Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fifteen Minutes of Avatar, Et Cetera

My friend John and I went to the invitational preview screening of select scenes from James Cameron’s Avatar, last Monday at the new SM North Imax. The short sneak preview showed parts from the first half of the much-anticipated movie, which will be in cinemas on December 18. That’s a week before the MMFF, but according to 20th Century Fox publicist Mae Vecina, the “Avatar” screening will resume in regular and 3D cinemas in January, right after the film fest. But people can still catch Avatar at the two Imax theaters, which will be unaffected during the Christmas season.

It looks pretty good; the digital rendering is impressive and the action scenes included in the screening and trailer are pretty intense. It’s got a pretty intriguing concept, as well: a handicapped soldier’s mind is “transplanted” into a strong, alien body, and he’s fighting alongside similar beings in a stunning but hostile environment.

The creature designs look Star Wars-esque; I especially like the imaginative rhino/peacock-inspired beastie and the dragon-like steeds. Well, I do hope that Avatar’s got a great, memorable story, aside from fantastic visuals. We’ll find out in less than four months. Thanks for Avatar Day, Mae and Fox.

As for the et cetera part of this post: I just finished illustrating a friend’s 12-page horror story. More on that when the project’s announced in a few weeks. Also, I enjoyed the latest Mighty Avengers ish, except for the art (what’s with the stiff, undershaped figures?). And, here’s a pic of the Winchester bros that I found in Aww. Heh.

‘TMZ’: Facets and foibles of the famous

(Published Aug.24, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


It’s hard to miss the daily entertainment discussions and paparazzi punditry of “TMZ,” as it’s already on a number of cable channels (ETC, Jack TV, HBO Asia, etc.). The TV version of the popular website is chockfull of brief discussions--sometimes smart, other times silly--centering on Hollywood’s a-listers, has-beens and also-rans, and even non-celebrities (the occasional oddball caught on camera).

“TMZ” (“Thirty Mile Zone,” originally a term referring to the filming area monitored by Hollywood studios in the ‘60s) is mostly irreverent. While typical entertainment news programs skip commentaries and snappy side comments, “TMZ” thrives on such opinions, made by a bunch of people in their 20s and 30s, in what looks like a small office area. Their host and ringmaster is Harvey Levin, who often has informed things to say about matters being discussed. Levin always holds a marker (for listing down celebrities’ names and whatnot), and a tumbler (which contains “tears of celebrities,” according to one of his staffers).

The group’s exchanges usually cover the latest showbiz news and mundane celeb sightings at various venues. One of the things that connect with viewers is its constant focus on the unglamorous side of entertainment personalities. Unguarded moments of stars, behind-the-scenes levity, and unscripted encounters make for interesting viewing, offering angles that may not be featured on regular entertainment news reports. The love-hate relationship between certain stars and the paparazzi (there are intrusive, clever, and polite ones) is an occasional point of discourse as well.

Pictures and footage of the foibles or follies of the popular are also talked about; for instance, there are collective yelps when cameras captured unflattering images of a young star’s unclean ears, and a singer’s imperfectly shaved armpit. Other times, there are joke-y short videos or jingles devoted to incriminating photographic evidence. Nothing is sacred.

But it’s not always about exposed imperfections. Levin and his kibitzers sometimes heap praises on celebrities’ looks, attitudes or works. The casual, comfortable conversations between Levin and his workstation commentators are a reflection of how non-celebrities look at that “other” world. Truth can be really stranger than fiction in this age of instantly beamed videos and snapshots, and everyone’s got an opinion.

“TMZ” airs on Jack TV (Tuesdays to Saturday, 7: 30 p.m.), ETC (Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00 p.m.), CS9 (Monday, 6 p.m. and Tuesday 11 a.m.) and HBO Asia (Tuesday to Saturday, various times).

Road trips across ‘Supernatural’ America

(Published Aug. 25, PDI-Entertainment)

‘Supernatural’: Snappy banter and drama

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Two brothers, Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki), hunt down mystical menaces across the United States in the successful horror-action series “Supernatural.” They travel in a 1967 Chevy Impala, their covert missions bringing them to the country’s most disruptive haunted spots.

Trained since childhood to deal with spectral antagonists and mythical beings, Dean and Sam protect or rescue involved civilians, and sometimes uncover truths about their deceased parents along the way.

Like the better “X-Files” episodes, the show has self-contained stories. These are the more straightforward ones, where the protagonists mainly work on a case and confront the monster of the week. And like other good fantasy shows, “Supernatural” has season-long arcs that culminate in big turning points, often nail-biting cliffhangers.

The friction and oft-unspoken support between the siblings allow for snappy banter and drama, constantly revealing contrasting personalities. While Dean has a more gung-ho approach to things, Sam is more analytical and is a patient researcher.

But both have learned the art of subterfuge; when investigating, they disguise themselves as FBI agents (or priests, etc.) with clever aliases, sometimes borrowing names from rock musicians. The Winchester brothers’ dedication to the family enterprise rarely falters, although it’s still interesting whenever one of them feels uncertain about the job.

The series, however, has only a few portrayals of strong women characters. There aren’t regular female cast members, but there are recurring guests. The heroic women allies or love interests end up as hostages, or get maimed, if not killed.

But it’s not without formidable females who appear in multiple episodes. There’s the arch-villain Lilith (whose human avatars are little girls), Bela (a thief of magical artifacts), and Ruby (a demoness with a secret agenda). By the fourth season, a powerful, heroic female character--one that doesn’t end up a victim--is introduced, somewhat breaking the pattern.

A viewing of previous “Supernatural” seasons is necessary to appreciate the bigger tapestry, but the modular stories are mostly comprehensible and entertaining enough. It doesn’t go the “Buffy” route with its monster menagerie; “Supernatural” utilizes the use of subdued prosthetics and special effects, making its threats creepier and more enigmatic. Even when the show sticks to its weekly formula of horror-hunting, the main characters are gradually developed, and their repartee and bouts with doubt are as absorbing as their unpredictable quests.

“Supernatural” airs Saturdays, 8 p.m. on Studio 23, and Fridays, 9 p.m. on AXN Beyond.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Buttered Up Pages

Three things:

1. Butterball’s back! He’ll be appearing again in Avengers: The Initiative # 28. He was shown briefly in the most recent issue, as part of the new overt Shadow Initiative. I hope it’s a good story; he had a memorable first appearance and sendoff in A:TI # 13.

2. Watched Up again, this time at the new Greenbelt 3 3D Cinema. Cool beans. It’s a good movie, and it’s about time the Ayala Malls had a 3D theater in Makati. Let’s hope that they have one planned for Glorietta, too.

3. I drew the first few pages of a story for a horror anthology. I can’t say much about it yet, except that a friend wrote it. And it was a challenge to draw a page with implied horrific acts. It made me uncomfortable, which probably means I’m still normal. But I was focused enough to convey that feeling of uneasiness onto the page. I wanted to play Madonna’s sunshine-y “Dear Jessie” after to wipe away the depressing imagery and mindset, but I was already sleepy. Still, I was able to clear my head before zonking out.

Avengers Resistance: Not Futile

Avengers: The Initiative is one of my favorite comic books, thanks to former writer Dan Slott and current writer Christos Gage. The new Avengers Resistance team is composed of former New Warriors, Avengers, and Initiative instructors, who banded together to oppose Norman Osborn and his minions. I drew this last week.

Not-so-static ‘Attic’

“Aliens in the Attic” is clearly made for kids and fans of “High School Musical’s” Ashley Tisdale, and its trailer tells moviegoers what to expect, so discerning adults might want to take cover. Still, if grownups have no choice but to accompany their kids, or find themselves watching it for whatever reason, they’ll get a decent chuckle or two out of the mostly tween-aimed experience.

It’s about a high school mathlete, Tom (Carter Jenkins), who forsakes his nerdy ways to be cool, not knowing that his smarts can help avert an impending alien invasion. Tom and his siblings and cousins become unlikely, underage soldiers when a small strike team of extraterrestrials attacks their summer house.

It’s exaggeratedly cartoony; most of the adults are pretty gullible and people unrealistically say “heck” instead of “hell.” It speaks to the tech-savvy, videogame-playing kid; among the highlights is the mind-controlled death match between the dumb jock (Robert Hoffman) and Tom’s grandma (Doris Roberts). The whole thing’s pretty pointless and silly, but despite the repetitive childish humor, it doesn’t get gratingly annoying. It’s not great, but it kills time just fine. Still, your kid will probably love it to bits.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Helluva ‘Hangover’

It’s lewd, crude, and damn hilarious. “The Hangover” has juvenile humor working for it, and is reminiscent of the goofy, adult-oriented Apatow and Farrelly comedies.

The most messed-up bachelor party in Vegas was a night to remember, but the revelers (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis) don’t remember a blessed thing about it. They wake up and discover the groom-to-be (Justin Bartha) missing, a tiger in the bathroom, and a seemingly abandoned baby. This once, child endangerment and the effects of roofie consumption are funny, and the characters, while not exactly archetypal (there’s the pushover, the gifted weirdo, the cool family man), fulfill their comedic purpose. When pieced together, the formed puzzle is actually simpler than one might expect, but it still has more than its share of laugh-out-loud inanities.

“The Hangover” is currently in Metro Manila cinemas.

Conventional Geekdom

Went to Metro Comic Con at the Megatrade Hall last Saturday. Bought a bunch of bargain bin comics, including some Giffen-era Justice Leagues, a Fallen Angels issue, and Secret Six # 3 (2006). Ran into a bunch of fellow comic book and toy geeks. It’s not as crowded as I expected, but there were still hordes of people. Good thing the place is spacious enough. Congrats to organizer Ernest Hernandez and company for a successful event.

‘How I Met Your Mother’: Flashback romances

(Published Aug. 10, PDI-Entertainment. This is a tweaked and expanded version of an entry that I wrote and posted here some months back.)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


“How I Met Your Mother” isn’t “Friends,” but the dynamic is a little similar: a number of disparate pals get into romantic or career milestones (or mishaps), and themes of the week often get explored well in each episode. It’s not a retooled “Friends” for a younger generation, but a large part of it is about getting by with a little help from one’s friends.

Unlike characters from the long-gone sitcom, however, the gang in “How I Met…” is bored with coffee places. Characters like romantic Ted (Josh Radnor), lothario Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), longtime lovers Lily and Marshall (Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel), and practical Robin (Cobie Smulders) regularly hang out in a bar.

Ted, Barney and Robin explore the dating scene, while Lily and Marshall experience the ups and downs of staying together.

Plenty of opportunities are creatively tapped, expounding on the five endearing characters. Flashbacks help define and redefine them; the show’s title refers to future Ted’s long, unending recollection of events leading to his momentous meeting with the mother of his kids. This older Ted’s narration (voiced by Bob Saget) is a device that helps hold together storytelling jumps, and often shares wisdom as the folly-filled stories unfold. And these tales are often touching, insightful, and yes, funny.

The writing continues to improve, and the main characters are people you’ll understand well and root for. Created by Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, “How I Met Your Mother” inventively expounds on chosen topics. Memorably discussed are matters such as the “Bro Code” (Barney’s made-up rules for guy friends, prohibiting one from dating a friend’s ex), and “revertigo” (reversion to old behavior when around certain friends).

Guest stars are used wisely; there have been appearances by Britney Spears (as a ditzy secretary), James Van Der Beek (as a struggling musician), Enrique Iglesias (as a hippie masseur), Mandy Moore (as a tattooed bad girl), and Will Forte (as a Barney wannabe).

As for the titular “Mother” character, she has yet to make a real appearance; the shows’ creators are probably saving the big reveal for its final season. In the meantime, Ted and company’s connected tales are about the pursuit of happiness and contentment, and the lessons learned along the way.

“How I Met Your Mother” airs on Star World every Monday at 7 p.m. Season three recently concluded on ETC.

Kathy and Levi?!

Now that’s an odd “couple.”

Kathy Griffin and Levi Johnston appeared together at the recent Teen Choice Awards. But it was one of those gimmick dates; Kathy’s known to do these things. She “dated” Britney Spears’ paparazzo ex once for the attention of the paparazzi, and the amusing arrangement was detailed in her Life on the D-List show.

Levi, who fathered a child with Sarah Palin’s daughter, told E!: “I just, you know, look at her, shut up and do what I’m told.”

Kathy interviewed him after on Larry King Live. One part of the conversation went:

Kathy: Could you take your clothes off for a quick…

Levi: Yeah.

Kathy: I kinda…

Levi: You might wanna wait till the cameras are off.

Kathy: And then what? My pants are falling off just thinking about it, Levi.

LOL! That Kathy…

(pic from

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Roguish Charm

Go, Rogue! Kick Ares’ arse!

It’s cool that Mike Carey keeps focusing on Rogue in the X-Men Legacy title. He gets the character, and is developing her and Professor X impressively. She’s finally in control of her powers, which is great because the agonizing Rogue has been done to death already. Hopefully, she can have strength and flight again; maybe she can now copy permanently without damaging the other person.

Yeow, ‘Joe’

Okay, some spoilers ahead.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” has characters from the cartoon, action figure lines and comic books, but while some ideas are retained, most of the heroes and villains don’t resemble their prior counterparts. It’s a very formulaic summer action flick; it tries to be big and epic, but the result is Star Wars Lite. The video game-y underwater battles, the deciding ninja duel, and the romance angles feel forced and lack oomph. The shared flashback origin of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow just grates. One sequence, however--the Cobra agents and Joes tearing through the streets of Paris--stands out. The collective eye candy distracts just fine, and the costume designs look okay. But important story points are just squandered or discarded. For instance: mere moments after Cobra Commander and Destro’s belated but momentous debut as freakish conquerors, they’re caught by the Joes and they don’t even put up a fight. How silly and sad.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Steeds and Vessels

Here are some vehicles and spacecraft from Scarab Impetus. Drawings from 1999-2002. The rest can be viewed at my art blog.


Maluthean Jumpcraft


Kindergarten Mugshot

I was a shy-looking tyke. Yeah, I was well-behaved. Teachers liked me. Heh.

Alamat Cards

Back in 1997, I drew a bunch of Alamat characters on vellum sheets twice the size of trading cards. I had them shrunk at a photocopying place, glued those clear copies onto existing cards or blank cardboards, and put them in three-ring plastic sleeves. They were never meant to be published; I just wanted to draw them. I gave another set to Budjette Tan, I think. I collected fantasy trading cards back then and had fun doing this.

Alamat characters are TM and © their respective creators. For the rest of the set, check out my art blog. Will post them (and the previously promised Batman-DD pages) eventually. Thanks for scanning, Benedict.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Powered ‘Up’ and flying high

Carl Fredricksen is a grumpy old man, a widower in his 70s who dislikes how his neighborhood is changing. The former balloon-maker eventually gets evicted from his decades-old house, but before he can be brought to a retirement home, he executes an ingenious escape plan. Using hundreds of balloons tethered to his house, Carl launches his home into the sky and maneuvers it to South America, his longtime dream destination. An accidental stowaway, an enthusiastic kid named Russell, joins him in his journey, and both discover the wonders and perils of a mysterious land.

Yes, in that reality, balloons can carry a multi-ton house, one of a few fantastical, science-defying ideas that we just accept unhesitatingly. “Up” is colorful and lively, a heartwarming tale about missed opportunities, lasting friendships, and realized dreams. As with other great animated features’ stories, the film explores simple but easily identifiable concepts like freedom or the pursuit of happiness. Those are complemented by a solid script, making us root for and relate to the movie’s unlikely adventurers.

In just a few minutes, Carl Fredricksen’s life with his wife is told using just visuals and music, expressively highlighting their times of joy and loss. Especially saddening are brief but powerful scenes, including one set in a clinic that implies the couple’s inability to have children. It also depicts Carl as a tender, reassuring presence, even when his wife became seriously ill years later.

Unlike that backgrounder, eight-year-old Russell’s story is told in his own words, but it briefly and succinctly sums up his situation: he’s neglected at home, which is why he spends most of his time exploring the outside world.

The adventure is not without menaces; the villainy of a tragic figure threatens to cut short Carl and Russell’s unusual journey. And it’s one shared trip that viewers won’t soon forget. Moving and enchanting, “Up” is a high-flying treat for the young and the young at heart, whether you’re eight, 78, or thereabouts.

“Up” will be in Metro Manila cinemas starting August 19. Also, catch the animated short “Partly Cloudy,” preceding every screening.

‘Flight of the Conchords’ soars anew

(Published July 31, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


In season two of the hilarious “Flight of the Conchords,” struggling musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement experience tougher career mishaps and other inanities. The talented but unsuccessful folk duo from New Zealand is neglected by their manager, Murray (Rhys Darby), who has been focused on his other talents, the hit-making band Crazy Dogggz. But early into this new season, the expected reversion to the status quo happens, and the old silly dynamic is revived.

That hasn’t grown old, and the familiar oddball humor is replicated further. The Conchords are still an unappreciated band trying to make it big in New York. They’re creative, but they’re sometimes forced to play at the oddest venues, including libraries and elevators. Managed by the inefficient Murray, Bret and Jemaine mostly get into nonsensical situations, which escalate into gut-busting misadventures. They break into musical musings, the interspersed videos crucial to every episode’s theme.

The songs are still catchy--not as musically or lyrically as previous ones, but they’re memorable. Most of the videos look better, or have better visual effects. The Conchords get to perform different musical styles again, and even their sole fan/stalker Mel (Kristen Schaal) gets to sing about her obsessions in her own number.

Bret and Jemaine are awkward and naive, but their songs get reflective from time to time. Like in its initial season, the musicians still discuss trivial matters, and find themselves in situations that they have to endure.

In a new episode of the show, the friends become so poor that they have to resort to peddling drinking straws (and later, themselves). In another episode, Bret opines in a number that Eminem and other famous rappers are “not very good,” and forms his own gang. In another arc, Jemaine and Murray run into jerks who ridicule New Zealanders.

While it’s not as witty or focused as before, “Flight of the Conchords” still manages to elicit hearty laughs. The fusion of music and comedy is distinctly weird and whimsical, and it’s still easy to get into that unique brand of hilarity.

New episodes of “Flight of the Conchords” will air on HBO starting August 3, at 11 p.m.

‘Orphan’: Little Miss Moonshine

“Orphan,” starring Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as doting parents who lost a child and unwittingly adopts a sinister one, occasionally frustrates with its horror clichés and structure. But director Jaume Collet-Serra understands them and somewhat circumvents the predictable sequences by misleading with the score and visuals, aptly eliciting nervous giggles in the process. “Orphan” also perplexes favorably when building up horrific situations. The titular character is Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), whose innocent, adorable façade belies her calculating nature. There’s a big twist, a revelation that works and makes sense of hints dropped throughout the story. It’s sick and twisted, ultimately rewarding those viewers who endured the charade and grueling scenes of cuckoo kid mayhem.