Friday, July 25, 2008

Frozen D-light

“Okay, here’s the thing.” I love Kathy Griffin and her reality show My Life on the D-List. Jack TV’s looping an older season. It’s perpetually in reruns, but it’s still cool. I just keep it on and listen to it, when I’m doing other things.

I’m also enjoying the new episodes: Kathy entertains gay airplane passengers, visits her assistants’ home towns, gets interviewed by the oddest people, and talks about her Jesus remarks, among other things. I just love her unrelenting irreverence, her honesty and hilarious A-list celebrity-bashing (she recently called Oprah a bear and Oprah’s pal Gail her cub). She’s definitely one of the few, genuinely funny people on TV today.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ celebrates nerds

(Published July 21, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Finally, a TV series about nerds and nerdity that dweebs and non-dweebs alike can appreciate: “The Big Bang Theory,” a weekly sitcom about a pair of physicists and their idiosyncrasies, wittily shines a spotlight on the supposedly “unpopular” social clique.

It’s easy to get immersed in the lives of roommates Sheldon and Leonard (Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki), two twentysomethings with contrasting personalities, but with a common love for science and a number of geeky hobbies.

In the show’s pilot episode, they meet a new neighbor, the bubbly blonde Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a sexy waitress/aspiring singer who has nothing in common with them, but she’s open to hanging out with the brainiacs.

The dialogue usually has its share of punchlines that involve behavior peculiarities, pop culture trivia, even scientific and historical facts. The opening theme goes, “Math, science, history/unraveling the mystery/that all started with the big bang!”

The show pokes fun at the “misfits,” but it also gleefully tackles the considerable contributions of the intellectual to different cultures. Created by Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men”) and Bill Prady (“Gilmore Girls”), “The Big Bang Theory” also offers insightful situations that illustrate eggheads’ various fixations, and their aversion to societal norms.

The cast of characters includes two other science types, the sex-obsessed Howard (Simon Helberg), and Raj (Kunal Nayar), who can’t speak to women unless he’s drunk or medicated. Both drop by Sheldon and Leonard’s place from time to time to play video games or engage in some similar activity.

The distinct personalities make it easy to understand and pigeonhole the characters, while the snappy, sharp repartee makes them all similarly important parts of a bigger whole.

Still, the character that really stands out is extra-eccentric Sheldon, whose social ineptness and overly logical approach has gotten him into trouble a number of times already. Heck, he’s been the source of most of the first season’s mirthful situations; his lack of common human personality traits has prompted his friends to call him a robot. But Sheldon proudly admits that social relationships “baffle and repulse” him, anyway. Parsons’ portrayal is consistently excellent.

The writing’s mostly good, although one scene, which tries to emphasize the boys’ lack of non-scientific knowledge, isn’t particularly funny or logical. They fail to answer a question about the line immortalized by beloved cartoon character Tweety (“I tawt I taw a…?”). Sheldon answers “a Romulan?” Come on! These people love trivia, action figures, DC comic books, and Star Trek, and can’t answer that basic question correctly? Unbelievable. But thankfully, such out-of-character bits don’t happen often.

The episodes have been traditionally paced; each topic predictably spawns problematic situations (usually involving some character’s eccentricity), but goes off on funny, often clever tangents. For approximately 22 minutes weekly, “Big Bang Theory” delightfully gives its various takes on the nerd, constantly celebrating his extraordinary capacity for understanding and applying useful--and useless--information.

“The Big Bang Theory” airs Fridays, 8:30 p.m., on Jack TV.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Locking Horns, Making Peace

No matter how well you treat people or mind your own business sometimes, your personality just clashes with your friends’ and family’s. It’s inevitable that within our lives, conflict and drama erupt between us and some of those we hold dear. Some of the toughest arguments we’ve had are those with people we genuinely care about; we often say and do things that we regret later.

But time does have its recuperative properties. You forgive and forget the pride and pettiness. You get over the hurt or frustration, and you don’t speak of it again. We’re all resilient that way.

Deadpool, Meet Kitty Pryde

Two years ago, I borrowed a friend’s nearly complete run of Deadpool. In one of the issues (I forget which number), the Merc with a Mouth begs Wolverine to fight him, but the feral X-Man refuses. About to be mocked by Wolvie’s teammate Kitty Pryde (a.k.a. Shadowcat), the ignored ‘Pool unhesitatingly introduces her to an effective Street Fighter move.

A generous fellow posted the pic above at Newsarama some time back. Click on the image for a larger version.

The Walk Home

For seven years, I walked home after classes. From grade 4 to fourth year high school, I’d usually exit the back gate of the school, walk for a few blocks, and I’d be home after 10-15 minutes. My route changed a few times; so did the company. There used to be a time when I’d walk home with siblings when I was in grade school, when we got fetched by the old houseboy. Eventually, I’d get home on my own.

The sights didn’t change much through those years. The streets had their share of roadkilled frogs, the occasional dog that wasn’t shy about growling in its territory, and a few other students who also walked to their nearby homes. I even saw a classmate scaling their home’s gate, apparently because no one was opening it for him. Maybe it was his normal routine; I didn’t ask.

There were the oddest people too. When I was about twelve, I was greeted by some old guy. He was probably in his 20’s, so that was old to me then. “Hello, little boy,” said the thin, mustachioed man in his yard, smiling. I looked but didn’t greet him back, and didn’t stop walking. I thought it was weird. I’d been instructed not to talk to strangers many years before.

And then there were those supposedly rebellious students that frequented the sari-sari store to buy and smoke cigarettes. At one point, a mestiza girl who’s a batch or two higher, loudly said, “Walang choo-choo, ha,” as I walked by. Narcing on them was the last thing on my mind; all I could think about that was, “She looked stupid, smoking while in uniform.”

I took other streets after that. I avoided eerie-looking areas and usually went home before dark. Mostly, the walk home was a time when I’d usually daydream about things I wanted to draw, or own, or visit. I’d also be excited about the library books I just borrowed. Sometimes I’d just tune out and automatically get home in no time at all. I think, and I don’t remember this part clearly, I brought and listened to some tapes in my walkman a few times, too.

As I grew older, I’d appreciate the proximity to the school more, as my classmates and I sometimes did some projects in the house. Other times, we’d just hang out for a few hours to play records or read comic books. I certainly missed the convenience it offered when I went to college; going home meant getting stuck in traffic for two long, energy-sapping hours.

The walking routine is one I miss, sometimes. I didn’t have to worry about money, except when I had to check if I had enough allowance saved for the two Marvel titles I read monthly. I also miss the quiet times and the sunsets. Of course, there’s also the exercise it afforded me five times a week.

I don’t really miss the school that much, though, or most of the people I grew up with.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gotham’s charismatic freaks clash in ‘The Dark Knight’

(Published July 18, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Superior to its predecessor “Batman Begins” in many respects, “The Dark Knight” is a brooding, intelligent film that further confirms the grittier, more realistic aspects of the Caped Crusader’s reality.

Now that his origin is out of the way, this sequel defines not only Batman’s mission, but his friends’ and foes’ alike. It also re-introduces the Joker, who, like Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the madman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman,” steals the show again. He’s deliciously interpreted here by the late Heath Ledger, whose performance is chilling.

“The Dark Knight,” co-written by director Christopher Nolan with frequent collaborator Jonathan Nolan, is a layered saga that avoids convolution by introducing and nurturing separate character elements. These cohesively connect to form multiple puzzles, so we see the Batman’s (Christian Bale) story unfolding alongside, and together with Lt. Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman), the Joker’s, and Gotham’s “white knight” D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

Especially threatening is Ledger’s Joker, whose fractured psyche finally gives Batman and other Gothamites some really confounding quandaries. As a villain, this new Joker is a force of nature, a self-proclaimed agent of chaos. His horrific face, smeared in clown makeup, soon elicits fear and mass panic. This guy has no qualms with sharing equally disturbing anecdotes about his penchant for bladed weapons and his victims’ final moments.

Surprisingly well-developed is Harvey Dent, known to Bat-fans as the disfigured baddie Two-Face. His origin here is complexly presented; Eckhart sublimely portrays the seemingly incorruptible D.A., who’s ready to cross the line when he (or his “lucky” coin) deems it necessary. Here, he’s the boyfriend of Bruce Wayne’s ex Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This certainly isn’t Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever,” where Dent’s turning point was shown in barely a few seconds of flashback.

Scene-stealers aside, Batman and Bruce Wayne are still at the center of it all. Wayne has grown considerably in terms of understanding the need for “real” heroes such as the celebrated Dent. He’s also more cunning when dealing with criminals; a daring overseas mission makes good use of his costumed vigilante identity and arsenal.

He still employs wise men, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), as his occasional advisers who help out with the minutiae of crimefighting. However, at some points you’ll wonder why Batman doesn’t act like a master tactician, and still resorts to brute force instead of initiating his own mind games during a key scenario with the Joker. But it’s fun to watch him administer a beating.

While there are points that can inspire minor quibbles, the storytelling is eloquent, overall. The circuitous machinations of the film’s “freaks” meet and conflict on a mythic scale without losing its vital human component. All these, plus explosive action sequences, help make this Bat-sequel one to relish and cherish.

(This review is slightly longer than the published version; I kept a few sentences to elaborate on some points.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Points of Articulation

Here are some old action figure pics, taken about two years ago. Thanks to Dicky for helping pose and take pics of ‘em. Check out the Multiply album for more photos.

Marvel Villains United!

Midnight Sons! Or Legion of Monsters?

Knowing is Half the Battle

Some pictures taken at the Toys R Us Superhero event in Robinson’s Manila last Saturday. That guy’s EJ (or Elton John), who won first place in the Ultimate Mind Mash trivia game. It was a close and long competition; we had to answer questions based on the Transformers, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, and Marvel mythologies. We did that onstage; I was proud that I got some items correctly (Shaak-Ti! Weather Dominator! Galvatron!), but it was quite embarrassing to answer incorrectly in front of everyone. Heh. Still, it was fun; I made it to second place. I’m holding the Destro-Corporal Breaker anniversary 2-pack prize. I’m looking forward to joining more Mind Mashes.

Got myself some half-priced Marvel Legends too, like cool variants of Moon Knight and Wasp, as well as 1940s Captain America from the Brood wave, and something I’ve been waiting for, the Black Knight (a nice addition to my Avengers team, oh yes).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bat Dance

I watched Batman: The Dark Knight last night at the Imax. The sequel’s much better than the first movie. There are some memorable exchanges between Christian Bale’s Batman and Heath Ledger’s Joker, somewhat reminiscent of the Keaton-Nicholson dialogue back in Burton’s first film, but darker. What a great film; I just have some minor gripes with some parts near the end. But it’s a really big hero-villain showdown, a really smart Bat-film. And finally, talented Aaron Eckhart lands a big role, too; he's outstanding as Gotham’s “white knight” Harvey Dent.

The late Mr. Ledger is just amazing in this. His portrayal of the Joker is scary, unpredictable and unnerving; it just gives you chills and you’re scared for his victims-to-be. It also makes you sad, because you realize, more than once, that this was his last performance.

The movie opens later this week.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Well, I didn’t eat a chicken dinner until early this evening (which was my late lunch, by the way), but yeah, I placed second in the Ultimate Mind Mash trivia game yesterday. That was a tough one, especially because I knew little of G.I. Joe, The Transformers, and Indiana Jones.

But I got second place, and won a G.I. Joe anniversary 2-pack of Destro and Cpl. Breaker. In the pic, I’m onstage with my prize and Eric, Cybertron Ph mod and host of the Toys R’ Us event at Robinson’s Manila yesterday. Thanks to AleX of Cybph for the picture!

‘Mamma Mia!’ pushes nostalgia buttons

Published July 13, Philippine Daily Inquirer-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The movie musical “Mamma Mia!” pushes buttons of nostalgia even when the film’s narrative falters from time to time.

The simple tale that had to be stretched and made complicated manages to entertain with giddy performances from its all-star cast.

Based on the top-grossing and Tony-nominated stage musical of the same title, “Mamma Mia!” features the chart-topping hits of Swedish pop group ABBA, lovingly rendered by Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters, among others. The songs fittingly create a bigger tapestry that acts as a flowing, breezy soundtrack, upon which a charming story about parents, daughters and independence is formed.

Streep can do no wrong and ABBA’s body of work is classic--and surprisingly relevant.

The lyrics actually comfortably fit the wedding jitters and jubilation of single mom Donna (Streep), whose dutiful daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is set to tie the knot. Unknown to mom, Sophie’s invited to the fete three men mentioned in an old, forgotten journal. One of the three is Sophie’s dad, but nobody knows who, not even Donna.

Donna’s promiscuity is satirized a few times (but not the unprotected sex angle, oddly), in not-so-snappy banter and some cute song and dance numbers. Her former lovers (Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Firth) drop everything to attend Sophie’s wedding, set in the picturesque Greek isle that they all remember fondly.

Donna’s close friends and former bandmates (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) also drop by for this special occasion, the reunion allowing them to perform several ABBA-fueled girl-power anthems.

“Mamma Mia!” reunites the original musical’s director and writer, Phyllida Lloyd and Catherine Johnson. ABBA’s artistry as the musical and movie’s source of inspiration speaks of its timeless pop hooks and universal appeal. They also have a funkiness and oddball quality too; each song inherently inspires a wealth of imagery. Too bad the movie doesn’t always capture the sense of grandiosity, liberation or adventure.

Not that it always has to be grand. Lighter numbers “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “Chiquitita” are handled well, their essence captured convincingly. However, an exceptionally heartfelt performance, Streep’s “The Winner Takes It All,” starts amazingly, but it’s soon hampered by static camera shots and choppy editing. Some numbers have uneven, uninteresting choreography, and are bridged by inane dialogue.

There are enjoyable moments nevertheless, including Walters’ heady version of “Take a Chance on Me,” Brosnan’s funny, quivery take on “S.O.S.” and of course, Streep’s impassioned rendition of “Mamma Mia.”

There are parts that should’ve been shortened or removed altogether. But “Mamma Mia!” as a feel-good movie tries to make up for a lack of sturdiness and flamboyance, and succeeds to some degree. If you take a chance on it, you’ll soon find yourself thanking ABBA for the music.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

‘Pushing Daisies’: Life never-lasting

(Published July 9, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

In the unique world of the fantasy-comedy series “Pushing Daisies,” life and death are normal occurrences, but one guy wields extraordinary power over them.

This ongoing, contemporary fairy tale regularly juggles unconsummated romance themes and crime scene puzzles, but it’s devoid of dourness. While its focus on bizarre and horrible tragedies doesn’t evoke the feeling of morbidity, there’s dark humor that consistently keeps it from becoming heavy and really serious. Still, there’s an ever-present aura of sadness too, not only for the victim of the week, but also for the offbeat show’s lead character.

The man blessed and cursed with the ability to resurrect the dead for a full minute, Ned the pie-maker (Lee Pace) learned about his “gift” the hard way. As a boy, his magic touch instantly revived his dead mother, but unbeknownst to him at the time, each resurrection has a price: his neighbor drops dead shortly, as if the cosmos required to maintain a balance. But when Ned’s tucked into bed by his mom later, neither knew that a kiss on the kid’s forehead would prove fatal. For good.

Many years later, he’s faced with the decision to keep somebody alive for longer than the allowed time. Ned, now a baker at his store The Pie Hole, partners up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to help solve crime-related deaths, initially for reward money.

One such unsolved case leads them to Ned’s old childhood sweetheart Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel), who met her doom at the hands of an unknown attacker. Ned restores her, and Chuck’s soon privy to his enigmatic secret. Death claims someone nearby, but Ned’s too excited about their unexpected reunion to care. Sadly, they can never, ever have skin contact again, lest she goes for all eternity.

“Pushing Daisies,” created by Bryan Fuller (“Wonderfalls”) and co-produced by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men In Black,” “Addams Family”), was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy). The show mostly follows a typical crime-solving show structurally, but its narrative consistently mines deliberately quirky elements.

The artificial, Burton-esque atmosphere, a mix of bright colors and retro designs, happily gives the show an innocent, glossy look. The imaginatively written voiceover narration often keeps it smooth, too. It repeatedly segues to funny or freaky flashbacks and wittily points out well-placed analogies for the Ned-Chuck relationship.

The “unreal” world also allows for other creative liberties. The diminutive waitress Olive Nook (Kristin Chenoweth), for example, once sang an impassioned version of “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” the song descriptive of unrequited feelings for her employer Ned.

The show occasionally employs visual effects such as animation, bringing Ned and Chuck’s fun memories of imperiled clay people to life. Images superimposed on green screens, such as those in greedy candy shop owner Dilly Balsam’s (guest Molly Shannon) funky flashback sequence, also add welcome campiness.

“Pushing Daisies” is easy viewing, thanks to the show’s aesthetically pleasing otherworldliness. The repetitive emphasis on the touch-free romance gets perplexing at times, but the episodic stories are, for the most part, well-penned and lively.

(The series airs every Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., on 2nd Avenue.)

Friday, July 04, 2008

‘Wanted’: Bone-breaking fun

(Published July 2, 2008, Philippine Daily Inquirer-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy star as super-assassins in the brutal and insane popcorn flick “Wanted,” an antihero yarn that does not resemble its source comic book at all. The movie’s quiet scenes lack the punch and finesse of its elaborate and overpowering action sequences, but its very capable actors are a joy to watch even when there are no furiously paced gunfights and explosions.

It’s directed by Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch,” “Day Watch”), whose stylish visuals and thorough attention to action imagery gives “Wanted” its unique, blood-tinged flavor. It’s very loosely based on Mark Millar and JG Jones’ ultra-violent comics, about a world-weary, cubicle-shackled drone named Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) who transforms radically into a killer.

Wesley, whose girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend, is a pushover who gets occasional anxiety attacks. Languishing in a job that he hates, and barely enduring the taunts of a boss that he hates more, he’s quite the archetypal unhappy loser. But a fateful encounter with the pistol-packing Fox (Jolie) becomes a turning point; Wesley gradually sheds his sorry existence after she rescues him from a top killer who just whacked his estranged dad. Turns out that his dad had the superpower to “bend bullets,” or to maneuver and hit targets unerringly, despite numerous obstacles.

Wesley eagerly joins Fox in the Fraternity, a league of efficient assassins. But the initiation’s nothing he ever expected. Sloane (Morgan Freeman), the covert organization’s leader, considers its members agents of Fate, and believes that Wesley can be as deadly as his pop used to be. The newly minted super-heir soon embraces life as a death-dealer wholly.

The movie discards many elements from its source material, like the cutting-edge tights and eccentric villains. Some concepts from Millar and Jones’ book were changed or ditched altogether, as the script by Chris Morgan and “3:10 to Yuma” co-writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas retools Wesley as someone with redeeming value.

Massive re-imagining aside, it captures quite a fraction of the seminal series’ brash attitude. McAvoy is just perfect for the role; his directionless, apologetic Wesley transforms plausibly into the sharp and unstoppable new Fraternity assassin. Jolie, while mostly lacking a tangible personality here, is a killing machine that outshoots her previous action movie heroines. But her subtlety in a short scene explaining her motivation and origin makes Fox someone deserving of sympathy, even allegiance.

The story’s flimsy parts don’t get too noticed, as “Wanted” is divertingly embellished enough with an assortment of eye candy. Even when the standoffs and revelations happen just as expected, Wesley’s defining drama of finding self-worth and an identity is still pretty enjoyable. “Wanted’s” well-choreographed carnage and chaos, like deadly dance moves, are a visual feast--cathartic, delivering crazy and bone-breaking fun.

Brain Color, Star Sign, Invisible Touch

Yeah, I took the Jung-inspired personality test over at too. So I’m a “Spontaneous Idealist (SI),” a person who is supposedly “creative” and “open-minded.” To better understand what an SI is, click on the image below (nah, sorry, I didn’t feel like copy-pasting the code).

I would say that I agree with most of the things it’s saying, especially these:

“This personality type is a keen and alert observer… In extreme cases, they tend to be oversensitive and exaggeratedly alert and are inwardly always ready to jump.”

“(They) attach great value to their inner and outward independence and do not like accepting a subordinate role. They therefore have problems with hierarchies and authorities.”

Hahaha! That is so me. Here’s something curious, though:

“Boring everyday life in a partnership is not for them so that many Spontaneous Idealists slip from one affair into another.”

Haha, that can probably be interpreted as… uhm, I dunno. Heh.

There are pretty accurate adjectives that describe my personality, like “communicative,” “curious,” “erratic,” and “enthusiastic,” among others. It’s quite amusing.

I started reading Sheila Glazov’s What Color is Your Brain a few days ago, too, which classifies personality types into colors. I’m a Green Brainer, which the book describes as someone “independent” and “private.” My secondary brain color (or “blending color”) is blue, which also influences how I deal with things and people. I think it should be my primary color, because inquisitiveness, emotional sensitivity and artistry fall under it. Still, one of the tests says that I’m predominantly green, and I agree with many of its points. I really should finish that book; it’s quite diverting.

Interestingly, I’m a Scorpio, which doesn’t contradict most of the descriptions given by those personality quizzes. Now, as I have mentioned previously, I don’t really believe in astrology. But the sign assigned to me, uncannily, just describes me perfectly.

It’s also interesting that most of these things somehow have us figured out and classified into easy categories. And it’s just as interesting that there are others who understand exactly who you are and what makes you tick; that mostly unseen fellowship kind of reassures you that you’re not alone in this planet, after all.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

40 Baffling Comic Book Moments

This new fanboyish list is a rundown of some story elements, resolutions or executions that I dislike, not creators or creative teams. Maybe I’ll do a list devoted to that, someday.

They’re mostly Big Two stuff. In no particular order:

1. Alpha Flight is killed by a new villain off-panel. (New Avengers)

2. Xorn was initially revealed to be Magneto. But that was reversed; it wasn’t Magneto after all. Xorn was masquerading as Magneto, who just pretended to be… Xorn. (X-Men)

3. Jade dies perplexingly, and forgettably. (Rann-Thanagar War Special)

4. Countdown didn’t really count down to anything. (Countdown to Final Crisis)

5. Captain America just decides to quit, after some regular joes jump out of nowhere to stop his rampage. (Civil War)

6. Orion dies three times in the span of a few weeks. (Death of the New Gods, Countdown, Final Crisis)

7. Martian Manhunter falls without a fight. (Final Crisis)

8. The X-Men are beaten single-handedly by Spider-Man, then the Wasp. (Secret Wars)

9. The battle scene between a Maxwell Lord-controlled Superman and Wonder-Woman is just told as a quick flashback in the supposedly important OMAC title. (OMAC)

10. One More Day magics away Peter and Mary Jane Parker’s marriage. (Amazing Spider-Man)

11. Zaladane and Lorna Dane are revealed to be sisters. (Uncanny X-Men)

12. The Marvel-Wildstorm universes merge, a la DC and Marvel’s Amalgam, at the end of Heroes Reborn. (Various Heroes Reborn titles)

13. Cyclops disbands the X-Men after the “death” of Professor X. But that’s after some of the most savage attacks on mutantkind. (X-Men)

14. Magneto abducts--then tries to seduce--the Wasp. (Secret Wars)

15. Ms. Marvel is date-raped and impregnated by Marcus, and gives birth to him, too. (Avengers)

16. Moira MacTaggert devises a vague process, off-panel, that mind-controls the X-Men’s blue team. (X-Men).

17. The X-Men aren’t defeated by the JLA, whose roster includes four members with super-speed. (All Access)

18. The Amalgam-ated Bat-X debuts. (Unlimited Access)

19. Husk undresses before her mother and jumps into boyfriend Archangel’s arms. (X-Men)

20. “Captain Mar-Vell” returns. (Civil War: The Return)

21. Namor uncharacteristically shouts, “Have at thee!” (New Avengers)

22. Wolverine beats Lobo off-panel. (DC Versus Marvel)

23. Amazo deactivates when Superman announces that the JLA is disbanded. (JLA)

24. The Seven Soldiers’ adventure ends, confusingly. (Seven Soldiers)

25. Henrietta Hunter becomes Sadako-esque. (X-Statix)

26. The fact that Ares’ son knows that his father’s the God of War, among other things, is ignored. (New Avengers)

27. Legion history and reality are changed for the umpteenth time. (Teen Titans-Legion)

28. Fun character Speedball becomes angsty and pain-obsessed Penance. (Civil War Front Line)

29. Polaris loses her magnetism and gains super-strength. (Uncanny X-Men)

30. Superboy Prime punches the Wall and changes reality. (Infinite Crisis tie-in)

31. Scarlet Witch totally forgets that she knows about her lost babies. (Avengers)

32. Franklin Richards grows up in another reality and returns as an adult adventurer, a la Cable. (Fantastic Four)

33. The Beyonder’s origin is changed; he is now a “mutant Inhuman.” (Illuminati)

34. Donna Troy is killed by a Superman robot. (Titans-Young Justice)

35. Canada’s Omega Flight reforms; half of the team’s members are Americans. (Omega Flight)

36. Norman Osborn is revealed as the father of Gwen Stacy’s children. (Amazing Spider-Man)

37. Guy Gardner discovers the ability to make weapons out of his body. (Zero Hour)

38. Spider-Man gains claws and regenerative powers. (Spider-Man: The Other)

39. Mary Marvel becomes bratty, makes a deal with Eclipso, then Darkseid. (Countdown to Final Crisis)

40. After World War Hulk, the Hulk is dumb again. (Hulk)

Question Marked

Sometimes, I just have to pause and wonder about my life and where I’ve been, the connections and disconnections I’ve made with people, and lessons that I’ve learned, forgotten, and re-learned.

Sometimes, I wonder about destiny, the absence of it, the silliness of trying to understand it all, how much time we have left and the patterns that repeat over and over again.

Sometimes, I think about who I might have been in a past life. I don’t know if I believe in karmic balance or retribution. Man-interpreted divinity and metaphysics make my head spin now, but I do wonder if I’ve been here before, met people I love dearly, or was confronted with similar puzzles. It would’ve been nice, not to mention fantastical and filmy, if I had. It would be just as cool if I’m actually a new soul, trying to understand my temporary stay here in this plane.

I do feel like the outsider sometimes, someone who’s just observing, just looking at what’s happening to my life and others’. I try not to judge people, at least not too much, but I do feel impatient occasionally. I’ve become cold and unfeeling when it suits me, but emotional and impassioned for things of personal value. I also think about how different my life would have been now had I decided on things differently when I was younger.

But I’m here now. I value my sense of self and individuality, even if my self-worth falters sometimes. My ongoing biography intersects with others’, unfolding with both mundane and riveting parts. I believe in goodness and peace, even when I don’t feel some automatic allegiance to some familial tradition or societal norms.

Sometimes, I just want to sleep, and forget about the world.

Other times, I want hugs, kisses, sweet surrender, stuff money can’t buy, and stuff that I’d gladly purchase.

Money, time, optimism, they come and go. But I can still find things to smile about, somehow.

I’m just me, and this is my life.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Not smart, but there’s mindless mirth

(Published June 30, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Deliberately dumb and shallow, the super-spy parody “Get Smart” is nonetheless funny and feelgood, due largely to the involvement of charismatic comic talent Steve Carell. The actor has exhibited comedic versatility in films like “40-Year Old Virgin,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Evan Almighty” and the ongoing sitcom “The Office.” They’ve given Carell different opportunities to be funny without really resorting to slapstick humor.

But he gets to do less witty situational humor and more mindless mirth in “Get Smart,” based on Mel Brooks’ 1960s TV series. Carell plays the dorky but dedicated covert agency analyst Max Smart, who gets activated as a field agent after his group CONTROL barely survives an attack by its old nemesis organization KAOS.

The klutzy but well-meaning Smart almost bungles missions single-handedly, and sometimes suffers from smarting backfires of his super-secret weaponry.

While the bumbling spy or law enforcer concept has practically been bled dry through the years in movie and TV spoofs, Max Smart is still a welcome addition to that special roster of stumblebum heroes. He’s exceptionally attuned to observe and decode cryptic details, but he’s not exactly what you’d call the traditional dashing spy guy. That’s Agent 23 (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who protects him from bullies in the high school-like atmosphere of the hidden CONTROL base.

Still, embarrassment is just something to endure and ignore, as Agent Smart does his best to prove his value in the field. He’s partnered with one of the most efficient spies, Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), a bombshell brunette whose reluctance in trusting him might just cost them dearly. That is, if Smart’s inexperience, over-eagerness and klutziness don’t get them horribly killed first.

“Get Smart” is nowhere near as hilarious as the French parody of James Bond, “OS 117,” nor as zany as the campy, colorful world of “Austin Powers.” But it works as its own caricature of the secret agent, a simple romp that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of its high-stakes world. From the offbeat gadgetry, to the stealth-dependent situations, there’s fun to be had. There’s the obvious but cute sexual tension between Smart and 99, too.

But there’s not much of a story here: the newbie is introduced into a world rampant with double-crosses; his loyalty is questioned; he has to prove his innocence. It’s sort of like a regular hour and a half of Jack Bauer’s daylong schedule in “24,” except it doesn’t feel like the world’s ending. It’s utterly devoid of narrative surprises.

But it doesn’t truly matter in this instance, and you just have to giggle when the goofiness unfolds early on. There are moments to enjoy, such as the part where Terence Stamp’s diabolical villain manages to contact some government officials and gets dismissed a la Dr. Evil. The film caters to the escapist who needs a quick, easy laugh. There’s nothing really clever--or really smart--about it.

Nancy Castiglione’s clever move

(Published June 30, PDI-Entertainment.)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Actress-model Nancy Castiglione transforms credibly into a singing dance diva. Her snazzy self-titled12-track album of slick techno-pop is the culmination of an unexpected career makeover.

“Nancy Jane” is a distinct debut for Nancy Jane the recording artist, an artista of Filipino- Italian descent said to be formally trained in classical and theatrical music.

Crossing over to another branch of showbiz works and her repackaging is a good move, as evidenced by the solidly crafted album, released by Warner Music. Seated beside inconspicuous mirrorballs in one the CD sleeve’s photos, Nancy is the embodiment of sexiness and sophistication. But for this project, she gladly shares the spotlight with songwriters and arrangers who contribute to the favorable shaping of her dance ditties.

Her gentle, Kylie-Minogue-ish voice seems to fit snugly into songs written by DJ Brian Cua, Ricci Chan and Rico Blanco, among others. The collaborations make for wonderfully symbiotic tunes, singable electronica that emphasizes the strengths of both the vocalist and the composers. Lyrically, these songs are simple yet straightforward, mostly concentrating on romantic and sensual themes that Nancy conveys properly. It’s her lyricists-composers’ show as much as it is hers; that’s pretty much clear from the get-go.

She pulls off sultriness in the thumping “Hold You Close,” where she declares that she desires “A little touching/a little kissing/a little loving tonight.” Sensuality leads to seduction in “Rock It,” a gritty swirl of revealing confessions and provocative instrumentation. “Attraction/Connection” is a lighter, soothing cut that producer-lyricist Benjamin Gabitan aptly describes as a “tribute to Madonna.” And in “Moonlight Mood,” Nancy’s purring, echo-filtered vocals help create a cool atmosphere alongside a steady cadence.

The most accessible track has got to be the Blanco-penned “Control,” which appears in the album twice. Its first version is mixed by the former Rivermaya vocalist while the other is by Cua (or by his “alter-ego” Leon Chaplain, to be exact). “Control” has catchy melodies working for it; both versions might sound almost identical at first, until one notices the busier, more layered percussion and keyboard effects in the Cua/Chaplain mix.

The CD is certainly worth checking out and dancing to.