Wednesday, February 25, 2009

‘Justice League’ limited

30 issues later, the relaunched ‘Justice League of America’ title still hasn’t recaptured the grandeur or urgency of the previous JLA monthly, or at least the Morrison, Waid and Kelly issues. The current Justice League’s lineup is okay, but the adventures don’t really make the reader care for the characters. The focus on Black Canary, Firestorm, Vixen, Hawkgirl and Red Arrow is good, but the drama often feels forced. The Jim Lee-esque art offers little variation in body types and facial structures, and sometimes impedes the narrative with unnecessary, ‘90s-ish pinup shots. This title really needs to improve.

Flight Ringing

One of my favorite comic books as a kid was John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. I like the fact that he drew his own stories. I was a tad sad when he left the book when I was in 6th grade. He transferred to Incredible Hulk and, while his art looked great, I wasn’t too fond of the comic because it wasn’t a team book. Anyway, to update my previous post on Northstar, I checked out Mr. Byrne’s site, I enjoyed reading the FAQ section. He wanted to make the characters resonant, and interestingly, he meant for Northstar to be gay all along:

One of the things that popped immediately into my head was to make one of them Gay. I had recently read an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN on what was then (the early 80s) fairly radical new thinking on just what processes caused a person to be homosexual, and the evidence was pointing increasingly to it being genetic and not environmental factors. So, I thought, it seemed like it was time for a Gay superhero, and since I was being "forced" to make ALPHA FLIGHT a real series, I might as well make one of them Gay.

From there, it was a process of elimination. I didn't want the homosexual character to be one of the girls, since that was something people tended to associate (rightly or wrongly) with
Claremont books. Mac Hudson and Heather were happily married and I did not want to mess with that. Michael was widowed with a daughter, and that way lay what I considered too much of a cliche, if he turned out to be Gay. Besides, as a Native Canadian he was already the resident "minority". The new guy, Puck, had his own set of problems. Sasquatch would be just too damn scary!! So I settled on Jean-Paul, and the moment I did I realized it was already there. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been considering making him Gay before I "decided" to do so.

Of course, the temper of the times, the Powers That Were and, naturally, the Comics Code would not let me come right out and state that Jean-Paul was homosexual, but I managed to "get the word out" even with those barriers. (

Father Time

Okay, no spoilers. I just finished Doctor Who season 4. What a great show. All season long, it raised many questions and answered all of them excellently. The last few episodes felt like the show was ending because many big things happened. It makes me wonder now: how are they going to top it next season? I don’t think they can, but who knows.

Season five will be out in 2010. Yeah, wish I had a TARDIS and all that.

‘Dateless’ Kuh delivers love

(Published Feb. 24, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Kuh Ledesma celebrated Valentine season this year with the show “The Voice...The Violin,” a concert that showcased unique renditions of undying love songs.

At Captain’s Bar in Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuh effortlessly performed romantic ballads even when she repeatedly declared between songs her being single and dateless. But her friends, singer Ariel Rivera and violinist Jay Cayuca, kept her company.

Ledesma smoothly opened with the Celine Dion tune “I’m Alive,” and followed with a light, breezy rendition of “Night and Day.” She proceeded with a jazzy medley of three songs, “The Look of Love,” “That’s All,” and “The Nearness of You.” Throughout the show, she sang classics (“Overjoyed,” “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “My Funny Valentine,” etc.), talked about love while sneaking in Bible interpretation (she believes that partners are predestined), and shared interesting anecdotes about her guests.

Actor-singer Rivera did a decent interpretation of Ric Segreto’s “Don’t Know What to Do,” and sang agreeably with Kuh in “I Finally Found Someone” and “Basta’t Tayo’y Magkasama.”

Pony-tailed Cayuca, meanwhile, danced and jumped during his more upbeat numbers, his rock and roll swagger a pleasant surprise. He mingled with the audience members, encouraging them to sing along. He toned it down for his versions of “Sunrise, Sunset” and the Ryan Cayabyab-penned “Once Upon a Life.” He and Kuh did an enchanting take on “Unchained Melody.”

Kuh still strikes a majestic presence, her voice as remarkable as ever. She recreated “My Heart Will Go On” and “Love Moves in Mysterious Ways” without resorting to vocal gymnastics. As expected, she performed her classics, “I Think I’m In Love” and “Till I Met You.”

The venue provided an ideal, intimate setting for the concept, the performers, and the tireless band. Kuh Ledesma may have been dateless, but she did make “The Voice…The Violin” a date to remember for her listeners.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

‘Shopaholic’ shenanigans

Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) becomes a practical, relatable financial advice columnist with a career-destroying secret in the formulaic but funny “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” It follows a typical rom-com formula, in that shop-till-you-drop Rebecca’s adventure involves lies and happy accidents that impossibly lead to all kinds of success, even the discovery of the man of her dreams. Sure enough, she’ll be exposed inevitably, but the script is quite witty and enjoyable--and Fisher is perky and pleasing as the fibbing protagonist--that you don’t mind its predictability too much.

Knowing Northstar

Marvel character Northstar was revealed as gay 17 years ago, in Alpha Flight # 106. Of course, in comic book time, it could have happened just a few years ago. The issue was decently scripted by writer Scott Lobdell; the storytelling was just hampered by the artist, who aped the styles of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee (well, it was 1992). It spoke sensitively of AIDS and homosexuality issues, and it confirmed what some fans knew all along: Jean-Paul Beaubier, a.k.a. Northstar, is gay.

I particularly like what he said in the page where he admitted it:

“Do not presume to lecture me on the hardships homosexuals must bear. No one knows them better than I. For while I am not inclined to discuss my sexuality with people for whom it is none of their business--I am gay!”

I also like what editor Bobbie Chase wrote in reaction to a letter writer who wasn’t keen on having Northstar outed in the comic book:

“You look up to lesbian and gay heroes everyday--you just don’t realize that they’re gay. But does it really matter? If someone risks their life to save another, is the act any less heroic because of whom that someone loves? As a fan of the mutant titles, you should realize that it’s better to judge a person by what they do than who they are--whether that’s Homo sapiens superior or homosexual.”

Years later, Northstar became a member of the X-Men and a teacher at Charles Xavier’s school. Eventually, a number of Marvel characters were revealed as gay or bisexual as well, including Karma, Anole, Mystique, Destiny, Wiccan, Hulkling and others. There were single issue-stories and arcs that focused on Northstar, who was later killed and resurrected.

Nothing’s been happening with the “regular universe” version of the character lately, which is sad, because there are good, possibly controversial stories about him that can be told.

Titans Togetherness

Some spoilers. That’s the new roster. Cool that Static’s in there. I don’t know who that hooded guy is though. It’s interesting that Kid Eternity and Aquagirl are there. I wish Traci 13 and any of the Ravers were included instead of Bombshell. But it’s a nice-looking lineup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Doctor, Jones

“Beware the weeping angel.” That’s the warning written on the wall, discovered by Sally Sparrow in the teaser scene of the Doctor Who episode “Blink.”

Yeah, I love Doctor Who! I’m done with season three. It started pretty slowly; some episodes took their sweet time. But the pace picked up by the middle of the season. “Blink” is my favorite episode; it’s creepy and sad, and one of the best-written eps of the revived science fiction show. Time travel is cleverly used in the standalone story. I was almost in tears, and was clapping by the episode’s end. Writer Steven Moffat won a BAFTA award for it, by the way.

Meanwhile: Martha Jones, the Doctor’s new companion, took time to develop a distinct personality, but she grew on me. And finally, Jack Harkness’ story between the two seasons of Torchwood is finally revealed. There are nice connections between some characters, hinted at or disclosed, that reward the viewer in due time.

Can’t help but geek out. “Beware the weeping angel!”

Invigorating ‘Milk’

Harvey Milk’s courageous efforts to galvanize the gay communities of San Francisco and beyond in the late ‘70s are recreated in the empowering biopic directed by Gus Van Sant. Sean Penn delivers a heartening portrayal of Milk, an openly gay businessman and elected Supervisor who became the voice of fellow gay men struggling for equality. The last years of his life--its glorious milestones and painful tragedies--recount the joys and difficulties of standing up and speaking out. The tale reflects the issues’ timelessness (sadly, some struggles for rights have yet to be won today). But Harvey Milk inspired hope, and the film does the same. “Milk” is insightful, and reiterates that, no, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, or protesting when people say it is.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Future Assemblers

Oh yeah. More Avengers books!

That’s Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, written by Chris Eliopoulos and illustrated by Ed Guerra. Yup, anyone can be called Avengers now (I joked about the Cuddly Avengers and the sidekick cartoony characters a few posts back). Interestingly, there’s a new A-team again. The Pet Avengers, according to the Newsarama interview with the writer, will include Lockjaw, Lockheed, Redwing, Niels, a new Frog Thor, Zabu and Ms. Lion. I hope this’ll be as fun as it looks.

Also coming out in a couple of months is the miniseries Dark Reign: Young Avengers, where a new team takes the name, a la Norman Osborn’s crew in Dark Avengers. The original Young Avengers want the name back, of course, so expect the obligatory superbrawl. The new team’s roster includes Masters of Evil-esque characters like the Enchantress, Egghead, Melter, Coat of Arms, Executioner and Big Zero. It’s written by Paul Cornell (who, I just found out earlier, wrote a cool and touching Dr. Who 2-parter in season 3), and drawn by Mark Brooks.

I’m looking forward to these. Man, the Avengers expansion is starting to feel like the X-Men’s back in the ‘90s. But so far, it’s good to see the Avengers’ world growing.

One Last Call for ‘The Alcoholic’

Recently nominated in the GLAAD Awards, DC/Vertigo’s “The Alcoholic” chronicles the revealing, oft-heartbreaking journey of a novelist-cab driver, Jonathan, who struggles with his addictions and chases after the elusive loves of his life. It’s realistic, occasionally upsetting, and even vividly talks about loose bowel movement. But its honesty and unpredictability make the sad tale, written by Jonathan Ames and drawn by Dean Haspiel, a memorable, moving read.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Gravitating to the grouch and his ‘Gran Torino’

Clint Eastwood stars in and directs “Gran Torino,” about a grouchy, narrow-minded former soldier who distances himself from his Asian immigrant neighbors, but inevitably bonds with them and protects them from the neighborhood gangs.

Walt is a widower who spends his days cleaning his 1972 Gran Torino, mowing his lawn, and criticizing people. He doesn’t bother mincing words and is a guy who laughs at his own racist jokes. But when he sees injustices being committed, he becomes colorblind and protective of his new friends, young siblings Thao and Sue (Bee Vang and Ahney Her).

While it’s a touching drama that speaks of cultural diversity and generational ties, there are funny parts that showcase Walt’s politically incorrect ways, and his awkward transformation to someone who’s somewhat tolerant and understanding. These, and the film’s occasional deviations to odd buddy territory, can elicit hearty, sometimes nervous laughter. There are serious parts that become bleak and distressing, which balance things out. Ultimately, it’s perplexing but meaningful, a timely and strong film that ponders the universality of tragedy and generosity.

“Gran Torino” will be in theaters starting Feb. 18th.

Daze of Future Past

It’s 1991 all over again for Chris Claremont. According to Newsarama, he’ll be writing a new title, X-Men Forever, which continues after X-Men # 3, his “last” issue. He did eventually return to the main X-books nine years later.

I still like the stories from his original run. They weren’t perfect, but many of them were memorable. I’m not a fan of his recent works, though. Maybe allowing him to pick up where he left 18 years ago is a good thing. Aside from the fact that it’s an alternate world, meaning it doesn’t have an impact on other titles’ continuity, it might be good for him to write characters he’s very familiar with.

I remember when the X-Men became really big that year. Jim Lee was doing some of his best work. So was Whilce Portacio, on X-Factor. I liked Peter David and Larry Stroman’s revamped X-Factor too, just a few months later. I’d draw characters back then that looked like rough iterations of the popular mutants. I think the major revamping of the line was aptly called “Glory Days” in the catalog solicits.

This time-travel/alternate reality thing does make me wonder now. What point in my life would I return to, and change for the better? I’d like to think that I’m the result of everything I experienced, and am experiencing. I wouldn’t have learned important things if I didn’t meet certain people or do reckless things. Still, if I could get back to some “restore point,” which part would it be? Would things really improve, and recurring mistakes be avoided?

I wonder.

Bianca King, ‘overachiever’

(Published Feb.9, 2008, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Actress-student Bianca King, 22, considers herself an old soul, “a new age, modern hippie.” She juggles responsibilities uncommon to many people her age.

Bianca, who previously appeared in GMA 7 shows “Click,” “Atlantika,” “Mulawin” and “Dyesebel,” is serious about showbiz. Aside from performing, she always dreamt of telling her own stories through film.

A Digital Filmmaking scholar at De La Salle College of St. Benilde, Bianca is in her sophomore year. One of her instructors--after checking her film journal, a scrapbook containing detailed notes, clippings and storyboard sketches--teased her about being an overachiever.

A fan of filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Darren Aronofsky, Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Linklater, Bianca hopes to eventually write and direct films that will deviate from “movies with the same regurgitated content that we’ve been seeing for the past 15 years.”

What was required to get the scholarship?

They really just required a portfolio. I compiled all the magazine clippings and newspaper articles that had me talking about my school, and how much I wanted to write, how I felt that it was my calling. And I had really good recommendation letters from people who really thought that I deserve it.

How competitive was it?

It’s pretty competitive, because there are only a few slots. The only difficult part was when I was going in for my interview. The grants office was asking me, “Why do you want a scholarship? You can afford it.” So that’s where I really had to fight for it. I wasn’t asking for financial support. I wanted the grant to motivate me and to help me get ahead faster in my career. And also, it could help me get a scholarship abroad.

When did you start supporting yourself financially?

Since I started doing bigger commercials… I was about 16 and I stopped asking for allowance. I don’t consider myself a superstar. I don’t have a gazillion endorsements. I earn okay when I have a show, but that’s only for three to four months. The downtime, the lull in between shows, I basically live off my savings.

Now you’re the breadwinner?

It’s just really innate, I guess. My parents didn’t push me. Maybe it’s a Piscean thing. When the going gets tough, I take charge. [Sometimes, I wonder] “Why is life so hard?” or “Why do I have to do these things?” But the notion of giving back makes it okay.

How tough does it get?

I’ve experienced times when it’s enrolment and I think, “Should I spend the last 50 grand I had in my bank for that or should I pay the bills?” I really had to explain in the sincerest manner [to the grants committee] that, if they give the scholarship to me, they won’t be sorry. It’s not only that it would look pretty in my transcript; I need it.

How is life as a scholar?

Lovely! Last term, I took the heaviest load I’ve taken, which is 14 units. I would usually only take 6 to 9 units. I have to maintain a GPA of 2.5. Last term, I got a 3.7, my highest GPA, only .3 less than a perfect score. This was in the middle of two movies and “Dyesebel.”

What do you want to achieve, ultimately?

Lots of things that I want to achieve in terms of acting, in terms of the roles I get. At the same time, it’s not my end-all and be-all.

What advice would you give young fans?

Finish school. It’ll take you places. It’s always helpful to hone a certain skill. If you have an interest in something, work on that. Pursue your passion.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Valiant ‘Valkyrie’

The attempt to overthrow Hitler and his cohorts by rebellious German forces is recounted in Bryan Singer’s tense “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as the decisive Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. Shamed by atrocities committed by the Nazis, several high-ranking soldiers stage a coup, with von Stauffenberg positioned to eliminate the Fuhrer. The expansion of the secret group dedicated to the daring mission illustrates the urgency of dissent; Cruise, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard and Kenneth Branagh, among others, are finely utilized. The scenes depicting the colonel’s few interactions with the despot, chillingly played by David Bamber, are unsettling. Moreover, the ideals and indignation behind the uprising manifest tangibly and unmistakably early on. Visually, it’s mostly crisp and clean--a bit too clean sometimes, actually, that it feels unreal--but what the film sometimes lacks in grime and artistic chaos, it more than makes up for in clear, consistent storytelling.

“Valkyrie” will be in cinemas starting February 11th.

Reptile Ruckus

I had a weird dream last night. There was a gigantic alligator--several times bigger than the usual--that had an old man trapped in its mouth. It wasn’t chewing the person or anything, but the unmoving, huge teeth served as bars, trapping the man inside. He was lying face down on the floor of the giant gator’s mouth, and struggling to escape.

A small alligator appeared, entered the giant reptile’s mouth somehow, and went for the man’s ankle or foot. That part was unclear from the angle where I was viewing the whole thing. The man didn’t react to the attack. Someone standing beside the huge creature, I don’t know who, shooed the smaller gator away. The dream ended shortly after that.

I was reading about the gigantic prehistoric snake remnants found in Colombia hours before, the Titanoboa. That’s a fascinating discovery, actually. That must’ve inspired the strange dream.

Maybe. I really don’t know.

Delightfully Disarming ‘Dexter’

Season 3 of “Dexter” isn’t as dark or disturbing as its first, and can be likened to season 2, formula-wise. But there are still pleasant surprises.

Dexter is still menacing, and meek when he needs to be, thanks to sublime actor Michael C. Hall. The character, a dedicated blood spatter specialist and serial killer (of serial killers), still intrigues. But devotees of the show now know his routines by heart; he’s quite predictable this season.

To keep things interesting, a gaggle of new characters--some crucial, others red herrings--are introduced, giving him new situations and relationships to understand or react to. It’s good to see the old supporting cast change and grow, as well; Rita (Julie Benz), Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), Angel Batista (David Zaya) and Debora Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) are given new things to do and experience.

Sometimes off-putting, however, are the dream sequence “conversations” between Dexter and his dead adoptive dad Harry (James Remar). Harry only appeared in flashbacks before, so the change takes some getting used to. Also, the occasional Deb-Dex sibling repartee can be oddly distracting to viewers who know that Carpenter and Hall are a real-life couple. But both actors are really convincing, so you don’t think about such things for long.

Jimmy Smits joins the cast as a grieving DA, Miguel Prado, who soon virtually becomes Dexter’s BFF. That storyline is focused, if very slowly paced. Their friendship adds a new dynamic to the equation. There’s a new mystery killer, too, and a long list of suspects, so many things keep Dexter really busy.

But, as expected, he faces the macabre challenges, and some changes to the status quo, calculatingly and confidently.

He’s still distinctly driven, that deeply disturbed Dexter.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Final Crisis, Finally Over

Spoilers. Final Crisis is a series that’s both mind-blowing and disappointing, a trippy, swirling superhero epic that amazes in some parts and really boggles in others. Big, grand moments awe, but fizzle quick. There are questions left unanswered: How did Barry Allen resurrect, exactly? How did the New Gods return? Where and when did the resurrected Batman reappear? What exactly did Renee Montoya do?

There are new characters that look great but add little to the story. And the cosmic-scale puzzles aren’t easy to understand or unravel. Still, some of them are reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s other imaginative science scenarios in All-Star Superman.

The art of the final issue is solid; as expected, Doug Mahnke capably illustrates earth-shaking, detailed battles and quiet scenes, extra-challenging story structure notwithstanding.

Clark Kent’s Glasses, He-Man’s Tan

Yes, Superman met and briefly fought He-Man in DC Comics Presents # 47, back in 1982. The issue came out about a year before the Masters of the Universe cartoon, and some time before the first popular action figure line debuted, so there are notable differences in character details.

However, in the separate continuities of the cartoon series, the mini-comics that came with the action figures, and this old DC comic book, one thing is the same: Prince Adam of Eternia is secretly the mighty warrior He-Man.

Like Superman, the Eternian has a flimsy “disguise” that protects his other identity. His skin may have magically bronzed a little, but his features are still Prince Adam’s. It’s like Clark Kent’s glasses. It’s actually silly and funny when their close friends can’t tell, for some reason.

Mushy, moving ‘Marley’

A watchable comedy-drama about a show-stealing canine and life with its very lenient masters, “Marley and Me” is mostly a family-friendly flick that even non-dog owners can like. The yellow Labrador makes things interesting (and sometimes, quite crazy) for journalist spouses Jenny and John Grogan (Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson), who welcome the cute, cuddly beast into their lives despite its knack for causing all kinds of doggie trouble. The uncontrollable pet situation routinely repeats itself, but the long, beneficial relationship between the humans and their loyal dog is a bond that the viewer will care about. Babe magnet, furniture wrecker, poop factory--Marley may be all those things, but like every beloved pet, he’s also an inspiring, enriching force. He practically becomes part of your family, too.

“Marley and Me” is currently in theaters.