Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunny ‘Valentine’

Cramming multiple stock romance plots into one film, “Valentine’s Day” is a cute and cheesy date movie, its generic characters effortlessly played by an attractive, all-star cast. Several couples celebrate (and mock) the occasion, their intertwined stories ranging from the conventional (Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba’s engaged lovers) to the misleading (the Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper scenes). There’s even an inconsequential but hip pairing (Taylors Lautner and Swift) and a brief appearance by the funny Kristen Schaal (stalker Mel from “Flight of the Conchords”). The good-looking assortment and the tangled mini-yarns about love and its permutations make a pleasant diversion, overall.

‘Crazy Heart’: Sober country

“Crazy Heart” is affecting, thanks mostly to Jeff Bridges’ inspired portrayal of a drunkard country singer, Bad Blake. A struggling, aging performer, Bad is uncertain of the future of his career, which brings him to small town bowling alleys, among other cramped venues. But one gig leads to a momentous meeting with a journalist, single mother Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). “Crazy Heart” is simple and quite the typical addiction drama movie, but it doesn’t get as dark as, say, the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” The turns by the small and talented cast, including Colin Farrell as the protégé turned country star, help make it a sturdy, sincere endeavor.

“Crazy Heart” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening on March 3.

The Young Once

While I was drawing the other day, my nephew approached me and asked for paper. Whenever he sees me drawing he asks something about art. This time, he asked, “When did you start drawing?”

I replied, “I began drawing when I was young.”

He innocently asked, “When you had a lot of hair?”

I laughed out loud and said, “Yes.”

Coarse ‘Cop’ caper

Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan co-star as cop buddies in the Kevin Smith-directed action-comedy flick “Cop Out.” It’s strictly a hit-and-miss affair; while there are belly-busting, insane bits, there are lulls and beaten jokes that don’t quite make it to the punchline. Willis’ law enforcer isn’t the resourceful gunslinger from his old actioners, and Morgan plays a less crazy but somewhat louder version of his “30 Rock” character. The ridiculed cops, suspended after a failed mission, soon find themselves tracking down a memorabilia thief, and eventually, a whole mess of bad guys. It’s not always a smooth ride, and the parkour expert/thief (Seann William Scott), gets really irritating with his juvenile mimicking. It’s pretty run of the mill, quite violent, and ultimately, patience-testing.

“Cop Out” opens March 3 in Metro Manila.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It Will Kick Butt

Well, I sincerely hope that it will. I enjoyed, and sometimes was repulsed by Mark Millar’s uber-gritty comic book Kick-Ass. I do hope that it translates onto the big screen well. Nice trailers so far, but I’m not too excited about Nic Cage playing Big Daddy. Still, I hope he’s good in it. Oh, and the guy who played McLovin in Superbad, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, is playing newbie costumed adventurer Red Mist, so that looks promising.

Still solid, side-splitting ‘30 Rock’

(Published Feb. 21, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Three seasons and several awards later, “30 Rock” is still a smart and diverting sitcom that pinpoints and revels in the absurdities of show business. Created by former “Saturday Night Live” writer and cast member Tina Fey, the series amusingly pries into the behind-the-scenes goings-on at an “SNL”-esque variety show, staged at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York.

It follows the workplace misadventures of Liz Lemon (Fey), the head writer occasionally dealing with the actors’ quirks, tantrums, and personal problems. Liz also leads a talented but immature writing staff and is far from perfect herself, but her network executive boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) respects her problem-solving capabilities. Liz is one of Jack’s few true friends, a confidant whenever upheavals in the company and his love life take place.

Every half-hour episode manages to incorporate name-dropping into effective punch lines. The fictional performers played by Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski also reflect many celebrities’ magnified self-worth; the characters’ need for validation translates into many hilarious situations. Just as funny are Fey’s self-deprecating storylines, her non-traditional mindset contrasting cleverly with Jack’s methodical behavior.

The talented cast is regularly joined by a who’s who of guests. Carrie Fisher, Oprah Winfrey, David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Jennifer Aniston, and Salma Hayek separately appeared in memorable episodes. Music artists Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Clay Aiken, and Cyndi Lauper, among others, appeared together for a “We are the World”-ish song about kidney donation in one episode. Fey’s former SNL co-stars, like Jason Sudeikis and Chris Parnell also appear from time to time. Much missed is Rachel Dratch, who was in several episodes of season one as different characters (including a cat wrangler and Barbara Walters).

While the short-lived but brilliant drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” audaciously tackled religious and political issues surrounding a sketch comedy show, “30 Rock” lightly but confidently pokes fun at some characters’ political and religious allegiances (the “Church of Practicology,” for instance).

Also spoofing the eccentricities and inanities of celebrities and creative types consistently well, “30 Rock” delights in the side-splitting pratfalls and peculiarities that seem to accompany creativity in that industry.

“30 Rock” season 4 airs on Jack TV every Friday at 8:30 p.m.


Been a busy couple of weeks. But I’m glad that I’m getting work. Some highlights of the past few days:

1. Free stuff. I won a nice-looking umbrella in a raffle held at a pest control product launch. Also, my old friend Roche gave me belated Christmas gifts, two shirts and a few packs of Ready Brew Starbucks Coffee. And Benedict gave me two Marvel Legends action figures, Nova and Black Bolt. My thanks.

2. Awesome covers. There are lovely songs I’m discovering via YouTube. I love Natalie Merchant’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want.” Same with Maria Mena’s rendition of Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love.” I also enjoy listening to versions by unsigned but talented musicians, like Rhymeswiththetimes, who did an impressive five-song acoustic mashup of “I’m Yours,” “Love Story,” “Collide,” “Superman,” and “Here Without You.” Another singer, Shan Malaika (“shanmalaika1”), also has a touching, soulful cover of “Use Somebody.”

3. Comic books. Geeked out on the following:

Avengers Initiative 32- Love the Diamondback and Taskmaster perspectives on the Siege, and how their thoughts converged by the end of the issue.

Doomwar 1- T’Challa and Storm have been deposed as rulers of Wakanda. Surprisingly good stuff.

Uncanny X-Men 521- Oh my god, what a cliffhanger! Wow. Please end well.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera 6- Seriously, this made me tear up a little, specifically the part where Maggie the mutant was telling Phil Sheldon her story. I remember feeling like an outsider when I was about that age. And they were watching televised turning points of the X-Men and X-Factor during their separate “Fall of the Mutants” adventures. I was there, and those were my heroes. And that part of the issue became very real for me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greek ‘Lightning’

Moderately action-packed and mostly made for the tween-teen crowd, “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” centers on teenage demigod Percy (Logan Lerman), a seemingly dyslexic lad accused of stealing the fabled lightning bolt of Zeus (Sean Bean). Like Harry Potter, Percy’s bound for greatness; the son of Poseidon (“Rome’s” Kevin McKidd) soon discovers powers that might prove useful in clearing his name and protecting his human mother (the Greek gods mated with Americans years ago, resulting in too-cool-for school offspring, many of whom train at a secret hero camp). Unlike the “Harry Potter” films, though, “Percy Jackson” is a quicker and much simpler journey; it doesn’t evoke timelessness, but it wields its hipness decently. The charismatic cast, “Clash of the Titans”-ish battles, naughty humor (specifically the scenes with Rosario Dawson’s Persephone), and special effects-aided scenarios mesh favorably.

World Weary

I’m not a fan of the new version of “We are the World”--I don’t get Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, and the rap part was as disorienting as that in the 20th anniversary version of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”--but I hope that it inspires people enough to help out those who are still suffering in Haiti.

I like the Pink and Jennifer Hudson parts.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

All Avengers

The entire Avengers roster, my 12 drawings shrunk and composited into one image. Click on the image for a huge group shot.

United Colors of ‘Invictus’

Clint Eastwood tackles race relations once again in “Invictus,” an inspiring recollection of Nelson Mandela’s support of South Africa’s mostly white rugby team, which some considered a remnant of an undesirable era. Morgan Freeman stars as the celebrated prisoner turned unifying leader, while Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, captain of the struggling Springboks. For a film that talks about racial tension, however, it’s not always felt; Mandela’s strained bond with his rarely seen daughter and her memory of racism offer more emotional tug than most of the depictions of distrust here. Parts with rugby matches lack some necessary grittiness, as well. But “Invictus,” despite being trauma-free, still rewardingly chronicles a transformation into colorblindness, made notable by inspired portrayals and uplifting imagery.

‘Storming’ Norman

"Storming Asgard: Heroes and Villains” is a worthwhile 28-page event Handbook, an organized dossier prepared by Norman Osborn’s right-hand woman Victoria Hand. This is especially useful to those who haven’t been paying attention to the Dark Reign-connected titles, but are getting the “Siege” mini. Containing relevant character profiles, the one-shot has revealing threat analyses and assessments (for example, Hand’s comment on Ben Urich: “I would drive to Broxton for the chance to put a bullet in him myself.”). “Storming Asgard” summarizes some key points during the yearlong Reign of Norman Osborn. It’s more streamlined than the regular companion sourcebook, but it has info on the bigger picture that may not even be mentioned in the main miniseries.

‘In Love We Trust’: Bittersweet, universal

(Published Feb. 5, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


A mature, universal drama about sacrifice and post-marital obligations, “In Love We Trust” (a.k.a. “Zuo You”) is among four films screening at the ongoing Spring Film Festival at the Shangri-La Mall Cineplex until Feb.9.

The film by Wang Xiaoshuai delicately tackles the dilemmas of a mother, real estate agent Mei Zhu (Wiewie Liu), who thinks of possible ways to save her ailing child’s life. Her daughter Hehe (Chuqian Zhang) is stricken with leukemia, so Mei Zhu asks the girl’s biological father, ex-husband Xiao Lu (Jiayi Zhang), to help out.

The situation is likewise difficult for the desperate mother’s current husband, Xie Huaicai (Taishen Cheng), who unconditionally treats her daughter as his own. To make things more complicated, the biological parents are rejected as bone marrow transplant donors. Mei Zhu suggests to her ex that having a new sibling may ultimately prove helpful to Hehe. That idea soon becomes a plan that she single-mindedly pursues.

“In Love We Trust” presents emotional scenarios quite deftly. The quandaries of the characters are challenging, but not unfathomable; the drama is largely dependent on its mostly realistic representation of disrupted marital relationships. Intriguingly, the boundaries of marriage dissolve, or are disregarded, to save a life. It’s not hard to process, but not so for those directly involved.

The ex-husband’s second wife Dong Fan (Nan Yu) is an integral part of the fragile situation, a side that’s also satisfyingly defined. She’s both an outsider and a pivotal figure, not just a justifiably jealous spouse.

Moving and consistently moody, “In Love We Trust” doesn’t become hysterically melodramatic. However, some scenes could have been shortened, and some foreshadowing devices are just too obvious (one just waits for Mei Zhu’s clumsiness with her mobile phone to figure into later events).

Interestingly, the story is one that can work in a different setting. Still, “In Love We Trust” has cleanly composed imagery with distinct elements from Chinese culture. It’s easy to appreciate this contemporary and bittersweet spouse drama, a tale that keenly questions the parameters of such relationships.

For screening schedules, contact Shang Cineplex (633-2227), or Ateneo Leong Center (426-6001 local 5208-5209).

Random Life Forms

Characters I created and drew in 2002:

The Gatekeeper

King Kraken

Scarab Drone

Mateo the Misfit

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

‘True Blood’ quenches thirst for vampires

(Published Feb. 1, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


“True blood,” inspired by a series of books by Charlaine Harris, imaginatively presents an uneasy coexistence between humans and legendary creatures.

Vampires all over the world reveal themselves after a synthetic replacement for blood has been introduced, which meant that they need not feed on humans any longer. This change radically affects social, religious, and political mores all over the globe, and that huge transformation is reflected in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps.

Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress, openly starts a romantic relationship with vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). This attracts the attention of a serial killer, who targets humans with ties to vampires. Apart from the blood-drinkers, the town secretly has its share of other fantastical creatures, including shape-shifters.

Season 1 of “True Blood” is properly mysterious, expounding only on the core relationships and partially hinting at the bigger, more complex connections surrounding them. Because the vampires are a new group establishing itself, they’re often met with prejudice and suspicion. Some humans think they’re all predatory monsters; for others they’re just cattle-like providers of addictive (and profitable) vampire blood.

Season 2 is still edgy and sexy, but has more camp situations. Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is used for more contrived comic moments. Intrepid Sookie, meanwhile, becomes more of a damsel in distress. Her best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) becomes a villainess’ puppet, while their boss Sam (Sam Trammell) is targeted as part of a connected supernatural scheme. The second season still has stirring drama; vampire sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) searches for his missing maker, the messiah-like Godric (Allan Hyde), and starts wooing Sookie in his own bizarre way.

In “True Blood,” the mythical monsters can be human and the humans can be unthinking beasts. It’s escapist, but it also dissects the complexities of the human psyche quite often.

Season 2 of “True Blood” airs daily on HBO Signature.

‘Wild’ imagination

Maurice Sendak’s adored book “Where the Wild Things Are” gets a dreamy and poignant cinematic translation by Spike Jonze and company, but it’s a tale that adults will appreciate more than kids. Progressing in a pace that might challenge the younger viewer, “Where the Wild Things Are” nevertheless transmits its heartfelt thoughts about generational divide and childhood apprehensions clearly. It’s easy to identify with the occasionally bratty but wildly imaginative Max (Max Records), who gets a better understanding of limitations in the realities he lives in and visits. The distinctly divided worlds of distressed grownups and emotive monsters blur into a dramatic contemplation of growth and filial bonds in this special undertaking.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening on Feb. 3.

The Other Avatar Movie

Nice-looking poster of live-action Aang and Zuko. I hope the movie doesn’t suck. Oh, it’s just called “The Last Airbender” now.

Familiar yet unconventional ‘Princess’

Some spoilers ahead.

The animated “The Princess and the Frog” recreates the magic formula of classic romance-adventure Disney cartoons while harnessing a contemporary vibe. Tiana is independent and determined, a young black waitress who dreams of running her own New Orleans restaurant. Things aren’t easy, and they’re about to get unbelievably difficult. One fateful day, she tries to turn a pleading frog back to human--a foreign prince, actually--by kissing it, but becomes a frog herself.

The journey is colorful and bouncy with music, but while the songs aren’t as memorable as the well-crafted ones from the hit Disney movie soundtracks of years past, there are some good lyric-driven tunes and playful numbers. And there are quirky, unique characters that join the frog couple’s quest, like the trumpet-playing alligator Louis and the romantic firefly Ray, who both add comedic and dramatic moments to the adventure. The ragtag band of swamp critters faces the villainy of the Shadow Man, a creepy, Jafar-like adversary.

One odd thing about it, though: Tiana is like the classic princesses Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, in the sense that she’s ultimately rescued by the dashing prince. Sure, she’s her own woman and all, capable of working for her own future and hardly a defenseless damsel, but she could’ve gotten a better ending.

But it’s still entertaining and empowering, and a nice return to a less visually “busy” animated style.

“The Princess and the Frog” opens February 3 in Metro Manila.