Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year in Words, Oh Eight Edition

In 2008, I:

- sort of planted a tree.
- sent over 6,300 text messages. Nah, I never forwarded a joke. I just checked; I sent a total of 29,724 messages. Bought the phone in 2003.
- lost, gained, and lost some pounds again.
- bought only a handful of toys, most of them at bargain prices.
- continued being a contributing writer and, occasionally, illustrator.
- counted Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men, Astro City: Beautie, Walking Dead # 48, Avengers: The Initiative, Secret Six and the all-new, all-different X-Force among my favorites.
- got royally, embarrassingly drunk. Listened and quietly sang along to Poison’s “Something to Believe In” in the cab after.
- enjoyed a short Baguio visit.
- drew some friends’ faces using gel pens.
- found myself drawn to, and liking, the irreverence of TMZ.
- had constantly changing sleep schedules.
- was among people who did a phoner with Vanessa Redgrave. Now that I think about it, oh my god, she answered my questions and said my name.
- sold a few unopened Lord of the Rings figures from 2002.
- got introduced at an event by my silver-tongued friend Mark as someone who “writes for the entertainment and lifestyle sections, and published his comic book when he was 12.”
- continued to be grateful for the generosity of old pals John, Benedict and newer friends.
- gladly couch potatoed and devoured great shows like True Blood, Rome, Doctor Who, Weeds, The Office, Flight of the Conchords, Dexter and many others. Oh, it was also the year when I got introduced to three Chucks (Gossip Girl, Pushing Daisies, Chuck).
- worried about money.
- was annoyed and saddened by the ignorance and homophobia of some people.
- memorized names of GI Joe and Transformers characters before a trivia contest.
- saw myself on TV four times.

My thanks to my friends, loved ones and readers for being supportive. May 2009 be a better, fruitful year for all of us.

Fantasy Heroism, 2008: Heroes Big, Small, Cartoony, Complicated

(Published Dec. 27, PDI-Super)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It was a good year for escapism, as a bunch of fantastic adventures paved the way for a variety of characters that amused, even inspired.

Heroism had different faces in the big and small screens. In 2007, sentient robots, pirates and flawed warrior-kings, among others, made their presence felt.

From hesitant saviors to devoted defenders, the fantasy figures of ’08 were also altruistic though imperfect. Several costumed crimefighters, unexpected champions and chosen mortals (and immortals) found the courage to make a difference in their respective worlds:

Iron Man
Wealthy weapons designer Tony Stark’s abduction and lengthy incarceration forces him to invent a powerful suit of armor. He still has his vices, but he now devotes his new arsenal and resources to protecting innocents.

Dana Scully
Ex-FBI Agent Scully’s practically seen everything, but some answers still remain elusive now that she’s a full-time doctor. That doesn’t stop her from finding them, and helping solve a bizarre new case along the way.

Playful elephant Horton, despite being discouraged and branded as a troublemaker by others, saves the microscopic land of an unseen civilization.

Speed Racer
Young racing champ Speed defies a corrupt corporation and helps expose the rottenness with a little help from his loyal friends and family.

Harvey Dent
He was a fearless D.A. before the Joker destroyed his life. Gotham City’s “White Knight” was a man that the Batman sincerely respected for his tenacity and quick thinking.

Sookie Stackhouse
The telepathic waitress is a simple young woman who occasionally does the gutsy thing. She saved a helpless vampire from human muggers, and sometimes helps out strangers with her unusual gift.

Sam Winchester
The dedicated monster-hunter’s brother, Dean, is scheduled to go to hell because of a mystical deal. Sam becomes more proactive, and looks for ways to prevent that fate.

He initially had Buzz Lightyear-esque delusions of grandeur, but the dog who thought he had powers really cares for his young owner. He proves his loyalty and heroism even after his made-up world fell apart.

Hiro Nakamura
His adventures have gotten really convoluted lately, but the powerful teleporter remains an incorruptible and optimistic character.

The legendary princess fearlessly fights and defeats jungle thugs, and even gives a woman’s abusive husband a beating. She also voices out her non-conformist views.

Robert Neville
The last man on Earth in “I Am Legend” hides from a legion of nocturnal creatures. But when he discovers other human survivors, he bravely risks his life to save them, and possibly, countless others.

Dan Vasser
Often unprepared for time-travels to the past, the Journeyman nevertheless adapts and does his best to figure out things that need fixing, and people that need saving.

The Pevensies
Siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia, make tough decisions, and fight like hardened warriors even before the arrival of their favorite deus ex machina, Aslan.

Chuck Bartowski
“Adorkable” Chuck is often rescued by his agent handlers, but the guy with government secrets downloaded into his brain sometimes saves the day, as well.

Edward Cullen
Weak screen mythology aside, the vampire pretty boy with Robert Smith makeup has some distinct heroic traits. Apart from fighting his beastly tendencies, the telepathic, immortal teen protects oft-endangered human Bella.

Ahsoka Tano
Just like her Jedi mentor Anakin Skywalker, the young Padawan can be whiny and reckless. But despite the need to prove herself, she’s quite a benevolent person and a capable peacekeeper.

The Dark Knight decides not to pursue the woman he genuinely loves to focus on his unending crimefighting mission.

Jack Harkness
The intrepid gay adventurer and immortal leader of the Torchwood team, apart from his willingness to jump into the fray, is protective of time travel trauma victims.

He was just a martial arts fan at first, but after some valuable training, the plucky panda proves that he can be an effective fighter and protector.

The loose cannon sometimes catches criminals, but often endangers civilians in the process. But he reforms and owns up to bad things he’s done. After discovering his secret origin, the immortal becomes a better, more active guardian.

Sarah Connor
Mother to a destined hero in a war against human-hunting machines, she’s a decisive leader and a seasoned combatant.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa Jack, Merry X-Men, Groonk Tidings

You’re a nice one, Mr. Skellington.

Wow, the year’s almost over. Well, enjoy the holidays, whether ye believe or not. May there be lasting peace on Earth for real.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite Christmas-y comic books. Again, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, and May Your Days Be Merry and Bright.

X-Factor # 27, “Gifts”- Shortly after defeating Apocalypse’s Horsemen, the team is given truckloads of gifts by grateful New Yorkers. The original X-Men’s young wards (Rusty, Skids, Boom Boom, Rictor, Artie and Leech) play Santa and bring the presents to sick kids and those hurt by Apocalypse’s attack.

Thor # 444, “How the Groonk Stole Christmas”- The story, dedicated to Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, introduces a green-furred monster in a Santa suit, the Groonk. Just imagine a hairier Hulk with the Grinch’s head. He steals gifts and gives them to homeless people. In a recent Marvel Handbook, it was revealed that he was one of the tunnel-dwelling mutant Morlocks.

Uncanny X-Men # 230, “’Twas the Night”- The team takes over the Reavers’ old base in Australia. But the place is filthy, so has-been diva Dazzler makes her disgust known. The heroes clean up the place and--using Longshot’s psychometry and Gateway’s teleporting power--return countless items from the Reavers’ trove to their original owners. Just in time for Christmas! Dazzler gets a nice bike; Gateway gets a slice of cake and a flute.

Little Archie # 566, “Land of the Lost,” etc. - This has wholesome short stories for kids. They’re all about generosity and goodwill: Little Archie discovers the town’s hidden elf workshop. Little Sabrina’s Christmas tree brings magic to human and animal families. And Miss Grundy’s students perform their play for orphans.

JSA # 55, “Be Good for Goodness’ Sake”- The Justice Society’s older members foil a Christmas Eve robbery. The store’s Santa helps out the heroes. It’s Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado, in disguise. The Society members invite the old heroine to be their museum curator, and she accepts. The younger JSA-ers welcome her, as well.

Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories # 5, “A Christmas Cop-Out”- After the First American fires his sidekick US Angel because he doesn’t want to share the book logo and royalties, the costumed dimwit is visited by Christmas Carol-esque ghosts. Really hilarious 6-pager.

Cloak and Dagger # 11, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”- Cloak, Dagger and Bill Clayton teleport to the Middle East on Christmas Eve and find themselves in the middle of warring factions. Bill is exposed as a double-dealing guy, but takes a bullet meant for Dagger. A revenge-obsessed woman spares the life of Bill’s pregnant assailant, who soon gives birth. Dagger sums it up: “A baby’s just been delivered to a woman of one religious faction in the hospital of another faith, located in the birthplace of the messiah of a third religion.”

X-Men # 165, “Hark How the Bells--!”- The X-teachers and their students take a break and have a fun party. Many mutants from various X-teams and the Academy X squads appear (it’s still some time before the “No More Mutants” nonsense). Lila Cheney and her band perform, Jubilee flashes fireworks, and Iceman throws a snowball at Emma Frost. Absent friends Xavier and Magneto are there in spirit (or astral forms, to be exact). Some humans that the X-Men saved earlier join the revelries, too.

GLX-Mas Special, “Eggnog, Toilet Paper and Peace on Earth,” etc.- The Great Lakes Avengers (or GLX-Men, Or Great Lakes Champions) spend the holidays fighting foes and dealing with their lives in this entertaining one-shot. Mr. Immortal reminisces about holidays past with a loved one. Doorman visits his dad for the last time. And Squirrel Girl defeats Thanos on Christmas Eve, while the Watcher watches.

Exclusive Fang Clubs

Last Friday, I finally saw Twilight. Man, I almost grew cobwebs on my seat. It had interesting characters, not to mention some good-looking people, but the vampire backstory’s pretty weak. And the dialogue was sappy and humorless. The movie felt like it went on forever. It was meant for a younger crowd, obviously, but it was still devoid of believable danger.

A few hours later, I finally watched episodes of True Blood. Now that’s one damn good show. I read somewhere that like Twilight, it’s also based on a series of books. The protagonist is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress who can hear people’s thoughts. She finds herself drawn to Bill Compton, a quiet, brooding vampire, because she can’t hear what he’s thinking. The existence of vampires in this world is known to the public, so you can just imagine its effect on different cultures, the debates it causes, and the interactions between humans and the nocturnals.

There are other likeable characters, such as the kickass gay cook LaFayette, the kind bar owner Sam, and Sookie’s horndog brother Jason, who’s played by Aussie Ryan Kwanten. Kwanten’s playing a musclehead that’s way dumber than his old Home and Away character. Jason’s escapades and antics almost always get him, and people close to him, into trouble.

Just like Anne Rice and Joss Whedon’s vampire myths, True Blood has an engrossing take on the undead. The different vamp characters here have their own society and unconventional family trees. Those things really need to be explored and improved more in the Twilight sequels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The 12 Episodes of Christmas

12 classic Christmas episodes recalled
(Published Dec. 21, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It’s the season to be jolly, and to be entertained by many things holiday-themed.

It’s that time of the year when television shows give extra focus on happiness, sacrifice and soul-searching. The festivities may be central to the stories or are just incidental, but the spirit of the holidays often remains. Universal concepts like generosity and togetherness are tackled. Sometimes, the tales even highlight the epiphanies of Scrooges and Grinches.

Television gave, and continues to give us some feelgood, introspective, or bittersweet Christmas episodes. Here are twelve of the most memorable:

Twelve pies a-baking: Pushing Daisies, “Corpsicle”
It’s a bizarre holiday season as pie-maker Ned and investigator Emerson Cod discover the truth behind some mysterious murders: a deranged woman from a wish-granting foundation makes a sick boy happy by violently attacking his perceived tormentors.

Eleven TVs charming: The Wonder Years, “Christmas”
It’s the 1960s. Young Kevin and his brother want a color TV for Christmas, but their requests are ignored by their dad. It’s a memorable and reflective episode that’s made even more poignant by the music, especially Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

Ten swords a-waving: Doctor Who, “The Christmas Invasion”
Decorations attack people and Santas become menacing. The time-traveling Doctor is the Earth’s last hope when bloodthirsty alien invaders reveal themselves and their plot to enslave humanity on Christmas day.

Nine glue sticks melting: Will and Grace, “Jingle Balls”
Talentless Jack McFarland is assigned to decorate a posh store’s window display. A friend secretly helps him, but clueless Jack thinks he was bailed out by an actual Christmas miracle.

Eight hearts a-beating: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Amends”
Ghosts of holidays past haunt Angel, formerly a vicious vampire. Feeling tremendous guilt over recurring apparitions of his old victims, he tries to kill himself by waiting for the sunrise. A miraculously timed snowfall spares his life, and changes his mind.

Seven employees singing: The Office, “A Benihana Christmas”
Angela the control freak organizes a party and doesn’t welcome suggestions, so Pam and Karen invite people to their own gathering. Angela has food, but barely any attendees. Pam and Karen have the music and the revelers. Eventually, a truce merges both parties.

Six secrets sharing: Journeyman, “Home by Another Way”
Dan Vasser time-travels decades back to an office Christmas party, where he meets and chats with his estranged father before he abandons the family. Dan also discovers some truths about his boss and co-worker, which might save some jobs in the present.

Five odd wreaths: Supernatural, “A Very Supernatural Christmas”
The Winchester brothers look for the Anti-Claus, a monster that attacks during the holiday season, and a plant that lures it into their homes. In a sad flashback, younger sibling Sam is told that everything else exists, except Santa Claus.

Four changing views: South Park, “Mr. Hankey”
The kids are preparing for the Christmas program, but changes had to be made to please non-Christians. Meanwhile, Kyle seems to be experiencing mental problems. But his “imaginary friend,” the icky but kind Mr. Hankey, reveals himself and inspires everyone.

Three lost souls: Torchwood, “Out of Time”
Three people from the 1950s find themselves in the present. Torchwood, a covert organization that deals with time travel and extraterrestrial issues, welcomes them. One person acclimates, another tries to go home, and the third loses hope.

Two mothers’ love: Ally McBeal, “Blue Christmas”
Elaine discovers an abandoned baby and seeks custody of the child. She sincerely wants to keep him, but her integrity is questioned. Days later, the biological mother, who suffered from postpartum depression, reclaims the baby. Heartbroken Elaine lets him go.

And a snapshot near a fake tree: The Simpsons, “Marge Be Not Proud”
The Simpsons’ family photo is ruined when Bart is yanked out by a security guard and exposed as a shoplifter. He tries to win back their respect, especially his mom’s, by having his picture taken and paying for it with his own money. Marge loves the gift.

Mighty Slott Machine

Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers lineup looks interesting. He spoke with Newsarama about his choice of Avengers. Spoiler alert to those who haven’t read the Secret Invasion ending.

“We lose Jan, a size-changing character that has strong ties to Hank, but here's a size-changing girl, Cassie, who looks up to Hank as an uncle. And here's this new robot version of the Vision running around that's built partially on the Kang armor from Iron Lad and partially on the Classic Avengers Vision. So you're going to have Vision and Scarlet Witch, and Vision and Cassie, and Cassie and Scarlet Witch, and Hank and Jocasta. And right there, you're going to have Avengery Avengers characters, especially when you think of Cassie as someone who was running around in the Avengers books as a youngster. This is someone who Jarvis has bounced on his knee and who lived in the mansion for years. It gets to the heart of these characters and this legacy and the mythology of the Avengers. And that's not even the whole cast!”

The image shows the combined covers of MA #s 21 and 22. There’s an as-yet unreleased third image. Um, I don’t like the art. The artist, if I’m not mistaken, drew the New Avengers issue where Super-Skrulls defeated the real Elektra. She looked really wrinkled and stiff in a bunch of panels. Anyway, Slott mentions the inclusion of US Agent:

“…that means he's officially gone from Canada, doesn't it? He was on Omega Flight because... what better place to have U.S. Agent than Canada? [laughs] I kid! I kid! But no, we're messing around with John Walker. You're going to get to see him swing his shield over here.”

At last. Someone who gets the Avengers. I’m excited. I hope She-Hulk becomes a cast regular, or at least a recurring guest. And it’s about time Hank ditched the Yellowjacket identity. I like the nice new costume and Wasp-like wings. Yay for Avengery Avengers!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Couch Caroling

I find myself singing old Christmas carols when I’m alone in my room. The decorations are stimuli; they help create an atmosphere of cheer and optimism, and trigger the recollection of pleasant memories. The imagery and music go hand-in-hand; the songs are still beautiful, even when I don’t feel their meaning anymore. I obviously don’t believe in what the season’s about, as I have written before, but I can recognize its evolved spirit.

Among traditional carols, I’d say my favorites are “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child is This,” “Joy to the World,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and other songs taught during grade school or discovered in old books. The arrangements remain universally appealing, even when I can’t relate to the lyrics anymore.

Most of them still have a soothing effect, while “Twelve Days of Christmas” still entertains with its unique, challenging wordplay. The subject certainly isn’t the kind spoken about in the usual Christmas chantey.

Other yuletide-themed songs that I’ve adored through the years are the pop-ier, less traditional-sounding ones:

“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon- (“So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Another year over. A new one just begun”) I suppose you get to understand and enjoy it more when you’re older. I’ve been hearing this for years, but only began liking it back in my 20s, when I was feeling disillusioned.

“Oi to the World” by No Doubt- (“He’d say: Oi to the punks! Oi to the skins! Oi to the world and everybody wins!”) It speaks of God coming down on Christmas day to spread peace on Earth. Lyrically and musically, it’s a rocking, offbeat holiday tune.

“Merry Christmas, Darling” by The Carpenters- (But I can dream, and in my dreams, I’m Christmasing with you.”) We play the Carpenters Christmas album yearly. It’s only recently that I began liking and relating to this particular song. “Logs on the fire fill me with desire” is a funny line, though. It either sounds icky or sexy, depending on your creative interpretation of unintentional metaphors.

“The Atheist Christmas Carol” by Vienna Teng- (“It’s the season of possible miracle cures, where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown.”) It’s a reassuring, refreshing song that offers a different way of looking at the season.

“River” by Joni Mitchell- (“It’s coming on Christmas. They’re cutting down trees. They’re putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”) Mitchell’s touching ballad reflects on past mistakes and hopes amid the impending arrival of the holidays. Love it.

“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Sixpence None The Richer- (“You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel.”) The Christmas-stealing character is vividly described in a song that’s nicely interpreted by the band. Always fun to listen to.

‘Next Avengers’: Amateur assemblage

Spoilers. This direct-to-video cartoon introduces children of the Avengers in an adventure that pits them against their parents’ deadliest foe, Ultron.

The orphaned children of the defeated team members are interesting new characters: Torunn (Thor’s daughter) firmly believes in a Thunder God she’s never seen; Azari (son of Black Panther and Storm) possesses enhanced agility and can wield lightning; James Rogers (son of Captain America and Black Widow) is an athletic, brooding teen; Pym (kid of the Wasp and Giant-Man) shrinks and is potentially the most intelligent of them all.

They’re being raised single-handedly by an aging Tony Stark (a.k.a. the retired Iron Man), their existence unknown to the conquering Ultron. Francis Barton (son of Hawkeye) eventually joins the team of brave, oft-reckless young adventurers.

It’s written by Chris Yost of “New X-Men” and “X-Force.” There’s good characterization, and nice, fan-pleasing battle sequences. There are appearances by classic Avengers as well in their possible future, older incarnations.

The final showdown, however, somewhat diminishes the attention on the Next Avengers when a gamma-powered god machine takes care of their Ultron problem. Deus ex aside, “Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow” is still quite watchable. And if these characters appear again in a sequel, it would be nice to see them in more traditional superhero costumes that fuse elements of their parents’ uniforms.

Jay-R’s ‘Holiday’ Evolution

(Published Dec. 11, PDI-Entertainment)

Jay-R: Respect everyone
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Singer-actor Jay-R’s work load doesn’t look like it’s going to lighten soon, and he’s thankful for that.

The 27-year-old is busy recording songs with TV host-singer Iya Villania for the World Peace Federation, as well as with acting in the GMA 7 soap “La Lola.

The night before an early morning shoot for “Desperadas 2,” Jay-R launched a Christmas album, “Holiday of Love,” sales of which will be donated to the Kapuso Foundation.

He gave an exclusive interview to Inquirer Entertainment during the launch at Red Box in TriNoma.

What things do you know about the industry at this point in your career?
I’ve been in show biz for five years. I definitely wish I knew what I know now back then when I started. I would’ve done things differently, I think.

What are the challenges now?
Medyo mahirap, actually. It’s very hard. Kasi, when I came here to the Philippines, there wasn’t really a male vocalist at the time. My rise to popularity was pretty fast. Now the hard part is sustaining it. That’s what I’m currently doing.

How has your music evolved?
It changes. Dati, my R&B was really urban R&B na danceable na talaga. Parang hip-hop-R&B. It’s still danceable but my music’s changing. Now it’s like soul-R&B from my last album to jazz-R&B with this Christmas album. Parang nagiging mellow siya. That’s how Filipino R&B is, I guess. And it still talks about love.

How would you describe the Christmas album?
It’s a fusion of jazz and R&B; it’s like a new sound for me, actually. At first, I didn’t know what I’d come up with. It was fun, because it’s really experimental. And when I finished the album, I was pretty satisfied with the results.

How did you choose the songs?
There are 14 songs. They’re definitely my favorite Christmas songs when I was growing up. ‘Yung mga “Sleigh Ride,” “The Christmas Song” and “Winter Wonderland.” Of course, they’re traditional Christmas songs that everybody knows. And also, there are two original songs: one that I wrote and one by my sister, Ate Jhing.

What’s the most important thing you’re learning about the music business?
Definitely respect. Respect everyone. It doesn’t matter who the person is; dapat may respeto talaga ‘cause it’s a team effort. From the lights to the sound when the show is happening, it’s not just me that’s important during a show or a recording.

As a Filipino music artist, how do your efforts contribute to the big picture?
I know from some kids that I’ve seen na ginagaya ‘yung style ko. I think I’m contributing my best as a vocal teacher. I’m very proud. So I think I will be a teacher in the contribution to Filipino music.

R.E.B.E.L.S. Yell

As a L.E.G.I.O.N. fan, I’m excited that Vril Dox and his galactic police force will be returning with Birds of Prey (and former Exiles) writer Tony Bedard. He told Newsarama that the core team will become R.E.B.E.L.S. once again, when control of the organization is wrested from Dox. He added that there will be several new members who might be ancestors to some Legion of Superheroes members, as well as their foes (which probably explains the Validus-looking guy in the pic). First issue is slated for a Feb. 2009 release.

A Whole New World for Kakki

(Published Dec. 15, PDI-Entertainment)

A Pinay lead star in HK Disney
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“High School Musical” has evolved for an Asian crowd at Hong Kong Disneyland, where Filipina Kakki Teodoro sings and dances daily as the female lead.

The 21-year-old previously performed in Manila productions of Disney musicals.

“High School Musical: Live!” is an interactive 30-minute outdoor show staged on a moving set that traverses Main Street thrice a day.

Kakki spoke about her Disney-themed experiences in a recent email interview with Inquirer Entertainment.

How similar to Vanessa Hudgens’ performance do you have to make yours?
I’m introduced as Kakki, the female lead singer for the show, so there’s no need to make the performance similar to Vanessa Hudgens’ portrayal of Gabriella.

Before “HSM,” what shows did you appear in?
Being part of “High School Musical: Live!” at Hong Kong Disneyland is actually my first time working for Disney. Aside from that, I am also the Tarzan Singer for “The Golden Mickeys.”
Before Hong Kong Disneyland, I was an actor in musicals in the Philippines. I was in “First Name,” “Disney’s Cinderella,” “Disney’s High School Musical Onstage,” and “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.”

How does it feel to regularly play a Disney character?
It is very overwhelming, but I am very honored to do it. I grew up watching Disney movies everyday on VHS.

How challenging is it to perform the show live?
It’s an outdoor show so adjusting to many different factors makes this show hard. We have to adjust for changes in the weather, because sometimes it gets so hot, and then in the winter it gets chilly. Other factors include unexpected technical difficulties like losing microphone reception. But these are little things, because the work is so much fun.

Describe your rapport with the actor playing Zac Efron’s character.
There are three male lead singers. Two of them are Filipino. Working with them makes each day interesting, as they have different styles and I react differently to each one. Anthony Suen Ming Kit is consistent so it’s very comfortable. Ariel Reonal and I worked together in Repertory Philippines. He always makes me want to step up my game when we’re together. Bill Castillo is very playful so we have the most fun.

What are you learning?
I am learning the importance of balance--keeping the show consistent and being in top shape everyday--while being open to changes and learning more things.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rollicking Relics

Found an old student’s diary for the schoolyear 1982-’83. It’s quite amusing to see that I had hideous handwriting as a kid. The most interesting part is a list written in purple colored pencil:

Betamax Tapes

1. Annie
2. E.T.
3. Firefox
4. The Toy
5. Grease I
6. Grease II
7. Superman I
8. Superman II
9. Star Wars
10. Empire Strikes Back
11. Swamp Thing
12. Zapped!
13. Going Ape!
14. Oh God book I
15. Oh God book II
16. Running Scared
17. Rocky I
18. Rocky II
19. Rocky III
20. Willy Wonka
21. The Sword and the Sorcerer
22. Dragonslayer

Obviously, it’s a list of rented tapes that I watched during that period. The old Beta player lasted till the early ‘90s. It was inevitably replaced by the VHS player, which proved useful to me later because I was able to record favorite shows and music videos until the early ‘00s. But DVD became the widely used format, so I--and everyone else--had to adapt.

Anyway, I remember borrowing Beta tapes with the family during weekends at shops in the area, such as Video Bug, Junction Video, and Bijou. I’d also watch many cartoons, including He-Man, Transformers, Smurfs, Super Friends, GI Joe and others in the years that followed. Usually, three to five episodes were compiled onto a tape.

I don’t remember what “Going Ape!” and “Running Scared” are about. And I only vaguely remember “Dragonslayer” and “Sword and the Sorcerer.” But I do remember that there was sort of a barbarian movie trend back then because of the success of the first “Conan.”

But “Zapped!” I recall with fondness. Other films with some nudity that sort of shocked me as a kid were “Videodrome,” “Excalibur,” “History of the World,” and some action flicks and comedies whose titles I forget.

They didn’t warp my brain or anything. At least, not too much.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Surviving ‘Secret Invasion’

Spoilers ahead. Eight issues of Brian Bendis and Leinil Yu’s Secret Invasion don’t tell the whole story. For the whys and wherefores of this latest Skrull attack, you’re going to have to read eight months’ worth of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers. Those are flashback or concurrent stories that disappointingly interrupted those books’ regular “programming.” Very few of those issues focused on current Avengers members, and some of the stories could’ve been compressed to fit into the SI mini, which mostly deals with the event highlights. Oddly, the ramifications were often rerouted to those two titles.

Secret Invasion, then, is a style-over-substance, slambang epic that repeats itself until a resolution is reached. Like Bendis’ House of M, which was unnecessarily stretched to several issues, SI is slowly paced. Scenes leading to some big reveals, contrastingly, are choppy and abrupt. And you never see who “He,” the much-mentioned Skrull god, is. You’re going to have to check out the Incredible Hercules issues to find out what that’s about (but in doing so, you won’t be disappointed!).

The Skrull’s plan to openly invade the Earth while offering friendship is puzzling. Super-Skrulls beat up your beloved superheroes on live TV and they expect you to accept them with warm and fuzzy feelings? Dumb plan, Skrulls. They keep declaring that they already won. But their threat was felt most in the Avengers: The Initiative title, where writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage revealed that the aliens actually had two main battle plans (sleeper agents are poised to attack the 50-state Initiative teams; there’s a secret, country-wide Negative Zone portal), which aren’t mentioned at all in SI. The convenient and accidental discovery of the original heroes and other abductees in issue # 8 is another puzzler.

There’s a new status quo for the Marvel Universe once again, and it looks like many of the company’s titles will be affected by the change. The quick switch feels forced, but if previous tie-ins by other writers are any indication, there will be interesting, even entertaining stories that will be told. These big events as precursors to other big events, however, can be exhausting.

Those problems aside, SI works as an action-packed equivalent of a popcorn movie. There are big dramatic moments, particularly during the Savage Land conflict and the rallying of Earth’s defenders. Bendis doesn’t resort to his usual dialogue tics, thankfully. And Yu’s cleaner, more detailed art injects grandiosity to the bigger-than-usual slugfests.

It would’ve worked better if, instead of using the cardstock cover, several pages of story were added. Backstories that were isolated into Mighty and New could’ve expounded on important bits, had they been included in the main mini. But again, SI is finally over. It’s clearly imperfect, but it does have its moments.

Akafellas album in the key of Christmas

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

Four years after their self-titled debut album and some roster changes later, the Akafellas remain unique-sounding. The group’s brand of “popcapella” is ideal for flavoring the new holiday offering “This Christmas,” a 10-track CD featuring merry interpretations of English and Filipino yuletide carols.

Harmonious vocals are strongly backed by the members’ mimicry of musical instruments, a formula that still works impressively. Live performances of the eight-man group are always a joy to watch, as the vocalists are adept at smoothly weaving intricate parts into solid, energetic pieces. It’s a different experience to listen to the recorded material, but they’re nonetheless taut translations that lose none of the complexity.

The ten chosen songs illustrate some ups and downs of the season, an audible “map” of perspectives ranging from celebration to longing. “Carol of the Bells” creates an air of mystery for the impending festivities, while Boyz II Men-ish harmonies characterize the upbeat love ditty “This Christmas.” The light, Ryan Cayabyab-penned “Heto Na Naman” ponders the true meaning of the season, while its “instrumentation” sounds traditionally Pinoy. The latest version of “Pasko Na Sinta Ko” is solemn, and the original song “Sa Pasko” mirrors some long-distance sentiments.

It’s a decent selection of songs, but it can still make one wish for more of the Akafellas’ distinct re-imagining of other popular favorites, or more of the members’ originals. That said, the outstanding songs easily outnumber the merely adequate ones. It’s definitely not the usual Christmas album, but it still inspires different moods. “This Christmas” exemplifies cohesive team artistry, and offers a unique and pleasant holiday listening experience.

Dashing Fratboys, Charming Rogues

It’s refreshing to see a nerdy protagonist who isn’t entirely the butt of jokes for a change. Greek is a feelgood comedy-drama series centering on skinny college freshman Rusty, who eagerly tries to belong and make something of himself by joining a prestigious fraternity. The potential recruit initially sticks out in meetings held by the group overrun by rich, hip heartthrobs. But he finally gains acceptance in a less organized, more party-loving rival frat.

It’s nice to see Rusty’s popular sorority member sister as someone who’s accepting and protective of her uncool but well-intentioned sibling. And it’s also nice to see the guy connecting with a smart, pretty girl early on, for a change.

RockNRolla is a gritty heist/crime comedy starring Gerard Butler. Goons, rogues, junkies and hitmen make a crazy, lethal mix in this snappy Guy Ritchie film. And, you just gotta see Butler and Thandie Newton’s silly dancing.

It’s screening exclusively at Greenbelt and Glorietta cinemas.

Daleks, Skrulls, Martians and ALFs

I’ve been dreaming a lot lately, and the weirder, more vivid ones had appearances by non-traditional aliens. I didn’t notice until now that that’s what two very short dreams had in common. One had the extraterrestrial characters of the old scifi TV show Roswell, but the flashy scenes looked as if the series had a big, movie-sized budget. The other one involved Cybertronians, specifically the Autobots, who appeared in what looked like a low-tech, no-budget movie. Maybe I’m having these dreams where I’m watching them because I’ve been exposed to some comic book and TV aliens lately.

I just finished the first season of Doctor Who a few days ago. It’s a smart show; it just has some uber-campy moments and ideas that you really can’t take seriously. But it’s tightly scripted and most episodes have lasting emotional impact, so I can say that it’s one show that I’m going to follow. Christopher Eccleston plays the mysterious Doctor (above), a time-traveler who grants a young woman, Rose Tyler (remember Billie Piper, ‘90s teen pop singer?), the chance to take part in extraordinary adventures across time and space. He’s the arch-foe of the unfeeling Daleks, a powerful alien race that once menaced the galaxy.

Aliens are nothing new in comic books. One can easily read about the exploits of Kryptonians, Martians, Rannians, Thanagarians and others in the DC Universe. I finished Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War early this year, a space saga that involved representatives of practically every sentient race. Also, a xenophobia angle was successfully mined in a timely storyline that starred the revived pre-Crisis Legion of Superheroes, which has mostly non-humans in its roster.

While Marvel’s Annihilation: Conquest wasn’t as big or inventive as the seminal crossover, it was still an enjoyable read. Alien races likewise made their presence felt, albeit on a smaller scale. And then, of course, there’s Secret Invasion, a massive event centering on some fanatical Skrulls’ plan to subjugate the Earth. The shape-shifting race (male pictured below), however, has its share of good and bad individuals, just like Earthlings. Queen Veranke and her loyalists are nutty extremists, while Lyja and the outcast Cadre K sided with human heroes in old stories.

Speaking of invasions, I also re-read one of Grant Morrison’s simpler, more enjoyable stories, the White Martian arc that ran in the early issues of JLA. And speaking of shapechangers, the Dire Wraiths were badass aliens that kinda freaked me out as a kid. The female ones were especially creepy, because they had barbed tongues that stabbed foreheads.

Yes, there could be life out there. Maybe humans aren’t the center of the universe, after all. Whether there are advanced or primitive civilizations out there or not, we may never know. In the meantime, the more adventurous, imaginative or flamboyant interpretations grace the pages of comics, as well as the big and small screens, trying to cater to humans that seek an escape from the occasional ordinariness of Earth life.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Colbie Caillat Coolness

Unpublished Colbie Caillat article I wrote last March. I was sent to cover the event by a music mag. Sadly, it was in the throes of death at the time (or was being relaunched as another mag, that part’s unclear). So I’m sharing the article here before it gets too old.

Cool Colbie, hot ‘Coco

The singer-songwriter talks about stage fright, listening to her gut… and her uncanny resemblance to a certain American actress

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Colbie Caillat (pronounced kah-ley) is a fascinating conundrum. The first time you encounter the rising singer-songwriter’s “Bubbly” music video, you’ll easily notice the song’s laid-back catchiness and her warm voice, curiously soothing yet recognizably strong. And then there’s the next thing you’ll surely notice: She looks a lot like Jennifer Aniston. It’s easier for new fans to associate the song with the music artist, then, with such an easy and memorable point of reference.

Caillat is aware that she does look like the popular ex-Mrs. Pitt. “I can see it in the album cover,” she tells journalists at a press conference for her two shows at the Ayala malls last March. “I dunno, it’s a good compliment because she’s beautiful, she’s a great actress. It’s probably not good to look like a celebrity when you’re a new artist, but it’s still a good compliment.”

The 22-year-old singer from California answered questions confidently and calmly, already backed up by a year’s experience of touring and performing at radically different venues, and speaking with different countries’ entertainment writers. She talked enthusiastically about her well-received debut album, “Coco,” so named after her, well, nickname. With flower tucked in her hair, the incredibly poised Caillat generously recalled events leading to her discovery, and later sang a few lines from Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain.”

“I grew up listening to classic rock. I listened to Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell; I really got into Bob Marley and Neil Young. I also listen to John Mayer and Jack Johnson, music like that.”

She was exposed to many types of music and the industry early on; her father Ken co-produced two Fleetwood Mac albums and ran a record label some time back.

“My dad used to have a record label but he sold his share of the company,” she reveals. “What I learned about the industry, I guess you just have to go with your gut. That’s what I learned on my own when I was choosing a label. Honestly, I was so indecisive but I went with my gut feeling and I’m so happy about that because I think your gut tells you where you’re most comfortable in. In life, you have to be that way, especially in your career. So just watch out for yourself; you can’t really trust everyone.”

Singing has always been Caillat’s passion. As an 11-year-old, she felt that she could be really good at it. Her father recognized her potential, and soon encouraged her to write her own songs. Eventually, she got the hang of it. “It’s an amazing feeling when you can express your feelings in a song,” she says.

Both talents were honed through the years with the help of friends and musical collaborators, her style developing to include folk-pop touches. All she needed was the perfect venue for her music to be discovered, and the right people to appreciate her work. Enter the magic of the ‘Net.

“A couple of years ago, my friend told me about this thing called MySpace and that I should post my songs up. I didn’t know how to do it so he helped me make the page and I put my songs up. About six months later I had gotten a fan base. My plays on that page went from hundreds to thousands a day. After eight months I became the number one unsigned artist on MySpace. It was an unbelievable feeling. I didn’t really expect it.”

Caillat, who eventually recorded a song with acclaimed troubadour Jason Mraz, didn’t expect that promoting her first album, touring and doing shows would require so much hard work, but she appreciates every opportunity to do so.

“A year ago, I was working a regular job and writing songs on my spare time. It was just really mellow. I had all the time I wanted. Now, we fly to a different country every other day. My life is so busy. I just get used to it; it’s a growing experience.”

She appreciates the chance to create and share her art. And when she’s not making it, she grabs every chance to listen to music by her fellow artists.

“I’m really into Natasha Bedingfield and Amy Winehouse,” she enthuses. “I think their voices are beautiful and so strong. So I listen to them. I listen to John Mayer. New artists… OneRepublic! Those guys are just great.”

She admits that she’d like to write for Natasha Bedingfield one day. But before songwriting even became profitable, it has always been a helpful outlet.

“For me, songwriting is like therapy. When I’m done writing the songs, I finish crying a really good cry. I guess I’m holding all my emotions and when I’m ready to express them, I write a song. Because of that, people can relate to my music; these are experiences that everyone goes through in their life.”

Paradoxically, one specific song was inspired by something--or someone--she didn’t have.

“I didn’t write ‘Bubbly’ about a certain guy in particular,” Caillat candidly shares. “I was writing ‘Bubbly’ because I didn’t like anyone, I didn’t have a boyfriend and I miss having those feelings. I wanted to like someone. I wanted those feelings. I wanted a guy to give me butterflies in my stomach and make me smile, so I wrote it. It gave me a hopeful idea.”

Performing onstage and communicating with her audience isn’t always easy, Caillat adds, because she used to be a really shy person. She took--and later dropped--a junior college improv class, years ago.

“Actually I still have stage fright,” she says. “But once I’m out there I do have fun. I think you just get used to it. I’ve been performing for a year now so it’s gotten better and it’s becoming easier. When I have stage fright, I do lots of breathing techniques and stretches so I’m calm and I’m not hyperventilating. And I remember to smile!”

Caillat also encourages aspiring singers to follow their dreams, and practice every chance they get.

“Start performing live in front of people and get comfortable with that,” she addresses hopefuls. “Learn how to do it and talk to the crowd. Take vocal lessons. And try to become a songwriter because that’s really important!”

Frank Castle, Say Hello to Archie Andrews

Archie Meets the Punisher is surely one of the strangest inter-company crossovers ever. Back in the ‘90s, team-ups between comic book characters from opposite sides of the comic book spectrum were pretty regular occurrences. But there were those that still stood out as wonderfully weird.

The contrasting worlds of the two characters from different genres collide in this story written by Batton Lash. The wholesomeness of Riverdale meets the Punisher’s grimness, and surprisingly, it works. The writer and art team found middle ground; Archie’s world temporarily became a tad dangerous, and the Punisher’s actions didn’t have the usual ramifications.

As a character pointed out, it was fortunate that nobody got hurt by all those stray bullets when violence erupted during a party. There were other rib-tickling moments that didn’t normally happen in the respective titles. And it was also a nice touch to have good old Ms. Grundy crushing on Frank Castle, who falsely introduced himself as the new PE teacher.

Ah, the magic of comics.

Doktora Holmes: Spirituality, Superstition, Sexuality and Sanity

Unpublished 2005 interview. I did this a separate piece; my other more gay-centric interview with her appeared in the Feb. 2006 issue of Icon magazine. Reader discretion is advised. Photo by Benedict S. Bartolome

Doktora Holmes: Spirituality, superstition, sexuality and sanity (2005)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

She’s as straightforward, eloquent and kinetic as ever.

After over a decade of enlightening inquiring minds since becoming a TV personality and newspaper columnist, beloved sex therapist and clinical psychologist Dr. Margie Holmes is still busy with teaching and talking through different venues. She is currently writing her 18th book and a daily Abante advice column, as well as teaching Spirituality and Psychotherapy over at UP Diliman. The super-shrink took a breather and, for once, sat back and therapeutically spoke about her different worlds in her Quezon City home.

How does teaching Spirituality and Psychotherapy relate to your teachings about sexuality?

When I started, sexuality was a rarely talked-about topic. People avoid it and all that, which was quite foolish because we are all sexual beings. I think I feel the same way about spirituality at the moment. It relates because now, maybe because of my age, I started to feel the need to explore the spiritual side of my life. I think, like sexuality was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, spirituality is also an area that people feel very uncomfortable about. Some have very rigid definitions of what a spiritual person is. And I am hoping that in some way, I can contribute to a less rigid view of what it means to be spiritual. Like sexuality, all of us are spiritual beings. If we are, say, atheists or we don’t believe in a higher being, it is still part of our spirituality that we are atheists. It’s like a person who’s celibate; he still has a sexual persona as part of his sexuality.

So, does being open-minded equate to not believing in any higher power?

No, much to my husband’s dismay. I think my husband (Jeremy Baer) is agnostic. He thinks I’m superstitious! That’s because I like to recite some of the prayers that we used to say when we were young. Not that I think that saying these prayers will help, you know what I mean? I feel comfortable. I’m used to it. I force him to, but we also pray, using our own words.

What significant changes have you noticed in Filipinos’ sexual behavior in recent years?

The fact that one can get information from the internet very easily is a good thing. But we still have to verify if things are accurate or not, if the people who say things have an agenda or not, etcetera. The idea that information is readily available helps. The youth now are much savvier in that sense. With the different communication systems, like texting and all that, it’s easier to meet other people. But in terms of dealing with the dynamics of the relationship, it is just as difficult, or sometimes even harder! Being able to text or eyeball someone may give the illusion that one is very close. It takes time to know a person.

What do young people need to know about sexual relationships now?

I think unless our educational system or the parents can teach adolescents how to think rigorously and logically, the same issues are there. Some advice columnists are still as moralistic and still as illogical. Even though more is available, the capacity to discern still has to be emphasized. Filipinos, they’re more superficially open. I think, in terms of things that really concern them, they are still very private, which is a good thing too. They may have more relationships at a younger age. But the relationships are not necessarily deeper.

Are teens more aware now of precautions and responsible sexual behavior?

They’re not necessarily safer, but I am glad that some government officials are more concerned about giving sex education to the youth. However, other government officials still refuse to have the health centers provide condoms and birth control. Whatever the moral stance of the person in charge is, this is what is followed. Until people are outraged by this, not much has changed! We’re just lucky that one or two people think that it’s okay. There are more conscious attempts to make sexual health part of our curriculum, our consciousness, so that now, a lot of people think that sexual health is an important thing.

Can you expound on the reality of promiscuity among Filipinos?

I’ve seen more men being able to do it than women. I’ve seen women also able to do it. I think it helps when you’re younger and more resilient. Whereas if you’re older, it might be a little more difficult; the potential for damage, for hurt, is more. All things being equal, if it’s a f—k buddy, a lot of it has to do with looks and sexual attractiveness. Let’s face it: a 20-year-old woman or man is far more attractive than a 70-year-old.

You wrote in your new book “A Different Love: Being a Gay Man in the Philippines” that sexual orientation can change. How often does it happen?

Orientations can change. But I have not seen any real change through therapy. A lot of studies show that people change naturally; they fall in love or they don’t. They fall in lust or they don’t. But it isn’t usually through therapy; some people would say, they have modified their behavior, but the longing is still there. There are some people who are exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, and do not change throughout their lifetime. In fact, I would think that the majority of people would be like that. A lot of the studies seem to say that usually, 10 percent of any given population is gay, no matter how oppressive or open the culture is. Which is sort of like a clue that it may not just be cultural, kasi, if the culture is more open you would think there would be more gay people around. I’m sure there will be other studies.

You don’t believe in outing closeted gay people, but wish that more popular figures outed themselves, correct?

It would be nice if more people came out. Bernardo Bernardo is out. He can be funny, forceful and gentle. I’m trying to think… who are the other gay role models? Because the others don’t really come out.

How repressive is our culture in that regard?

It’s difficult because they have no role models. If you grew up where your own parents don’t talk to you about sex, you don’t know what to do. My daughter Alexandra asked me some questions. Some, but not all. I’m sure that she’d much rather get answers from other people. Communication’s really important.

On the subject of mental well-being, what do you think of some detractors’ allegations against psychotherapy?

Generally, there is a lot to be said for psychiatry and psychology. They have done a lot for people who are depressed.

How does a person stay sane, exactly?

To be able to adapt to the world is getting more and more difficult, especially with things happening in the Philippines. It helps to have a reasonably logical mind, to not be completely self-absorbed, to have a few friends or family for your support system, to know how to deal with stress levels. A well-respected medical journal said that a lot of times, self-forgiveness is more important than self-esteem.

How would you define a healthy sex life?

Being able to enjoy sex. Not insisting on intercourse if you, say, don’t wanna get pregnant or if the person doesn’t want it. I think a healthy sex life also appreciates that there are more erogenous zones than the genitals. It does not insist that everyone should be married before they enjoy it, although their own personal view might be that way. A healthy sex life appreciates that people change as they get older and it would be nice if these changes were taken into account.

Do many people still think that pleasuring oneself is sinful or wrong?

I’ve met so many religious people who don’t fuss so much about self-pleasuring. In fact, it’s something that I would recommend rather than having a one-night stand with somebody you don’t know. Sometimes it can be more fun! You’re in control of the rhythm; you’re in control of the pressure, ‘di ba? Mas mura pa!