Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scathing, smoking ‘Weeds’

(Published September 30, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The secret lives of unhappy suburbanites are exposed in the wicked weekly comedy-drama “Weeds,” about an enterprising widow who discreetly sells marijuana to some of her neighbors.

Mary-Louise Parker plays Nancy Botwin, self-proclaimed “Suburban Baroness” and mother of two troubled--and troublesome--sons. There are striking similarities to “Desperate Housewives,” but the more scathing “Weeds,” while not having macabre mysteries, treads where the other show can’t (or hasn’t).

Nancy sells pot to loyal adult customers in the community of Agrestic. Her small business later expands to include some college students. She refuses to sell to young kids, though. Some episodes into the second season, she explains that “pot-smoking is basically a victimless crime,” and marijuana is unlike cocaine and meth, which are “dangerous drugs that destroy lives.”

Her dealing is known only to her buyers and a tight circle of friends, who often help out in keeping the truth from her sons. Helping her raise them is her freeloading brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk), who gets in even more serious predicaments than his nephews.

Also adding to the humor and drama is Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins), a prim, self-righteous wife and mom who alternates as friend and foe to Nancy. Celia, unlike the other characters, is typically the killjoy, someone that viewers will love loathing. She’s thoroughly disliked (even by her own daughters), and is the obvious but crucial contrast to Nancy.

Depictions of misbehavior and sadness abound; Agrestic’s picture-perfect façade hides cheating spouses, secret liaisons, and flawed families. The series establishes the deliberate imperfections early in the first season, probing into ties and motivations through strong language and provocative dialogue. Mature themes are explored, sometimes gut-bustingly, other times poignantly.

Pot-dealing Nancy is very endearing, whether one agrees or disagrees with her methods. It’s also delightful to see her finding romance again, because that’s accompanied by expected complications. That new development brings about some predictable situations, but also some genuinely surprising changes by season two.

Nancy’s dichotomies are alluring; she’s confident and capable as the breadwinner, but she often fears that she’s failing miserably at parenthood. “Weeds” is especially insightful and addicting in its portrayal of failures, guarded secrets and hypocrisy.

“Weeds” airs Saturdays, 10:00 p.m. on 2nd Avenue.

Adonis in the Flesh

Rainy Thursday inevitably ended with me wading and drowning my feet in six-inch-high street water, among other annoying things. But the day wasn’t too bad. I was able to finish illustrations early in the morning, after working about twelve hours straight. I had barely four hours sleep after, but felt refreshed enough to interview Dyosa’s Prince Adonis in Makati in the afternoon.

It went okay. Actor-singer-model Sam Milby’s a generous interviewee. He’s quite a cool fellow, too. I hope to finish that article soon. Thanks, Bianca, for sending me!

‘The Office’: Weirdness in the workplace

(Published Sept. 19, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Workplace antics and disharmony are normal weekly occurrences in the American version of “The Office,” a hilarious and unique sitcom that centers on the goings-on at a Pennsylvania-based paper company office.

The employees of Dunder Mifflin go through some of the most bizarre office hours of their lives thanks to the unconventional ways of their perpetually clueless boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who tries to inject some “fun” into their mundane daily routines. But he’s often unaware that his offbeat, joke-y remarks and techniques are dumb or offensive (or both) to his team of nine-to-fivers.

The “mockumentary” follows the different characters’ notable actions in and out of the Dunder Mifflin compound. The employees even cooperate with the unseen crew for “interviews” that bridge scenes. The deadpan delivery of witty or sarcastic remarks (especially Michael’s) is useful in revealing opinions effectively. These usually give a broader insight into their thoughts, which traditionally structured sitcoms sometimes can’t properly pry into unless there’s a narration.

The latest season is still funny, but not as entertaining as previous ones, primarily because some of the main employee characters seem to have matured--a little. Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) are now officially an item, so their situations mostly focus on that relationship. They also pull fewer pranks on gullible co-worker Dwight (Rainn Wilson). But the tested boss-subordinate dynamics between Michael and his diverse team are still there, despite being toned-down a notch to bring in some romance-related drama.

Interestingly, some of the background characters--exes Ryan and Kelly --are played by actors BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling, who also pen episodes of the show occasionally.

Carell is remarkable as Michael Scott, whose strange methods usually result in confusion, insubordination, and sometimes, disbelief. But he’s entirely likeable on the viewer’s end; the character’s oft-crazy behavior contributes largely to the formula. What Michael lacks in smarts, he makes up for in a weird combination of eagerness and benevolence. The weekly jaunt into the seemingly normal confines of “The Office” constantly entertains, thanks mostly to that boss who makes and breaks his own rules on a regular basis.

Reruns of the 4th season of “The Office” are airing on Jack TV.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Judge and Rip

That’s the rare Witchblade figure that Benedict gave last year for my birthday. I waited for a long time for the set to go on sale, because I wanted to build the bonus figure. You have to get Witchblade, Super Patriot, Judge Dredd, Dragon, Madman and Ripclaw to complete the bonus parts and assemble the kickass giant Pitt.

The series went on sale last August. But Ripclaw and Judge Dredd are nowhere to be found. Maybe a lot of people got them shortly after the markdown. Those figures didn’t make it to some stores, according to a sales clerk of a toy store. Aaargh! I hope they’ll surface, eventually.

I wonder, though, if there are many people who are frustrated because they’re missing the Witchblade figure. Their Pitts are headless and torso-less.

Anyway, I gotta be patient, I suppose. I’ll build that Pitt someday.

‘Step Brothers’ lovingly lowbrow

(Published Sept. 15, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It’s utterly lowbrow, but the comedy “Step Brothers” is undeniably entertaining for most of its running time.

The re-teaming of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (who previously worked together in the amusing “Talladega Nights”) is a move that expectedly results in a no-holds-barred crass-fest.

Completing the equation is director and co-writer Adam McKay, who also worked with Ferrell in “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman.” The juvenile jokes and silliness leave little room between punchlines to breathe, even when things are as predictable as any other gross-out film’s gags.

Ferrell and Reilly play stepbrothers Brennan and Dale, men nearing their 40s who still live with their newlywed parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins). Bratty and lazy, Brennan and Dale initially despise each other, and hate being roommates.

Their petty territorial arguments and pranks quickly devolve into a long and violent confrontation. But the two sworn enemies realize that they hate Derek (Adam Scott), Brennan’s overachieving and condescending brother, even more.

Familial strife and maturity issues are tackled extra-irreverently, but you’ll barely get to think about impropriety because the unsubtle humor is just overpowering. What you’ll get to do is consider these mortal foes-turned-best buds as being merely overgrown and misunderstood men.

Reilly and Ferrell are downright funny as these crude, occasionally lewd dudes; the situations they get into are basically stretched to accommodate their combined, unleashed goofiness.

However, “Step Brothers” isn’t totally laugh-out-loud funny because of some prolonged bodily function jokes. But the over-the-top performances and some well-executed, if unthinkable, scenes make up for whatever it lacks in unpredictability and inventiveness. It just lets you easily switch off, accept its wacky world, and appreciate the never-ending dumbness.

Unabashedly stupid, yes, but it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. There’s nothing to fathom or ponder, but “Step Brothers” still elicits the necessary warm and fuzzy feelings after the glorious guffaws.

“Step Brothers” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening on Sept. 17.

Now That’s Obscene

I recently read the details of a proposed bill, filed by Sen. Manny Villar. It’s just baffling and ominous. Here’s a link to John Silva’s blog entry about the proposed Anti-Obscenity Bill.

Mr. Silva intelligently wrote about the topic: “This bill insults Jose Rizal and all other libertarians that fought for our individual rights. It violates the Philippine constitution and will be used to impose a repressive fundamentalist state. It is anti-art and demeans the whole notion of sexuality. It is not the answer to the exploitation of women and children in pornography. The bill should be cancelled.”

I agree. My friend Gerry Alanguilan also spoke his mind articulately about the bill last month:

“As an artist, this is a bill that gravely concerns me because it has the potential to seriously curtail not only my freedoms as an artist, but my ability to make my own choices as a mature, intelligent and moral human being.”

Again, I agree. Among the disturbing parts are its definitions of “pornography” and “obscene.”

“’Obscene’ refers to anything that is indecent or offensive or contrary to good customs or religious beliefs, principles or doctrines, or tends to corrupt or deprave the human mind, or is calculated to excite impure thoughts or arouse prurient interest, or violates the proprieties of language and human behavior regardless of motive of the producer, printer, publisher, writer, importer, seller or distributor.”

Among those considered obscene are “showing, depicting or describing human sexual organs or the female breasts,” and “showing, depicting or describing completely nude human bodies.”

I’m all for the protection of children and women. Don’t get me wrong. I just think there should be other practical and realistic ways. They shouldn’t plunge us back to the dark ages. By the definitions of “obscenity” and “porn,” it doesn’t look too promising or intelligent at all.

So here are my questions, based on different parts of that proposal:

What kinds of films will be butchered or sanitized of profanity and sexual content as a result? What will be left for adults to watch?

How will that translate to guarding the internet? Why won’t grown-ups be allowed to view some adult-oriented sites or literature, or express ourselves freely in forums?

Why is nudity “obscene”? Will footages of naked indigenous people or their rites be considered pornographic? Will naked religious statues be removed from public display, along with celebrated paintings or statues depicting people in the buff? Who decides what’s tasteful or not in that situation?

As for consensual acts between adults and expressions of sexuality, how far will privacy be breached in the name of the law? Parts of the bill are vague about it.

What are the specific “religious beliefs” and which religions are being referred to? What will happen to agnostics, atheists, gay men and women who don’t subscribe to established religions or belief systems?

This bill inspires imagery akin to Spanish-era censorship. The ideas in it, and the thought that it’ll end up improperly executed and implemented if it’s approved, are simply dreadful. It’ll result in witchhunts where mostly innocents will suffer. And that’s just truly and undeniably obscene.

‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’: Otherworldly eye candy

(Published Sept. 14, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The quintessential heroic demon is back. Comic book characters Hellboy and his cohorts return to the big screen in the colorful action-fantasy flick “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”

Director-screenwriter Guillermo Del Toro also returns after the success of his universally lauded “Pan’s Labyrinth,” so it’s a given that people expect him to cut loose with surreal imagery and storytelling. Working within the parameters of a popcorn movie still allows him free rein and creativity, but it’s still pretty simple, story-wise.

“The Golden Army” introduces the villainy of Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), an untrusting elflike being who detests mankind’s reign on Earth. He gathers fragments of an object that will control the mighty Golden Army, artificial beings capable of subjugating humankind.

But the prince underestimates the threat of the super-powered good guys, namely Hellboy (Ron Perlman), the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), the amphibious Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and the gaseous specter Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane).

This sequel only skirts Hellboy’s history but there are references to the past and an acknowledgement of his being a non-human misfit.

We get more of the same brusque but caring super-agent, only this time, he’s got tiffs with girlfriend Liz. The humor’s still intact; there are funny moments smoothly injected into the script. Krauss dealing with Hellboy’s insubordination, for instance, is enjoyable. Abe’s crush on Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) also amuses. But there’s a long scene centering on his fixation with a Barry Manilow song that describes his feelings for her.

“The Golden Army” is effects-heavy and fancy-looking, but the plot’s just okay. The climactic battle doesn’t show enough of the magnificent-looking automatons as a truly imposing threat to the outside world. It should’ve been a fight that escalates to epic proportions, but we don’t see it.

Also, the team’s new status as non-covert agents makes sense in the age of camera phones and digital wonders--this would’ve been a great development, but this angle isn’t mined enough, and fades quietly.

Still, the oddly shaped creatures and monsters are designed exceptionally well, like the inhabitants of “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” There’s gorgeous artistry in those otherworldly beings. Their loud, slam-bang encounters with Hellboy, while often brief, are nonetheless cool and visually engaging enough.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is currently screening in Metro Manila cinemas.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

‘The Fountain’: Challenging, puzzling experiment (2007)

(Feb. 19, 2007, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”) returns with the dramatic but patience-testing “The Fountain,” a dreamlike piece which speaks of undying love and the setbacks of mortality, among other things.

Overly ponderous and existential, the film finely presents Aronofsky as an artist who doesn’t shy away from experimentation, and one who imbues his work with thought-provoking substance. But it’s also like an abstract painting that’s hard to get clear and obvious meaning from, and the complicated tale it tries to tell gets muddled along the way.

It’s immediately established, however, that two lovers are at the center of it. Tommy (Hugh Jackman), a well-meaning but reckless scientist, defiantly tries to stave off the impending death of his cancer-stricken wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). Discovering the regenerative properties of a previously untested substance after he and his team used it on an ailing monkey, Tommy becomes optimistic that Izzi can be miraculously healed, as well.

Enter Izzi’s notebook, which contains a story she’s been writing, about the adventures of a Spanish conquistador captain, Tomas (also played by Jackman). Tomas, Izzi writes, has been tasked by the Queen (also played by Weisz) to go on a special quest.

It’s not really and conclusively explained if Izzi’s fictional story is based on actual accounts of a past life, but her time shared with her husband leads one to assume that these events, as well as the repeated mention of symbolic and/or mystical elements like the Fountain of Youth and the Tree of Life, are no coincidence. But then, there’s a third character played by Jackman, a bald, levitating, zen-like being in a floating bubble who contemplates life, death and similarly heavy things. Who that guy is exactly, we’re not exactly and clearly told, but he pops up repeatedly with a parallel story about related heartaches.

According to the movie’s production information, that’s Tom, a 26th century astronaut (yes, you read that right) who’s trying to cope with the elusive mysteries that have plagued him in the past. This character’s scenes are accompanied by flashy, sparkly special effects, and while his presence in the movie offers a third perspective that further questions the limits of mortal relationships, it’s hard to accept him as more than an imaginary figure in a totally trippy, starlit environment.

Had it been convincingly explained who this 26th century character was, it may have made him more valuable and less pretentious. Still, there are visual tricks that make him blend in and become integral to the bigger story, and his surreal, puzzling drama is soon rivaled by that of the 16th century conquistador’s.

The three time-separated men--Tomas, Tommy, Tom--are creatively interconnected, and strongly personified by Jackman, but you need to read the production notes after to really make sense of the whole shared-quest thing. The special effects-aided imagery and the time-jumping narrative make Aronofsky’s story confusing and truly head-spinning by the end. On the one hand, “The Fountain” challenges its viewers to think and grasp for feasible resolutions; on the other, you only vaguely get that it’s about acceptance and letting go.

‘Sunshine’: Courage amidst cosmic chaos (2007)

(April 15, 2007, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The cerebral science fiction drama “Sunshine” suggests that humans just won’t take no for an answer, even when it seems that the end of the world is at hand. That’s true, at least, for future human beings in the movie, who send a handful of some of the earth’s greatest minds to re-ignite the fast-dying sun. The mission is ambitious but not impossible, as they’re well-equipped and focused to do just that. The stalwart space-farers of the defiantly named Icarus II, however, just need to learn to co-exist with each other. It’s a task that’s much easier said than done.

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland reunite after the terrifying “28 Days Later,” this time presenting another take on human co-existence through this diverse space crew, and the unforeseen challenges that bar them from finishing their appointed task. It’s a given to side with the characters in this gargantuan undertaking; it really is man-versus- nature on a cosmic scale, with the fate of billions in these scientists’ and astronauts’ hands.

Boyle and Garland’s latest collaboration is made affecting by moral dilemmas, too. How justifiable is it to kill one man in exchange for the survival of humanity? For some of the characters, it’s not that hard a question to answer, but others may not see it that way, especially when the one to be murdered is a fellow crew member. Also, when faced with the possibility of impending death, another person wouldn’t willingly sacrifice his life for the greater good. It goes to show that heroism isn’t natural to everyone, and understandably so, especially when self-preservation instinctively takes over.

Chris Evans, whose previous uber-jock roles may lead you to believe that he’s not versatile, credibly fits the take-charge engineer, Mace, who periodically locks horns with the other team members. He stands out among the science geeks, as he’s the uncharacteristically commanding and smoldering nerd, which can be both annoying and impressive.

Michelle Yeoh, meanwhile, proves again that she can act minus her smooth martial arts moves. She plays the low-key but sensible biologist Corazon, while Cillian Murphy, who previously worked with Boyle in “28 Days Later,” astutely portrays the conflicted but optimistic physicist, Capa.

Boyle isn’t afraid to take risks, unsurprisingly. He tells the story with clarity, but deliberately breaks that flow later by inserting brief, disconcerting images and silhouettes in key scenes to disturb the viewer. It feels a little forced at first but after the first few times, you’ll trust him enough to pull off what he’s planning, and he does. And, since the repeated infighting of the Icarus crew can only take the story so far, an actual antagonist is introduced, and that’s when the movie starts to feel a bit like the ‘90s science fiction-horror flick “Event Horizon.”

This is when things become a little hokey, as this unwelcome new passenger wreaks all kinds of expected havoc. Those parts go through the motions, but this belated chaos enhances the film’s profundity by adding that arbitrary element that makes the surviving characters question their calculations. And ultimately, “Sunshine” entertainingly succeeds in conveying just how stubborn--and heroic--people can get, especially when faced with unbelievable adversity.

Unearthed Music Reviews (2002)

Sixpence None the Richer: ‘Divine Discontent’: A richer Sixpence (2002)

Christian music’s Sixpence None the Richer returns after their tremendously successful self-titled album (which spawned the deservedly overplayed hit “Kiss Me”), sounding more experimental but strangely radio-friendlier than their past albums. Their spiritual messages are subtler now, too; there’s none of the agonizing content similar to “Love, Salvation, Fear of Death” (from the excellent Collage compilation album).

It’s worth the long wait and it shows a natural progression from their previous offering. Which isn’t to say that they’ve departed that drastically from their string-heavy, alternapop edginess; they still retain that ethereal feel, only this time they’re more musically adventurous.

SNTR still makes memorable tunes, and Leigh Nash’s angelic vocals play a huge part in that. But credit must be given to multi-talented composer and musician Matt Slocum, who played six instruments in the album. He still writes majority of the band’s songs. All the tracks are insightful, especially “Tension is a Passing Note”, which uses some really interesting metaphors: “Do I murder us putting pavement in my veins/ Shooting in that special heroin for the seeking and displaced.” This specific song is arguably the best one in the lot, as it showcases Nash’s lilting voice amid soothing violin and cello arrangements.

“Paralyzed” is one of the faster-paced and decibel-heavy stunners, proof that the band can still rock the proverbial house. Their cover version of Crowded House’s ‘80s hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” seems destined to be overplayed in movies and teen-targeted TV shows.

SNTR doesn’t preach in-your-face spirituality as much anymore, and sounds more fun to listen to. Their uplifting messages are still intact, but listeners are now challenged to really get them for themselves.

David Gray: A New Day at Midnight: Different shades of Gray (2002)

The follow-up album to his critically acclaimed White Ladder album is a strong one, fueled by Gray’s masterful union of mostly spare but catchy instrumentality and convincing lyrics. Let’s not forget his distinct vocal tag, flavoring each song with hollery, heart-manipulating range. His music is largely a heady mix of folk coupled with various pop touches in some songs, and in some tracks, very minimalistic but charming dabs of electronica. An example is the enchanting “Caroline”, which has very infectious melodies.

Lyrically, the songs are mostly relatable adult-contemporary material. Gray sings about relationships lost and found, ongoing and unrequited, and does it in a manner that doesn’t evoke sappiness. His words could’ve been plucked from the minds of his listeners; he taps into something universal, which could also be his personal experiences, and expresses them profoundly. Tracks like “

Easy Way to Cry," “Freedom," and “Long Distance Call” exemplify introspection. These twelve precious tracks are imbued with permeating energy by the comfortably sensitive singer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And Now, Young DC

DC Comics’ young superheroes, the latest batch. This pinup is out of continuity, so there are some characters in it that have bitten the dust, at least for now. But in the last ten years or so, these are some of the most prominent youngsters, apart from the Legion, that have graced DC comic books. Most are legacy characters, following in the footsteps of established heroes or mentors with their codenames or costumed identities.

Some of DC’s young heroes were violently taken out of the picture. My favorite fun characters Superboy and Bart Allen were disposed of. They died fighting, at least. Osiris met his grisly fate in 52. And recently, um… okay, I won’t spoil it. Still, what a waste.

In this drawing: Cyclone, Supergirl, Speedy, Secret, Blue Beetle, Klarion and Teekl, Spoiler, Empress, Squire, Slo-Bo, Batgirl, Ravager, Lagoon Boy, Wonder Girl, Black Alice, Argent, Offspring, JJ Thunder, Misfit, Kid Devil, Superboy, Kid Flash, Hawk and Dove, Miss Martian, Robin, Tornado Twins, Steel, Arrowette, Stargirl and Captain Marvel Jr.

I Miss My Heartbeat For Them

Oh yeah, I’ll gush about Taken By Cars now. Damn, I love their “December 2, Chapter VII.” I’ve seen the arty video about seven times now.

Sometimes, I’d just leave the channel on MTV while working or doing something else, hoping that it’s part of the playlist. I like the band’s first song “Uh Oh,” which was rotated on the video channel for several weeks. But the rocking “December 2” has more melodic New Wave-ish parts; vocalist Sarah Marco’s voice sounds more emphatic and fuller, and the simpler but more emotional lyrics connect with me. Someone compared their music to Bloc Party’s, but I’m not familiar with that band (yet). Based on their first two songs, I’d say that their music could be The Wild Swans meets 10,000 Maniacs. I dunno how their other songs sound (yet!), but I hope to own their album when I get my next check. Yes, I’ll support these guys.

“But I wasn’t where you were
No I’m never where you are
I’m in my looking-glass view
Always almost too close to you
I’m always almost too close to you.”

I love that song. Hearing it transports me to places, makes me revisit some feelings I thought I’d long forgotten, and makes me want to jump around if I had more room. The guitars, the voice, the shifting and playful sonic rendering... Taken By Cars, you are awesome.

Behind the scenes, December 2 shoot. Taken from Taken’s Multiply site.

‘Mad Men’ cooks up compelling campaigns

(Published Sept. 12, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

A celebrated drama about an American advertising agency in the early 1960s, the TV series “Mad Men” is a unique but timely jaunt to the past that attractively exposes the sordidness beneath the glamour.

Like any “serious” series that relies heavily on gritty portrayals of misbehavior, “Mad Men” continuously manages to mystify and mesmerize with its various dysfunctional and imperfect relationships. The first season is currently airing on cable channel 2nd Avenue.

The show was created by former “Sopranos” writer-producer Matthew Weiner. Its appeal partly lies in its lush recreation of a bygone era. Every week, sleek set pieces, costumes, and props create that near-perfect, life-sized diorama, inhabited by a bunch of mostly ambitious and unhappy characters. “Mad Men” currently has 16 Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Drama.

In the New York-based Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, most big decisions were made by a select group of white men. The ad men (or “mad men,” as some affectionately call themselves) usually created campaigns that resonated with their target markets, and even helped shape history and culture (at least within the confines of the show’s fictional world). The women usually held subordinate positions; sometimes they’re occasional recipients of sexist or lewd remarks, or are willing participants in secret office romances.

We see this side of the ad industry initially through the eyes of newbie secretary Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss). Naïve and a little shy, Peggy experiences the hectic, demanding nature of the business, especially since her boss is creative director Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Don treats her professionally, but smug junior account manager Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) does just the opposite. He expresses an interest in Peggy early on, and the mutual attraction results in some trysts and a love-hate relationship.

Don, meanwhile, is a hardworking family man, a brilliant luminary respected by most of his colleagues. But he’s stressed out, and secretly sleeps with brunettes. His homemaker wife Betty (January Jones) is clueless about these things, as she’s going through a trying and unhappy phase, herself.

Almost every married man on the show cheats on his spouse. Vampy office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) discreetly meets up with senior partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery), a married guy. Infidelity, chain-smoking and booze-guzzling are pretty common occurrences at Sterling Cooper, but the employees are adept at multi-tasking—specifically juggling business and pleasure, so they still get good work done. Paradoxically, while the ad men usually conceive of great selling ideas and connect with their markets, their own lives are constantly entangled.

“Mad Men” turns that axiom into compelling viewing.

Four Played

1. Watched Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, last week at Greenbelt’s My Cinema. Puro kagaguhan, pero maluluha ka sa kakatawa. It screens beginning Sept. 17, exclusively at Glorietta and Greenbelt.

2. Doctor Who? Yup, I’m finally watching the revived Doctor Who show, after being referred to in Torchwood a buncha times. Oh, and the actress who plays Gwen appeared as another character in episode three! Sweet.

3. Office Overload! Carell and the gang are great. Funny diary excerpts revealed! I knew it. Michael finds that person “hot, but in a different way.” The characters undergo interesting changes. What happened to Ryan? What’s with Jan? Can’t wait for season 5.

4. Saw Hellboy II last Monday. Speaking of impish lads: Hey Wil, hope you’re doing well back there. See you next year.

Friday, September 05, 2008

‘The Clone Wars’: Re-cloning of the Star Wars saga

(Published Sept. 4, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The Clone Wars” is a new animated feature that further fleshes out events that happened between Episodes II and III of the ultra-profitable saga/franchise.

It still speaks to the diehard Star Wars fan, as it recreates some of the better themes of the two previous trilogies. Lucas delegates the directing duties to Dave Filoni (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) and the writing chores to three screenwriters. The film adds valuable details to the Star Wars tapestry without contradicting continuity. However, it also replicates some of the tedious moments of the prequels, as well as some weird storytelling tics.

A narrator, sounding like a radio reporter, gives a quick, flashy summary of the Clone Wars conflict. We’re soon acquainted with characters familiar and previously unseen. The war, secretly manipulated by the evil Sith Lords Darth Sidious and Count Dooku, takes a turn for the worse when the son of crimelord Jabba the Hutt is abducted. The Jedi--Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Anakin’s new Padawan (apprentice) Ahsoka Tano--must rescue the young Hutt, or their war will escalate with the involvement of the enraged Jabba’s crime network.

The lightsaber duels here are good--there are a few between the heroes and aspiring Sith Lord Asajj Ventress--but they’re nothing we haven’t seen before. The same goes for the generic battlefield-scale fights between the clone and droid armies. Moreover, the banter between Ahsoka and Anakin is pretty repetitive in declaring similar reckless attitudes.

But the generally toned-down dialogue, made more comprehensible than usual to a younger audience (presumably because the film is the precursor to an upcoming TV series), works in this new medium.

“Clone Wars” dodges problems such as wooden or inconsistent actors; it’s not a live-action film, so facial expressions and reactions are done just right. The animation quality is impeccable; there’s no unnecessary sheen or gloss to the faces and other textures because of the brush-like strokes.

Nicely designed new characters, like Jabba’s fey uncle Ziro the Hutt (an eccentric, Capote-sounding baddie) and Ahsoka (the young, enthusiastic heroine) are pretty likeable, while some established ones like secret lovers Anakin and Padme, surprisingly, become quite intriguing.

Brace yourself for the flaws, but enjoy the return of a familiar, yet different, galaxy-trekking ride.

‘Babylon A.D.’: Post-doomsday cliché

(Published Sept. 8, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Science fiction-action flick “Babylon A.D.” presents recycled dystopian epic concepts better explored by more polished films from both genres previously. Post-apocalypse blues, clones, and mercenary mayhem don’t necessarily blend smoothly this time, as the film (loosely based on the book “Babylon Babies”) offers a world that’s more disjointed than usual. Also, while it is a Vin Diesel starrer, the action sequences are considerably fewer and less stunning.

The other requisites are present: Diesel is the conflicted but dependable merc Toorop, who must escort a young mystery woman, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), from a Kazakhstan convent to New York. They’re accompanied by her protective guardian Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), a nun adept at martial arts. There are perilous encounters aplenty, with stalkers sent by a mysterious figure, merciless border patrolmen and other nasty brutes. Aurora soon exhibits extra-human abilities, which is why various factions have been scrambling to acquire her for their purposes. But Toorop decides that he can’t deliver her to whatever sorry fate awaits her.

Babylon A.D.” actually tries to tell a story about humanity and the human condition after the post-doomsday cliché. Toorop’s inner conflicts--his selfishness versus heroism tendencies--are easily understandable, but not really new or appealing. Aurora’s confused psyche actually piques the curiosity more, because there’s a lot about her that’s shrouded in mystery. But once that layer of mystery is peeled when secret histories are revealed, more questions are raised, and they won’t get satisfying answers.

The film’s future reality is an odd but pleasing mix of advanced technology and rougher present-day designs. The visuals are okay; a balance between progress and blight is captured. However, the huge soft drink emblem on one airplane just yanks you out of it.

As usual, Diesel is gruff and growling, and beats enemies to a pulp. Toorop, like almost every tough and muscular rogue we’ve encountered in recent years, is someone who finds redemption somehow, and goes against his professional “programming.” Too bad some crucial scenes depicting character development are skipped later. The movie’s narrative suffers when some muddled, complicated histories are told and not shown. Explanations don’t always suffice, and the unraveled enigmas here lose their mystique really fast as a result.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Young Marvel

A drawing of some of Marvel’s mostly new young heroes (Talkback, X-23, Franklin Richards, Jubilee, Bruiser, Prodigy, Hawkeye, Surge, Speed, Rockslide, Amadeus Cho and Kirby, Sister Grimm, Elixir, Arsenic, Wiccan, Jolt, Victor Mancha, Patriot, Armor, Anole, Vision, Xavin, Old Lace, Lucy in the Sky, Hellion, Cloud Nine, Pixie, Dust, Hulkling, Arana, Mercury, Stature).

Back in the day, I followed adventures of young superheroes such as the New Mutants, New Warriors, X-Terminators, and occasionally, even Power Pack. Through the years, those characters grew up (which took forever in comics time), but there will always be new and younger adventurers. I really like this batch, comprised of Young Avengers, New X-Men, Runaways, and some teen X-Men like Armor and Jubilee (sorry, am not too fond of Wondra). I’d have included an updated Power Pack too but I’ve only seen the teen Julie Power from Loners, so far.

Had fun doing this over the weekend.

Monday, September 01, 2008

‘Flight of the Conchords’: Flighty music and comedy

(Published Sept. 1, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

They’re creative but a little clueless about rock ‘n’ roll culture, and are often mistaken for Australians. Music-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords is a versatile pair from New Zealand starring in HBO’s hilarious “Flight of the Conchords,” where they cultivate their unique brand of humor and artistry. It’s a fictionalized look at the band’s daily inanities as struggling musicians in New York, showcasing Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie’s penchant for silly lyrics and a wide range of musical styles.

The half-hour show created by the duo and James Bobin is a pleasing mix of deadpan wit, picturesque songs, and silly music videos written into the storylines. The humor’s focus, or obsession, on trivial matters is Seinfeld-esque, and a little Beavis and Butthead-ish, but “Conchords” has its distinct tone and flavor. It also pokes fun at serious topics from time to time in its inimitable way.

Jemaine and Bret are old friends and roommates hoping to make it big in America. They’re managed by the well-meaning but inept Murray (Rhys Darby), a fellow New Zealander who somehow manages to get them gigs, but at the oddest places. They get into a variety of mini-disasters; one episode focuses on the awkwardness that results from Jemaine and Bret liking the same girl, while another focuses on their encounters with a racist fruit vendor.

The banter between the Conchords and their various interactions--with Murray, their single fan and stalker Mel (Kristen Schaal), and their “wise” friend Dave (Arj Barker)--are consistent thigh-slappers.

The characters are likeable losers. Jemaine is the goofier one; he gets the sillier sequences mainly because his character’s written as the dumber guy. Lacking in social skills, he can’t grasp the concept of privacy when Bret and his new girlfriend go on dates, and even blames the impending breakup of the Conchords to the girl he calls “Yoko.”

Bret, meanwhile, is slightly more centered and is a pushover. He’s more serious, but he gets just as goofy as his pal on rare occasions. He’s a bit smarter than Jemaine, but they’re both quite unsure--and usually dependent on inefficient Murray--when it comes to making career decisions. The Conchords complement each other, and are similarly funny whenever their reveries eventually break into infectious and reflective songs.

As musicians, Jemaine and Bret are no strangers to disparate styles; they integrate folk, rock, reggae, hip-hop, synth-pop or R & B touches whenever necessary. The imagery-inspiring lyrics add to the hilarity. Jemaine’s Barry White-ish music video, a dream sequence where he describes events leading to a sexy time with a woman, is one of the more memorable numbers. The pair also sings as Hobbits in a “Lord of the Rings”-inspired video, which is immensely entertaining.

It’s fun to soar into Flight of the Conchords’ world every episode, and to experience the desperate but dedicated duo’s brand of flighty music and comedy.

(“Flight of the Conchords” will air on HBO starting Sept. 3 at 10:30 p.m. Fans of the show can also join the “I Flight of the Conchords” Trailer Contest. Participants can submit 30-second trailers for “Flight of the Conchords” from August28 to November 5. The winning videos will be aired on Nov.19. Check out www.hboasia.com/fotc for details.)

Hotdogs, Milkshake, the Need for Speed

Drat, it’s the first “ber” month already. The last days of August were a blur, but there are a few things I can remember about them.

Last week, I was among those invited to kart-race during the launch of two new Jollibee hotdog flavors at a Sucat track place. Inquirer writer Armin Adina and photog Rudy Esperas were there too. The race was fun. I wasn’t expecting anything like it at all. Markywanna treated me to a milkshake after, too. By the way, thanks for the pics, dude.

Last Sunday morning, I was surprised to see myself on TV, saying something about the Death Race movie. Ick. I so need to go on a diet. I miss seeing my jaw line. That’s the third time I’ve seen myself on the tube (I saw twice the trailer-ad for Iron Man where I said something ravey after the preview). I wish I could be as “thin” as I was back in 2003. My head’s practically shaped like a compressed trapezoid already. I must lose weight.

Anyway, there were other things, too.

Spoke with Benedict’s ex, met up with John to watch a movie, and watched a lot of The Office and Torchwood episodes.

The landline wasn’t working for over a day, but the dial tone was restored after much complaining to the phone company’s customer service on my part.

I drew something I wanted, which I just posted here. See two posts above.

I also went out, got stuck in horrendous traffic, bought some items I need, and salivated over action figures I wish I could own immediately.

I’ve been getting enough sleep, so yay.

Okay, back to watching The Office.

‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’: Treachery in terra cotta

(Published Aug. 22, 2008, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The intrepid O’Connell family returns to thwart the schemes of yet another supernatural force in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” the third in a successful series of action-adventure movies. But while the latest installment deliberately steers clear of some previously visited paths, it still mostly follows its predecessors’ formula. This latest “Mummy,” however, looks grand but doesn’t feel as sweeping or grandiose, and only elicits excitement sporadically.

It’s more brainless than usual, in the sense that its protagonists seem more reckless and unthinking during big fight scenes. Sure, “The Mummy” has always been about frenetic fisticuffs and loud, climactic showdowns. But it sometimes feels as if it’s just a bunch of unaffecting action scenes strung together. Those sequences also generally feel too contrived; one of the first major ones even literally ends up in fireworks.

There’s a new Mummy in town. The legendary Chinese Dragon Emperor (Jet Li), according to the concise introduction, was a driven, greedy warrior-king who possessed mystical mastery over the elements. Desiring immortality, he recruits a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) to cast the spell. The tyrant desires her in vain, so he violently ends the relationship between the sorceress and his once-trusted general (Russell Wong). But the treacherous Emperor finds himself double-crossed and magically frozen. His entire army becomes terra cotta statues as part of the spell.

Several centuries later, signs point to an end to their unnatural imprisonment. The escape of the Emperor seems inevitable, but he’s unaware that he’s about to cross paths with people who’ve faced (and survived) the undead before.

Rick and Evy O’Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello) visit China and meet up with their son Alex (Luke Ford), who recently discovered the Dragon Emperor’s long-hidden tomb. But the O’Connell clan quickly discovers that this precious archaeological find isn’t what it seems, so it’s déjà vu all over again.

“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” written by “Smallville” executive producers Alfred Gough and Milles Millar, and directed by Rob Cohen (of “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx”), fluctuates occasionally. Important story points connect really conveniently, but not smoothly or believably. You don’t have to think or worry about the characters, because everything seems to fall into place anyway. It’s the kind of movie where its heroes walk away unscathed, yes, but it’s still regrettable that this big-budget epic squanders plenty of opportunities to be really different and imaginative.

Despite feeling like a Frankenstein’s monster of different action-fantasy flicks, it’s still quite fun. The introduction of new mystical terrain and monsters injects new life to the franchise, showing that it can survive given a fresh spin to established lore. The lush flashback scenes look inspired by Chinese fantasy epics, too.

Fraser is still favorably rough and devil-may-care as Rick, who charges into battle even when he’s seriously outmatched. He gets to do less this time, as he shares the screen almost equally with newcomer Ford, whose Alex is a charmer. Bello, as Rachel Weisz’s replacement, does okay; she gets to kick butt, but not as much or as stylishly as the previous actress. Their semi-dysfunctional family dynamic is forced, but seeing them in action again makes “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” quite enjoyable.