey as the titular character), but “Horton” is easily more layered, story-wise. It’s got a slightly absurd take on cosmology that’s entertaining, and it can still be enjoyed as a better-than-usual animated feature with loads of colorful designs and exciting, kid-friendly moments.

Inimitably ‘Rome’

(Published March 23, 2008, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Political turmoil has rarely been portrayed engrossingly in television dramas, and the gripping HBO series “Rome,” which ended in 2007, is among those few that did. In this interpretation of events leading to Rome’s transformation into an empire, almost every character is shown to be capable of unimaginable cruelty, given the proper impetus. It doesn’t fail to shock every time that happens.

In the original DVD set compiling the final ten episodes--“Rome: The Complete Second Season”--gory imagery and sexual situations that didn’t make it in its cable run are intact. In these closing chapters, some key figures go through hellish times, while Mark Antony and Cleopatra (James Purefoy and Lyndsey Marshal) find happiness during the calm before their eventual storm.

Interwoven with the complex political situation of centuries past are the disturbing and sometimes, beautiful relationships that feel contemporarily familiar. While many current-day soaps or telenovelas resort to hollow, over-the-top story stunts to keep the drama alive, “Rome” doesn’t pull its punches whenever it’s required to shake things up. As a result, you don’t feel complacent for any of the characters, as nobody’s really safe. Those in feuds, for instance, suffer terribly--often violently--for every misstep, exposing a very different human dimension with the era’s cultural mores and enigmas.

Created by John Milius, William MacDonald and Bruno Heller, the unflinching and vividly designed weekly series has won various Emmys. Also making the period drama unique is its cast of characters, many of whom are schemers and double-dealers. Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds), the consummate politician and a charismatic strategist, did unexpectedly shocking deeds when he was alive. The circumstances leading to his assassination were richly painted. One of his many assassins, Brutus (Tobias Menzies), was prodded to take part in that crime by his mother, Servilia (Lindsay Duncan), Caesar’s spurned and bitter mistress. Servilia’s open enmity with Caesar’s niece, Atia of the Julii (deliciously portrayed by Polly Walker), also escalates this season.

Atia is a ruthless predator, however, and is the most duplicitous and enchantingly elegant character among the lot. All the others are lesser evils compared to her. It’s edifying to see her lose control, especially when her arrogant son Octavian (Max Pirkis) becomes manipulative and cunningly takes steps to challenge her erstwhile soldier lover Mark Antony. “Rome” succeeds in intertwining these twisted family dynamics with its ongoing power struggle theme.

Season two isn’t as smooth as it should’ve been. Compressing years into so few episodes tends to leave out crucial nuances. It’s also hard to suspend disbelief over the adult Octavian, Simon Woods, who doesn’t resemble Pirkis at all. He’s an excellent actor, but it’s hard to believe it’s the same person, especially when everyone else looks the same.

Still, those are the only drawbacks, and all the main characters’ tales progress memorably. Centurions that have been instrumental to outcomes of some political upheavals, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo (Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson), originally the uneasily paired good-cop bad cop of the series, become loyal brothers in the course of several disheartening ordeals. Their non-nobility perspectives differently lend "Rome" accessibility and heart. Seeing them picking up the pieces of their destroyed lives is just as engrossing as seeing them contribute to the fate of Rome.

Just Some Justice Leaguers

Charms of Orion

If you’re getting just one figure from Mattel’s DC Universe toy line, this has got to be it. Orion is excellently sculpted and painted, has a removable and intricately done harness-glider accessory, and is proof that fully poseable action figures needn’t have unsightly ball joints connecting the thighs to the torso to work.

Hawkgirl of your dreams

In the last five years, Hawkgirl became an official Justice Leaguer twice, specifically in Joe Kelly’s and Brad Meltzer’s runs. The latest DC Direct Hawkgirl figure from the JLA set is good; it’s sexy, sleek, elegantly painted, and has cool accessories (the mace, removable wings, and yeah, a small Starro starfish!). It’s a good addition to anyone’s Justice League collection. Place her beside your Hawkman or Red Arrow, and create some good old fashioned sexual tension.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wolverine Drawing, 20 Years Ago

Yuhck. :D

Well, I did draw this in my early teens. I recently scanned this off my friend’s ancient notebook. Funny, I really loved Wolverine back then. There were two other drawings of him elsewhere in that notebook. One of ‘em even had a birthday greeting for my friend, who can still remember that he wanted me to draw Batman. But as I wasn’t that into the DC character back then, I opted to do Wolverine instead. I think I started drawing Batman after Tim Burton’s movie came out, about a year later.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Session Ode

After a week of non-stop working on stuff for the paper and agencies, I was sent to Baguio to help out in covering a two-day event. It was still work, yeah, but it was a nice, short vacation; I wish I could’ve stayed longer and re-discovered the place more. And I wish I bought pasalubong for my family. But I was too tired, not to mention cash-strapped, to do that, so maybe I’ll do it next time. The change of environment and pace felt good, though. I’m still processing my short visit. It’s been 15 years since my last vaycay there, so it’s interesting to see some parts like Session Road change radically. Others look and feel exactly the way I remember them, which is also good.

Thanks to Nash and Christian for being good co-workers there, and my thanks as well to Mark and Char for sending me!