Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Pails and Playthings


The season sort of started early for me. I was contacted by Kids on Q to talk about my “scary toys,” which are basically my (and my brother’s) McFarlane figs from way back. I added some Lord of the Rings villains and a few Buffy and X-Files figures to the set. I arranged the room, toy shelf and the action figures early Monday last week for the quick interview. It went okay; the segment aired last Saturday, Oct. 25. To Erick, the cameramen and staff, thanks so much for the nice feature.

So it’s Halloween once again, the season for cake and candy (before the other season for cake and candy). It’s that special time for masquerades, spooky or enchanting stories, and taking a break from work, school and regularly scheduled goings-on.

Have fun and be safe, masqueraders. Enjoy the holidays!

By the way, I’m posting this again, just to have some Halloween-related imagery:

Critter Compendiums

The chilling classic Defenders tale “The Haunting of Christiansboro” (issue # 103) was among those stories that creeped me out a little when I was a kid. I lost my first copy back in grade school, but in late 2005, I found another copy in a back issue bin of a Binondo Media stall in Makati. It was a self-contained Halloween tale that I still find quite creepy. Writer J.M. DeMatteis turned the series into a superhero-horror title for a time, its roster of mostly magic-related characters (Dr. Strange, Hellcat, Clea, Gargoyle, Valkyrie, Devil-Slayer and Daimon Hellstrom) fighting mystical beings with horrific agendas.

The issue is dark but ultimately uplifting. It’s one of a few comic book horror stories that I’m drawn to. Others that I like, which inspire fear in different and exciting ways, include Walking Dead, Spectre, Courtney Crumrin, and of course, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories.

The issue is a black and white reprint of Swamp Thing Annual # 2, which is about the elemental hero’s search for Abigail Cable’s lost soul. The journey brings him to heaven, hell and some spaces in between. What a great, discomfiting and, again, uplifting story.

During work breaks this past week, I’ve been watching some fright-themed TV shows as well. I saw some old “Treehouse of Horror” specials of The Simpsons, as well as some disturbing Masters of Horror episodes. I also finally started watching Supernatural’s first season. It’s about siblings Dean and Sam, whose monster-hunting adventures across a haunted America bring back fond memories of The X-Files (minus the sexual tension) and Buffy (minus the witty banter and metaphors). It’s a similarly smart show that explores figures from myths and legends and successfully mixes together horror, drama and action elements every episode. That’s a cool pic of the brothers grim below, but let’s skip the jokes that we can crack about Padalecki’s phallic shotgun. Hehe.

While I like the show, there are other TV shows that I’ve been looking for. I want to own complete DVDs of the following:

I used to watch Werewolf back in the late ‘80s, a show that aired on GMA7 every Sunday night. It’s sort of The Incredible Hulk meets The Fugitive. The story follows Eric Cord (John J. York, pic below from werewolftv), a newly infected wolf-man who searches for a cure to his mystical malady. Sexy and sinister.

And of course, there’s Twin Peaks. Man, I want to see the two seasons and the “Fire Walk With Me” movie. I couldn’t watch all the episodes of the show back in 1992, because there were horrendous brownouts almost nightly. I remember the mystery of Laura Palmer’s demise, though, and the spookiness surrounding it. Entertaining, mind-boggling stuff.

‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride’: The re-animated and the romantic (2005)

(Published October 3, 2005, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

As its title might suggest, “Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride” is a working marriage of eccentricity and brimming artistry that the filmmaker is proud of. He did put his name in it after all, just as he proudly integrated his distinct fascination with extra-dimensional oddities into the film. His worlds often swirl with magic and macabre mystery, lovingly created for viewers of all ages to visit.

This animated film, however, while it’s attractively packaged as something that everyone can enjoy immediately, has really mature topics that younger kids may not understand off the bat. But it’s an ideal opportunity to introduce them to complicated matters like sacrifice, arranged marriages, the importance of vows, and contentment.

Burton, utilizing many nicely designed stop-motion animation puppets, tells the folk tale-inspired story well. But some of his frequent collaborators are key to realizing this rich and enigmatic dream world.

Good old Johnny Depp adds another likeable persona to his long list of varied identities, giving voice and soul to Victor, a shy young man betrothed to the similarly reclusive Victoria (Emily Watson). Supernatural entanglements seem to be a given in some of Burton’s films, so it’s unsurprising that it gets weird pretty quickly when Victor accidentally marries the re-animated Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter).

There are two contrasting dimensions that we’re introduced to--the lands of the living and the dead--and it takes time for the story to unfold. But unfold it does, making everyone sympathetic and real, so it’s really sad to see the bizarre love triangle resolved.

The stop-motion animation is pretty impressive, although it’s not explored as much as it was in “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” mostly because of the parameters of this more streamlined story.

Still, design-wise, the caricaturish look of the characters are exciting, unlike, say, some of the unimaginative, super-slick CGI creatures of “Shrek” and its ilk. The visuals capture much about the characters (Victor is thin and wobbly; the town crier is bell-shaped and intrusive, etc.), giving the tale much of its freshness and mystique.

“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is also the twelfth collaboration between the director and Danny Elfman, whose compositions seem to be sounding more and more alike, but the playful and oft-foreboding music fits this stylish and spirited movie rather well.

She Saved the World a Lot

That was engraved on Buffy Summers’ tombstone at the end of season five.

Watching Supernatural’s first few episodes made me miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot, so I watched parts of some classic episodes and re-read portions of the supplemental Watcher’s Guides and Monster Book. There truly isn’t any show like it--Angel’s a spinoff that nicely built its own mythology, but the pathos are different--and the heroine’s growth engrossingly developed in chaos-filled stages. Her rogues’ gallery brims with dozens of villains that tested her--and her team’s--mettle. Here are some of my fave Big and Not-So-Big Bads that appeared between 1997 and 2003, in no order whatsoever. And no, I don’t really like the Mayor:

1. Angelus- Soulless vampire Angel is one of the series’ cruelest villains.

2. Willow- The death of a loved one led to the transformation of the magic junkie into a nearly unstoppable foe.

3. Caleb- The First’s top henchman tore through Buffy’s Slayer squad easily and mercilessly.

4. Anyanka- Scorned immortal Anya’s reality-altering powers, and later confrontation with the Slayer, made her an interesting foe.

5. Spike- The perpetually lovesick vamp slew Slayers in the past and plagued Buffy and the gang with his duplicity and weird obsessions.

6. Drusilla- Nuts and deadly, Spike’s ex wreaked havoc with her unpredictability, savagery and eerie mind powers.

7. Adam- The freakish, Frankenstein’s Monster-esque creature was calculating and formidable.

8. Dracula- The legend turned has-been proved powerful, but not enough to beat Buffy. He’s a character that nonetheless fit nicely into the mythology.

9. The First- Borrowing forms of the deceased, the astral being caused serious trouble for the do-gooders repeatedly.

10. Faith- The once-traitorous Slayer reformed, but her previous clashes with Buffy were intense and heartbreaking.

11. The Gentlemen- The voice-stealing, heart-collecting bogeymen were a creepy bunch.

12. Ethan Rayne- He’s an annoying trickster, a reminder of what Giles could’ve been had he embraced another path.

13. Sweet- Smooth and groovy, the entity caused Sunnydalers to break into song and dance in “Once More With Feeling.”

14. Warren- The super-smart, self-proclaimed nemesis of the Slayer used both science and magic to further his goals.

15. Glorificus- The gender-bending god had superior strength and speed, and was an imposing presence despite his/her human-looking mortal shell.

‘Monster House’ a fun, creepy treat (2006)

(Published Sept. 4, 2006, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

If “Monster House” had been a special effects-filled live-action movie like “Zathura” instead of a digitally animated one, it would still work. It’s easy to come to that assessment even before discovering that it wasn’t originally planned as a cartoon, after all. In any case, the final, computer-animated product has enough thrills going for it, so it works as a unique, family-friendly cartoon. The dynamic visuals allow a lot of leeway for exaggeration, whether that requires some bending of the laws of physics, or a more extreme, Tim Burton-esque color palette. In this enchanting world, it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief.

The movements and physical behavior of the characters here are fluid thanks to motion-capture technology, making them very lifelike. The designs of the people in “Monster House” capture a balance between realism and caricature; they feel like quirky, cleanly rendered storybook paintings come to life. But they look nothing like the statuesque and unsettling virtual cast of “The Polar Express,” at all; they look a bit more like the cartoony but still very recognizable humans of the recent “Ant Bully.”

They’re very expressive, yes, but as with other animated features, the most important facets are the characters’ personalities.

Enriched with distinct traits, the tween kid heroes in “Monster House” are written as smart and brave young people who don’t get on your nerves, underdogs that you’d actually root for.

DJ, Chowder and Jenny (voiced by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke, respectively) become fast allies in a secret war against a haunted house across the street. The kids, believing that the house is possessed by its recently deceased owner, mean old Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), try in vain to convince their adult guardians (and some cops) that the structure is alive and attacking anyone that even mistakenly steps on its front lawn. Their mission: stop the house before it “eats” trick-or-treaters on Halloween night!

“Monster House” has a witty script that not only impressively conjures up conflicts between the supernatural force and the reluctant protectors, it also speaks of generation gaps and the awkward stage between childhood and adolescence. It relies heavily on the kids’ nervous humor and the indifference of its assemblage of adults, while providing a fresh spin on the old haunted house idea.

The element of surprise doesn’t wane once dark and disturbing secrets are revealed. It culminates, as expected, in an action-packed final battle that allows the kids to save the day, and just in the nick of time. Whew.

The voice talents here are a special and fun gathering, the memorable supporting characters lovingly enlivened by Kathleen Turner, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, John Heder and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Co-executive produced by giants Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, and directed with an attention to energetic storytelling by newcomer Gil Kenan, “Monster House” is a sweet and surreal pre-Halloween treat. The scares, laughs and adrenaline rush mix well, so it entertains and engages just as easily as it haunts.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vanessa Redgrave’s ‘Fever’ dream realized

A phone chat with Vanessa Redgrave and Carlo Nero

(Published Oct. 24, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The original HBO movie “The Fever” stars the illustrious Vanessa Redgrave as a wealthy woman who comes face-to-face with disturbing injustices outside her comfortable life. The 71-year-old actress, who has accumulated Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG awards through the years, considers the project a special endeavor, as it speaks of causes dear to her and son Carlo Nero’s hearts.

“’The Fever’ was based on a play by an American playwright named Wallace Shawn,” said Nero, who co-wrote the script with Shawn, co-executive produced with Redgrave, and directed the movie. “My mother had seen the play before and had actually performed the role herself. She really fell in love with it to such a degree and in such a profound way that a few years later she realized this might actually be a foundation for quite a great and unusual film, something we can do together.”

Redgrave’s fellow humanitarian Angelina Jolie briefly appears in a pivotal role and crusading filmmaker Michael Moore appears as a war correspondent. Playing an unnamed woman who gradually questions her life and complacency in a foreign country was an unusual journey. “It’s a journey a woman makes into herself,” Redgrave says. “But I’m not the same kind of woman the woman in the story is,” she notes, “Because I’ve always been very involved in many human rights campaigns.”

To elucidate on some points, “The Fever” utilizes a few animated scenes and “fourth wall”-breaking monologues (where Redgrave talks directly to the camera and, therefore, the viewers).

Following are excerpts from a roundtable phone interview with Redgrave and Nero arranged by HBO Asia:

How would you describe your rapport and trust during filming?

NERO: It was very natural and straightforward because we both have mutual respect. I certainly have respect for my mother not only for her work as an actress or an artist but also for her incredible campaign for human rights. So really, I myself take a very keen interest in these issues. It was an intense collaboration. We listened to each other. We’re really all part of something bigger than ourselves; that’s how natural it felt, not to say that there weren’t difficulties along the way. It’s not always strawberries and cream, but we kept focused on the objective.

REDGRAVE: Also, we had a wonderful young American producer named Jason Blum. We sent him the script and he went for it. He has a terrific reputation as a film producer. He was passionate for this film. He made it happen; that was also an essential part of my relationship with Carlo because a director needs a really good producer. I could concentrate completely.

Was it much easier to work with Carlo than with unrelated people?

REDGRAVE: It’s the most difficult and inspiring story, so it’s more difficult. I’ve worked with a few really wonderful directors. Each one is different; each one carries their own quality and caliber. What was different in this was that Carlo and I have the passionate respect for what we were doing. It was bigger than ourselves.

Like the woman in “Fever” and as artists, are you both good listeners? Did that help you understand her better?

REDGRAVE: For me, it’s something I still have to work on… It’s always having to tell myself, “Listen, listen, listen. Just shut up for a minute. Listen, Vanessa!” Carlo, he really listens. You can’t be good with words if you can’t listen. I think listening is the most important thing of all.

NERO: Listening is fundamental. It’s the way to understanding. Through understanding comes compassion; through compassion comes love. For me, the cornerstone of how you could find relations and opening our hearts as well as our minds--listening is fundamental to that. Listening is the key.

What new things did you learn about acting and directing while filming?

REDGRAVE: About acting, I’ve never played direct-to-camera. I learned a lot. I learned how difficult it is. And I had to learn the most important thing, which is to be really, really close to your inner self, and not act.

NERO: It was an extraordinary experience. I found myself being open enough to listen. It called for me to be aware of what was around me; that was a big education, too. To be able to focus and be aware, that was very satisfying and very fulfilling.

(“The Fever,” which premiered Oct. 21, airs again tomorrow, October 25, at 3:00 p.m. on HBO)

Wings and Pincers

My friend Eon asked me to design a tattoo many months back. It took time to get inspired to do it, and different obligations piled up, so it had to be shelved. Thanks for understanding, Eon, and for liking these designs. I hope they’re worth the wait.

The Cancer crab and the dragonfly symbolize things about him and his past. Based on his specifications, I drew two separate designs, elements of which can be switched or removed if required.

It’s gonna be a first, my art adorning someone’s skin

‘Red Eye’: Flying paranoid (2005)

(Published Sept. 14, 2005, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

A slightly different take on hostage-taking and paranoia, “Red Eye” is timely with its not-so-sneaky message of female empowerment and the dangers of technology-aided terrorism.

The new Wes Craven thriller’s minimalist sets are cramped and confining, which immediately create tension between its two main characters. The claustrophobic airplane scenarios create genuine interaction between two strangers, cheery hotel employee Lisa (Rachel McAdams) and gabby businessman Jackson (Cillian Murphy), whose seemingly random meeting at an airport escalates into a hostage drama in the skies. Yes, we’ve seen this idea before in different incarnations as “Ransom,” “Phone Booth,” “Dead Calm” and most recently, “Cellular.” “Red Eye” is a chop suey merging of those films at times, and Craven’s teen-slasher hit “Scream” by the end, so it’s definitely far from unique.

But what gives it its own distinctive imagery are the flight drama scenes, where Lisa is coerced into making a crucial call using the plane’s high-tech phone service, as well as the suffocating proximity of the two characters. They’re seatmates in a fully booked red eye (late night/overnight) flight, but Jackson ’s careful planning prevents her from seeking help. It’s also notable that the movie’s stars made the whole trip viewable and credible on our end.

McAdams has recent radically different portrayals in “The Notebook” and “Mean Girls,” while Murphy has appeared in “28 Days Later” and “Batman Begins.” The pair’s versatility is useful in giving their characters here a required duplicity. They get to explore character transformations throughout the film, which makes up for its missing element of surprise. Yes, we can see the snappy comebacks and fatal mistakes coming miles away, but McAdams and Murphy stop the thing from degenerating into a yawn-fest.

If there’s a pattern that can be discerned from Craven’s recent films, it’s his careful attention at shaping distraught young women into decisive heroines. He does that well with Lisa here. The supposed victim overcomes her tribulations, baits her oppressor into her own element and, well, she’s expectedly a better, wiser person by the movie’s end.

“Red Eye” is only about an hour and twenty minutes long, which is a little surprising because it actually feels stretched out almost like real time during the airplane scenes. In any case, it’s another example of celluloid art predictably imitating life, but with a requisite fairy tale resolution.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Deified, Turning Japanese on Halloween

First drawing is “Deified.” Mother Nance, Lord Lexy of Olympus, and All-Father Argus descend from their respective heavens and mingle with cosplaying mortals.

After posing as divinities, Lexy, Nance and Argus try out manga-wear and go wild in (what else?) “Turning Japanese.” Meet Astro Beau, Sailor Loon and Smiling Freeman.

To see the gang’s other Halloween-inspired images, check out the old drawings (Oct. 2006 and 2007). It’s an annual exercise; I have fun masquerading them for these yearly Halloween “snapshots.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tickled, Titillated, Touched

It’s mid-month already. Time flies so fast even when I’m not having fun. But I’d rather talk about the fun parts, for now.

I’m loving the sexy, gritty Secret Six series by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott.

I’ve been watching episodes of Miami Ink, LA Ink, and London Ink. I don’t watch them religiously but they always seem to be on whenever I’m channel-surfing. Amazing and inspiring artistry. Catching them is great timing too, because I’m actually doing some tattoo designs for a friend.

Whenever I see girl-kissing Katy Perry’s weird but funny “Ur So Gay” video, I can’t look away. Hmm, two gay-themed songs in a row. Interesting, but I still like Jill Sobule’s catchier lez classic, the other “I Kissed a Girl,” better. You know, the song that shocked and titillated Beavis and Butthead way back.

Tropic Thunder is damn funny. It riotously, relentlessly satirizes many things Hollywood. Love the fake Robert Downey-Tobey Maguire trailer, too.

Also enjoyed Pineapple Express, a stoner comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as bumbling pot-lovers. Idiotic, crude and hilarious. It’s an Ayala Cinemas exclusive.

I’m enjoying Chelsea Lately. I watch it when I can. That woman is smart and quick with the punchlines.

I saw about five different live versions of Taken By Cars’ “December 2.” Love ‘em.

After a period of inactivity, I’m busy with work again, so thank you for the assignments, dear friends.

Man, Halloween’s just around the corner. Ten weeks of ’08 left.

Mourning Larry Bodine

Part of Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat’s speech for deceased teen mutant Larry Bodine:

“Who was he, then, that we gather to mourn him? Who am I? A four-eyed, flat-chested, brat, chick, brain, hebe, stuck-up snob Xavier’s School freak!

“Don’t like the words? I could use nicer, I’ve heard worse. Who here hasn’t? So often, so casually, that maybe we’ve forgotten the power they have to hurt.

“Nigger, spic, wop, slope, faggot, mutie--the list is so long, and so cruel. They’re labels. Put-downs. And they hurt.

I was a young teen when New Mutants # 45 came out in 1986. I remember the issue with fondness and sadness, because it struck a chord. Maybe it was because the comic book wasn’t the usual slam-bang, action extravaganza that made monthly comics-reading such a wonderful escapist hobby when I was growing up. It was the sad tale that introduced Larry Bodine, a young man who hid his mutant gift of hologram-casting from the world.

Larry killed himself because some bullying schoolmates threatened to out him. They didn’t know that he really was a mutant, but he panicked and didn’t know where to turn to. Those most affected by his suicide were Rahne Sinclair and Kitty, secretly mutants themselves. Kitty soon talked about the senselessness of the tragedy, the loss of a person she never really knew, but understood very clearly.

It’s one of the better-written self-contained stories by Chris Claremont, back in his heyday. Stories that resonate with the reader, especially ones that poignantly explored mutant-minority-outsider metaphors, always made some X-Men and New Mutants issues special. I connect with them now, more so than I ever did before, because I’d like to think that I’ve gotten a somewhat better understanding of the real world. And even if it’s one of the comic books I lost some time back, I still remember New Mutants # 45 dearly.

It was among a few eye-openers for me, a good example that superhero comic books can’t, and shouldn’t be restricted to never-ending fisticuffs. The timeless drama and commentary made Larry Bodine such a tragic--and real--figure to me.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Card Captor

I used to collect trading cards. Yup, the non-sports kind, the mostly comics-related or fantasy-themed ones. Back in the early to mid-‘90s, I was really fascinated by them, and completed a few sets. I have two three-ring binders that contain them in plastic sleeves. I have the complete Frank Frazetta series, as well as the X-Men trading cards drawn by Jim Lee. I also have the Wildstorm chrome series, and the Sandman and Vertigo sets. I remember saving my allowance to buy multiple packs of those cards I fancied. This was some time before I got into action figures again.

(Pictured above and below: Robin Versus Jubilee by Eric Peterson, Damage by Joe Phillips, Shadowcat by Jim Lee, Animal Man by Brian Bolland, and Sandman by Teddy Kristiansen. I originally had my chrome Grail scanned, but it doesn’t translate too well because of the reflective surface.)

I got a few chase cards along the way. I got two holograms from the Jim Lee set, and a few rare cards from the Vertigo series, like the foil-bordered Morpheus above. But one of the more special ones is the Death 3-D hologram, which as the name implies, allows for different views of the character if you rotate the card.

Anyway, aside from the aforementioned sets, I also really liked Bernie Wrightson’s stuff (which had his beautiful, miniaturized Frankenstein art, both published and unused). My complete Hildebrandt Brothers-painted Marvel Masterpieces is also a pleasure to look at. I also got a few of Boris Vallejo Series I, the painted DC Master Series and DC Villains, and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come (reprinted in card form). I remember almost completing the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie cards back in ’93, too.

Speaking of movie photo cards, I remember slowly completing the Return of the Jedi cards back when the movie came out. Each pack had about ten cards, and a piece of gum. Too bad I was a careless kid; they eventually got scattered, lost, or thrown away. Oh well.

Aside from the mostly exclusive art on these comics and fantasy trading cards, the information at the back--concise histories, trivia, behind-the-scenes bits, power ratings, etc.--made these little collectibles even more interesting.

Ah, what geeky fun.

Hello, Motto

In the old elementary yearbook, we had to write down slogans or mottos, which were then placed beside our graduation photos. Mine was the terribly worn-out “If at first you don’t succeed…” Others came up with variations of “Honesty is the best policy” and “If there’s a will, there’s a way,” if I remember correctly. I doubt we honestly believed or understood what our chosen maxims truly meant, as we were only grade six students with generally simple concerns.

As an adult now, I can only smile at the innocence and the attempt at sounding wiser than we actually were. But I can also say that I know some truths now, and that I’d share some words to live by with my younger self--maybe my teenaged version--if that were possible. Here’s a short list.

1. If you’re hanging by the fingernails, dig into the dirt and climb your way back up.
2. After 16 years of school, the real hard lessons begin.
3. There will always be assholes, so learn to deflect their shit.
4. When life gives you lemons, make a fuss, then make lemonade.
5. After making friends and making love, rediscover the brains behind the body.
6. There’s beauty in chaos, sometimes.
7. No matter how high your scores were in abstract reasoning, you won’t ever understand algebra.
8. You’ll feel like a whore without prostituting your body, sometimes, but you gotta eat.
9. Happiness comes in different forms, and is usually affordable.
Believe in yourself and in what you can do, because the world owes you nothing.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

‘Mirrors’: Warped reflections

(Published Oct. 7, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Kiefer Sutherland plays an ex-detective who encounters the supernatural in “Mirrors,” a horror flick that’s more discomfiting for its repulsive depictions of gore than the unveiling of spooky mysteries.

The actor plays Ben Carson, a new night watchman guarding an old department store that burned down decades ago. It’s a role that doesn’t easily inspire association with his most popular character, “24’s” toughie agent Jack Bauer. But give it time; part of it feels like watching an episode of the action-drama series.

The movie, a remake of the Korean horror flick “Into the Mirror,” manages to create a dark and dreadful tone from the start. Ben sees strange and chilling apparitions in the ruined building, but they’re dismissed as hallucinations by his estranged wife (Paula Patton) and sister (Amy Smart). The store’s mirrors are sending him a message, and eventually, Ben is forced to conduct his own investigation to find the truth behind the bizarre occurrences.

Directed and co-written by “The Hills Have Eyes’” Alexandre Aja, “Mirrors” follows a typical supernatural murder mystery structure. The naturally curious protagonist pieces together clues left by some gruesome deaths, and discovers to his horror that his problem isn’t contained to that one spot. Ben, recovering from tragedy and alcohol abuse, reverts to the well-meaning and driven person when faced with unbelievable circumstances.

And yes, Sutherland also reverts to Jack Bauer whenever things get horrific, and it becomes both distracting and funny. He’s racing to save innocents, and resorts to unorthodox means.

The last 30 or so minutes of the movie shatter the promise offered by its fright-inducing buildup. The movie decently executes scary sequences often, but often focuses more on special effects. While the ghastly, bloody prosthetics are superbly done, the lingering shots are off-putting.

These and the effects shots of ghostly faces trying to burst out of mirrors quickly get tiresome. “Mirrors” becomes a saturated mishmash of ghost and monster flicks, diminishing creepy threats it established into just warped reflections.

Bleak Futures, Fallen Champions, Sylar

Super “Heroes, Chapter 3: Villains” spoilers!

Season 2 compressed a lot of things into just 11 episodes. Let’s hope some arcs don’t get rushed this time, and that there’ll be better and longer action scenes. I’ve seen three episodes of the third season, and it looks promising, so far.

I can’t find caps of the group of villains revealed in Angela Petrelli’s ominous dream in “The Butterfly Effect,” so I composited together pics of those characters. I’m really excited about the roster. There’s immortal samurai Adam Monroe, cryokinetic Tracy Strauss, telepath Maury Parkman, super-strong Knox, and of course, power thief Sylar.

They’re a formidable and savage bunch; the premonition showed them defeating most of the main Heroes. Among the dead/dying are Hiro, Noah, Matt, Claire, and Peter. It’s possible that the vision comes to pass, but I’m not worrying because the writers have previously devised ways that allowed some of the heroes--specifically Noah and Nathan--to bounce back from the dead.

But there’s more to Angela’s dream than meets the eye. Could Sylar be there to save her? Is that Tracy or a resurrected Nikki? How accurate are Angela’s dreams?

Glimpses of possible dark futures have been explored since the show started. There are three new ones presented so far: Mrs. Petrelli’s aforementioned nightmare vision (so kickass!), Hiro’s quick time-jump to the future (hmm…), and an impending tragedy connected to Matt revealed via prophetic paintings (ugh, again?). Whether these become reality or are averted somehow, we’ll find out eventually.

But back to the villain team’s first appearance. Noticeably absent in the aftermath of the battle are the other good guys. I’m hoping for their sudden arrival and a furious beatdown. It would be great if Nathan led a team composed of Mohinder, Elle, Maya, Claire’s pyro mom, and maybe even West into the fray. I think Sylar can easily take them all; aside from telekinesis, he now has psychometry, sound manipulation and a healing factor.

I hope “Villains” won’t disappoint.

Artisans All

In no particular order, some of my favorite comic book artists:

Doug Mahnke- I wasn’t interested in the Major Bummer book, but even then, I could see that he was really good. He deservingly took over JLA’s penciling duties eventually. Other memorable works include Justice League Elite, Final Crisis: Requiem and Black Adam: The Dark Age. He’s very good at facial expressions and musculature.

Bryan Hitch- This guy’s old stuff look like they were heavily inspired by Alan Davis, but he eventually broke out of it and developed his own style. His JLA and Ultimates runs are still very impressive.

Carlos Pacheco- I didn’t like his art before, back in the early 90s. His figures didn’t look solid or appealing enough. But I became a fan when I saw his much-improved Avengers Forever work. I also like his Fantastic Four stuff and the JLA/JSA one-shot.

George Perez- He greatly improved after his ‘70s Avengers run. Teen Titans, Crisis, Hulk: Future Imperfect, Avengers Vol. 3 and JLA-Avengers are my faves.

Gene Ha- This artist has a really distinct style and a great sense of design. He put a lot of detail into Cyclops and Phoenix, Green Lantern, Askani’son, Top Ten and Oktane.

Travis Charest- While not always a good storyteller, he does amazing, intricate illustrations. Charest evolved from a Jim Lee-Art Adams hybrid into a distinct artist whose style is often imitated by others. Too bad he rarely comes out with new work these days.

Art Adams- Like George Perez, Adams is great at doing big group shots and he’s also a good storyteller. I still love his art for Marvel annuals, covers and trading cards.

Salvador Larroca- I’m not a fan of his new photorealistic style, but I really enjoyed his stints in X-treme X-Men, X-Men, and Namor some years back. That style looked real good.

Pascual Ferry- I like his fusion of cartoony and semi-realistic styles in Superboy and Adam Strange.

Nick Manabat- Manabat’s illustrations are dark, menacing, and breathtaking. Check out some of the late artist’s work here.

Alan Davis- Miracleman, Clandestine and Excalibur. ‘Nuff said!

John Byrne- Back in the ‘80s, Byrne did everything, and incredibly. I love the writer-artist’s memorable stints in Uncanny X-Men, Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four and Avengers West Coast.

Walt Simonson- Some of his X-Factor issues stood out more than others. I love his Thor work better; he was perfect for it.

John Toledo- His style is quirky and solid; he’s got a strong command of design and ultra-detailed compositions.

Frank Quitely- New X-Men, We3 and All-Star Superman! Definitely some of my favorite books drawn by Quitely.

John Romita, Jr.- I liked his ‘80s to early ‘90s stuff like Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil: Man Without Fear.

Leinil Francis Yu- I like his uninked pencils on New Avengers. I know, I must be one of the few. And I’m currently enjoying his inked Secret Invasion pages.

Olivier Coipel- While I’m not a fan of his Legion Lost, his art duties on the revamped Legion in the early ‘00s showed a more solid and attractive style. His recent Thor issues look good, too.