Thursday, August 21, 2008

‘X-Files: I Want to Believe’: Mulder and Scully, back to basics

(Published Aug. 15, Philippine Daily Inquirer-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Six years after “The X-Files” went off the air, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny reprise the FBI agent roles that made them famous in a self-contained new film that revives familiar themes. “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” feels like a longer episode of the beloved TV show, but it’s typically suspenseful and atmospheric.

This time, there are no muddled alien abduction mysteries or government conspiracies, which ultimately convoluted the show’s main mythology. Instead, “I Want to Believe” is in the vein of those episodes that focused on single, smaller cases. But there are many of those in the series’ nine-season run that are better-told and deeper than this film.

It’s a nice reunion that fans will want to see. After the show ended unevenly and with some loose ends unaddressed, it’s great to watch agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder in action again, minus the baggage and the clutter. It’s strange seeing them revert to their original, default templates, though--Scully as the debunking skeptic and Mulder as the open-minded believer again is only partly believable.

The former partners, contacted by a suddenly forgiving FBI, reunite on a case that seems to involve psychic phenomenon. A young woman suddenly went missing, and Mulder’s experience and insight on paranormal activity might prove valuable in deciphering the few clues they uncovered.

The random psychic revelations that seem to point at the right direction, however, manifest themselves through a convicted pedophile, ex-priest Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly). Mulder and Scully butt heads on the veracity of the claims, while the clock ticks on the missing woman.

Creator Chris Carter directs “I Want to Believe” from a screenplay he co-wrote with frequent X-Files scribe Frank Spotnitz, so it feels like one of the more inquisitive episodes from the outset. The Mulder-Scully dynamic is still synergistic and intriguing after all these years, thanks to the genuine chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson.

Scully as a full-time doctor and Mulder as a recluse are to be expected. It’s just not totally believable that she seems to have trouble believing things outside conventional parameters after everything she’s seen in the show, while it’s quite odd that Mulder’s lost some paranoia after experiencing some major ordeals.

But the components are there for a good mystery, enhanced by the ex-FBI agents’ crises of faith (and non-faith). There are good references to continuity, as a few past cases are referred to briefly. There’s still some humor, even when the tone gets irretrievably bleak.

However, the puzzles could’ve been better. The dialogue gets a little stilted from time to time, especially when it refers to Mulder and Scully’s close relationship.

The first X-Files film, 1998’s “Fight the Future,” is still the more memorable endeavor, even if it tied largely into the big alien invasion arcs when it started becoming complex. But the show always offered that perspective that there’s more to some things than meets the eye, and that some truths, however elusive, can be found. “I Want to Believe” captures those truisms again, as well as the special Mulder-Scully symbiosis, even when the mystery angle is simpler than usual. The show had great stories that would’ve made better film translations, but seeing the iconic TV tandem again is just so worth it.

Mix Tape, July 1998: LILITH ANTHEMS

Back when my dad’s nice old cassette player functioned properly (it didn’t eat tapes, and played them at the right speed), I made some compilations that focused on female singer-songwriters and vocalists for myself. Ten years ago, I started choosing a total of 30 rock, pop and alternative songs from my tape collection and began recording them onto a Maxell UR 120-minute tape. Some parts had to be re-recorded a number of times, because not all 30 songs would fit. I had to alter my song list; those that didn’t make it were automatically included in the next mix tape.

These made it to the final version of LILITH ANTHEMS:


JANN ARDEN – Good Mother





LISA LOEB – Snow Day

NO DOUBT – Sometimes

JONI MITCHELL – Free Man In Paris


SUSANNA HOFFS – Weak With Love

SHERYL CROW – Leaving Las Vegas

TEXAS – Breathless



TRACY CHAPMAN – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution


TORI AMOS – Tear In Your Hand


HEATHER NOVA – Truth And Bone

PAULA COLE – I Don’t Want To Wait

10,000 MANIACS (MARY RAMSEY)- Rainy Day

SHAWN COLVIN – Wichita Skyline


SARAH MCLACHLAN – Sweet Surrender

SUZANNE VEGA – No Cheap Thrill

EDIE BRICKELL – When The Lights Go Down

CRANBERRIES – I’m Still Remembering


JEWEL – Life Uncommon

I really liked how the songs smoothly flowed; their beats and the buildup of instruments and stories meshed consistently. The compilation also sort of documents how I felt about certain things during that period; now that I think about it, it’s a pretty bittersweet list. “Snow Day” encapsulated most of those feelings: “It’s a bad day/ it’s a train ride/ it’s a bad day/ you’re my medicine!” And yeah, actually, “Bitter” did, too: “But I don’t wanna get bitter/ I don’t wanna talk cruel/ I don’t wanna get old before I have to!”

The next tapes included several of these artists and others such as Liz Phair, Kate Bush, Cynthia Alexander, Orphanlily, Abra Moore, Sophie B. Hawkins, Sugar Hiccup, Save Ferris, Kate Ceberano, Sugarcubes, Bic Runga and PJ Harvey.

I still like listening to these tapes, but the player keeps acting up. Maybe I should start compiling those old songs again. I’d save all of them into an iPod if I had one. But I don’t, and I don’t really feel like owning one just yet.

Hmm, “Head Over Feet” and “I’ll Be Okay” feel relevant again, a decade later.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August Axioms

1. When all else fails, laughter is still the best damn medicine. I’m enjoying Flight of the Conchords and The Office immensely. Crazy stuff. I’m also catching up on David Willis’ Shortpacked. Man, that strip became funnier when it got sexual.

2. I am grateful. Thank you for getting more copies of my old comic book to send to friends, Professor Eric and Chameleon Cris! And thanks for sharing the potato salad, Cris!

3. Age isn’t just a number. Don’t you sometimes wish you could transfer your brain patterns into a healthier, younger clone of yourself? I’d take better care of it, I think. Not that I’m not trying to take care of myself now. It’s just that I think I’m gonna lose another molar again, soon. It’s worn out and a little wiggly.

4. Rest is not overrated. My body clock has re-adjusted again, but I think this new sleep pattern is a good thing.

5. Choco Mucho Peanut Butter tastes way better than regular Choco Mucho. Yes, it’s true.

Friday, August 15, 2008


With fellow comics creators Carl (Zsazsa Zaturnnah) V. and Gerry (Elmer) A. Got this old pic from Gerry’s blog almost five years ago. It was taken during the first Siglo launch, back in December, 2003.

I was sort of kicking myself back then for not accepting to draw one of the stories because of scheduling conflicts, but the launch also inspired me to finally do my own project.

Man, it feels like it was just a few months ago. But I weighed less, obviously. I miss being lighter.

Swipes and Simulacra

I’m no fan of Greg Land’s. I used to be, but after his illustration of Spider-Man on an Ultimate cover was revealed to be a blatant swipe of Travis Charest’s drawing, I wasn’t anymore. I liked his stuff when he did Birds of Prey, but his more recent reference-heavy, semi-realistic look isn’t a style I’m particularly fond of. The use of photo references as a shortcut is forgivable, but that still depends on what type of pictures those are. I just don’t get why he has to trace someone else’s artwork.

It reminds me of Roger Cruz, who used to ape Joe Madureira back in the ‘90s. But he also swiped from another artist. This panel from X-Men: Omega, above left, for example, shows an image that mirrors Alan Davis’ art in Excalibur # 61, the drawing at the right. (Ironically, that’s where Phoenix says: “I have no need to steal--I am the embodiment of life.”)

Now, I think David Mack’s Kabuki is really good. But his art in New Avengers # 39 is just full of copied images. You can spot a number of Alan Davis and Adam Hughes art, just changed to look like the character Echo. The image of the heroine by Mack, above left, is an obvious copy of Hughes’ Fairchild in Ordinary Heroes # 1, opposite image.

Tsk, tsk. Ugh.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Viewing Displeasure (or, Please Shut the Hell Up?)

Last Thursday, John and I watched the new X-Files movie at Megamall. It was a radio-sponsored screening and not a press preview, which meant that the crowd’s bigger than usual.

We chose seats at the fourth row quite early. Shortly before the movie started, a group of three sat behind us. One of them, a loud woman, irritatingly talked about how she got in for free. She told her story to her companions during the drawing of raffle prizes. She talked about it again after the national anthem played, and yet again while the trailers rolled.

At that point, I was groaning. I tisked loudly, but the inconsiderate idiot kept talking. Moving to another spot wouldn’t have solved it, and we liked where we were sitting. I was about to tell her to shush (I’ve done it before, and I’d do it again). But John beat me to it:


Thank you, John. She shut up after that. He recalls that those people were the same ones yammering during the screening of “The Happening.” But it was another woman, an older-sounding one, who kept talking about how she deserved getting in there for free and how she got into the preview of Sharon Cuneta’s movie.

John told her to shut up, too.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Some Super Slugfests

It’s impossible to list all the comic book fights that I like, but I’ll list down a few good ones I can remember anyway. They don’t have to be part of great stories; they’re action sequences that kick ass, or are fun, in my opinion. I’m sure you have your own faves, so share ‘em. In no particular order, 30 super fights, beatdowns and slam-bang battles:

1. The Ultimates vs. the Liberators (Ultimates II # 12)- Big, spectacular, and popcorn movie-ish in a good way.

2. Hulk vs. the X-Men (World War Hulk: X-Men)- Poor muties! King Hulk is badass.

3. Phoenix vs. Galactus (Excalibur # 61)- Rachel Summers vs. the god formerly known as Galan. Guess who wins.

4. Marauders vs. X-Men (Uncanny X-Men # 211)- Remember the first battle in the Morlock tunnels? Awesome.

5. Supergirl vs. the Anti-Monitor (Crisis on Infinite Earths # 7)- Kara’s unforgettable final fight.

6. Jesus vs. a vampire (Loaded Bible: Jesus Vs. Vampires)- Yes, Jesus the warrior owns, and has supernatural powers. “Holy Spit!”

7. Ravager vs. the Terror Titans (Teen Titans # 57)- Deathstroke’s daughter gives some wannabes a beatdown, all by her lonesome.

8. Archangel vs. Cameron Hodge (X-Factor # 34)- A confrontation that was worth the wait.

9. Oracle vs. Tarantula (Nightwing # 87)- Babs threw a fork that stabbed her leg, too!

10. Ralph Dibny vs. Felix Faust and Neron (52 # 42)- Man, that was a good one.

11. Peter Parker vs. Flash Thompson (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man # 11)- Flash taunts a freshly unmasked Peter into playing dodgeball. Big mistake.

12. Hulk vs. Doc Samson (Hulk # 319)- Mindless Hulk and Len briefly trade blows.

13. Superman vs. Doomsday (Superman # 75)- Aand, they’re both dead.

14. Baron Zemo vs. Moonstone (Thunderbolts # 12)- The ambitious leader and the ambitious subordinate finally show their contempt for each other. Alas, poor Zemo.

15. Darth Vader vs. Darth Maul (Star Wars Tales # 9)- Maul’s probably a clone, but it doesn’t matter. He ends up dead again, fancy moves notwithstanding.

16. Wolverine vs. Sabretooth (Uncanny X-Men # 213)- Before it became such a cliché, that rivalry sort of rocked.

17. Captain America vs. Batman (JLA-Avengers # 2)- the two are so evenly matched, and this is better-executed than their DC Vs. Marvel bout.

18. Thor vs. Perrikus (Thor Vol. 2 # 53)- The new Lord of Asgard gives his Dark God attacker a beating he’ll never forget.

19. Monsieur Mallah vs. Grodd (Salvation Run # 4)- Apeshit crazy! Plummet of the apes!

20. Oracle vs. Spy Smasher (Birds of Prey # 108)- Wow, Babs really kicks ass.

21. Colossus vs. Juggernaut (Uncanny X-Men # 183)- Bar brawl! Drunk Pete didn’t stand a chance.

22. Bullseye vs. Elektra (Daredevil # 181)- The classic, fateful clash!

23. Atom and Green Arrow vs. Darkseid (JLA # 14)- Ray Palmer and Connor Hawke take down the dark god of Apokolips in an alternate timeline.

24. Spider-Man vs. Superman (Superman and Spider-Man)- Obviously mismatched, but still funny.

25. Superman vs. Atlas and Samson (All-Star Superman # 3)- Supes arm-wrestles them at the same time.

26. JLA vs. Avengers (JLA-Avengers # 2)- The melees all over their universes and the culminating Savage Land fight are action-packed.

27. Secret Six vs. The Society (Villains United # 6)- No holds barred villain showdown!

28. Superman vs. Captain Marvel (Kingdom Come # 4)- Shazam!

29. Zealot vs. Voodoo (WildCATs # 25)- Pris gets beat up by the Coda bigot, but drives her away with her spilled “mongrel” blood.

30. Thanos vs. the Marvels (Infinity Gauntlet # 4)- Finally, Thanos wins something.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Music To My Ears

It’s exactly twenty years ago when I bought my first cassette tapes. Even before that, my older brother played Beatles, Duran Duran and Madonna records. I listened to them, too, and to parts of the Top 40 chart show hosted by Casey Kasem. I’d switch on his radio when he wasn’t around. I pretty much fancied the same artists, and others that spoke to me, a younger listener.

I really liked Fra Lippo Lippi’s “Light and Shade” album, so I got that. And yeah, I admit it: I loved Debbie Gibson’s bubblegum pop 20 years ago, so I got “Out of the Blue,” too. My tape collection would grow into a few dozen in the span of a year. I only had a few vinyl records, among them When In Rome’s debut album, and a 12-Inch Remix of Mike Francis’ “Let Me In.”

Yeah, well, two years after I started listening to music I bought, I really got into New Wave and Folk, and my taste expanded from there. I outgrew Debbie Gibson and the Dianne Warren-penned charttoppers. I got into The Cure, REM, Sarah McLachlan, Sinead O’Connor, and some obscure but similarly talented artists. I got into angry, angsty stuff. And while I still listen to sad songs, sometimes, the phase was one that I outgrew, too. I try to listen to a wide range of artists and songs, now.

But there are those that I really can’t stand. I automatically change channels whenever I see Miley Cyrus’ or the Jonas Brothers’ videos. It’s not my music, obviously, but I can understand that it’s some younger generation’s. Oh, wait, did I just write that sentence? I feel so old all of a sudden. But yes, it’s some kid’s music, just as Miss Gibson’s mostly wholesome, self-penned and self-produced stuff was sort of mine.

Debbie, and teen queen “rival” Tiffany, grew up and matured too (and posed for Playboy some years back, yep!). Their more recent songs, according to some people, have evolved to incorporate grown-up themes. Maybe I should listen to them and see how they’ve changed, two decades later.

In the meantime, I’m flashbacking to two decades back. Life was much simpler, the cassette player’s playing “Out of the Blue” and “Light and Shade” repeatedly, and I was dreaming of owning my own radio, the better to keep track of Billboard’s Top 40 songs of the week.

I got a radio as a birthday gift, two months later.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Robot Lovin’

Nothing much to document, except, earlier this week, I watched previews of Mummy Mia (Or Mummy 3, take your pick), and Wall-E (I love it, it’s so cute! It opens in two weeks, I think).

Oh, and proof that it’s a small world after all: I finally sold my Lord of the Rings figures to a nice fellow from Quezon City, who happens to know two contacts from the paper (Gibbs and Pam), and is a good friend to a fellow former Art Club member (Eric).

Small world, smaller country, I guess.

Alien Trickster Gods

The last ten Gods of Mischief from different worlds’ pantheons. Like earth deities such as Loki and similar beings, these entities are known to scheme and manipulate. But they’re not all deceptive or power-hungry. Check out the Multiply site to view other images.

I drew these using gel pens last week.


Gnasher Treeford

Baron Sorunn

Stargem Gemskin

‘Chuck’: Prescriptive, danger-free espionage

(Published July 28, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The comedy-action series “Chuck” is about the geek who suddenly gains something special, a potentially dangerous gift. You’ve seen this before so you may not take the weekly show very seriously, especially because of its light tone and generally inconsequential storylines. Its take on espionage isn’t earth-shaking, either.

But that said, “Chuck” grows on you and wins you over in due time. It’s easier to appreciate it as a fantasy show with occasional romance and action bits. It’s campy and escapist, quite prescriptive in addressing the need for angst-free viewing.

A few repetitive introductory episodes are followed by some attention-grabbing ones, particularly those that focus on the main character’s simple but intriguing past. Such parts move the story forward and upset the status quo, temporarily.

Created by Josh Schwartz (“The O.C.”) and Chris Fedak, “Chuck” is mostly about the adventures of the geek-next-door underdog, who must balance his typical daily duties with a secret life that involves spies, assassins, and covert missions.

We root for smart guy Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), a tech store clerk and repairman who lacks a social life. He hasn’t dated in a while, and isn’t that interested in the women that his concerned sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) introduces to him.

An estranged friend-roommate from Stanford, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer), sends him an unexpected message, a barrage of images containing tons of information that his brain immediately soaks up. Bryce is actually a rogue operative who, for unknown reasons, hands Chuck the US government’s biggest secrets.

This sends NSA and CIA agents Casey and Sarah (Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski) after him. Chuck now has priceless information in his head, which he discovers can be both convenient and extremely dangerous. Certain images (of faces, symbols, and objects) trigger instant recollection of criminal records, secret locations, and even his forgotten memories. But he still has to put different pieces together.

Chuck’s adventures are pretty rudimentary; he basically points his new agent handlers to the right direction, slightly bungles up the mission somehow, but ultimately has a hand in fixing things and saving the day later. That’s pretty much the show’s existing formula. It also constantly shows tension between him and Sarah, who’s now undercover as his new girlfriend. During his day job, he’s pestered by an envious coworker, and is watched by Casey, who just got hired by the store.

The spy biz scenarios here are simplified and simplistic; the show certainly is no “Alias,” nor does it aspire to be. Apart from the occasional absence of logical resolutions to some missions or situations, there’s the lack of credible threats. These areas really need some serious fine-tuning.

The relationships in Chuck Bartowski’s life--with his pseudo-girlfriend, his coworkers and family--are mainly the reasons that make the show continuously appealing, aside from its generally attractive cast. It takes time to warm up to, but we eventually cheer the reluctant hero, who’s suddenly very important in the scheme of things and has to fight twice the frustrating odds stacked against him.

“Chuck” airs Mondays, 8 p.m., on RPN-C/S.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Glory Days, Merry Mutants

That’s one of my favorite covers, drawn by Arthur Adams 20 years ago. The Marvel Age Annual was just a preview book and had little to do with the merry mutants, but I just had to buy it. I remember just staring at it, back then. I mean, wow, the four main X-teams (X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, Excalibur) were in one cover together, and drawn so beautifully, so it’s a purchase I never regretted. I saw a different version of the cover, a big poster at the old DC Diner, the first and only time I went there, and there were some changes in it. Psylocke was wearing her old, fluffy costume, among other things.

This continues to be an inspiring, astounding piece, and it reminds me of a time when the X-books were all easy to follow. Wow, Longshot used to be so cool.