Sunday, April 25, 2010

Glorious 'Glee'

(Published April 26, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

IN the first 13 episodes of fan-favorite comedy-musical series "Glee," the ups and downs of teen life translate into melodic mash-ups and energetic covers of recent and classic pop-rock favorites, as sung by the unpopular but gifted glee club New Directions.

The weekly series created by Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck") continues to click with music-loving youngsters and grownups alike, recently winning a Golden Globe for Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy), and a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.

New Directions' beloved underdogs aren't an ordinary bunch. While some of its members may not belong to the with-it cliques--and some of the once-popular have become outcasts by osmosis--the group is undeniably talented, and is continuously motivated by the indefatigable teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison).

Menaced regularly by cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the young singers have survived her sneaky acts of sabotage, and even won the sectionals.

But the victory is short-lived. In the eagerly anticipated new episode, new love interests and rivalries are introduced, while the members of New Directions face the recharged villainy of Sue. Diva-in-training Rachel (Lea Michele) meets a similarly ambitious singer, Jesse (Jonathan Groff), from a rival group. Meanwhile, the other kids are still disrespected by the mean girls and bullies, but continue to prove themselves in show-stopping song-and-dance numbers.

While the Will-Sue feud has escalated and gotten quite tedious, the young misfits' all-too-familiar drama--from self-worth issues to romantic entanglements--continues to inspire pop, rock and R&B renditions that audibly flavor every episode. From timeless tunes by The Doors, Cyndi Lauper, John Lennon and Madonna, to hits by Beyoncé, Avril Lavigne and Rihanna, the song selection provides a rich, evolving soundtrack that transcends generations. An episode devoted to all-original music is reportedly in the works.

In this era of instant gratification and changing perceptions on stardom, "Glee" reiterates the importance of hard work, creativity and teamwork. The show is already a unique platform for arts awareness; hopefully, upcoming storylines will be approached more inventively. The production numbers continue to improve, and it's only a matter of time before the show truly pushes the envelope.

"Glee" airs Wednesdays, 4 p.m. (Jack TV and ETC), 8 p.m. (Jack TV), and 10 p.m. (ETC).

Byrne Bright

This John Byrne drawing from 1983 was for a special Bullpen Bulletin, a hype-and-plug page that used to appear monthly in all Marvel comics. I first saw this when I was a kid, and I first "met" Alpha Flight in this illustration. Got this old image from Fred Hembeck's site, by the way.

Now that I'm a grownup, I'm mostly updated on the goings-on in the Marvel Universe. This here's an exercise; I'll list down what I know of those characters that he drew, about 27 years (our time) later:

Spider-Man: Made a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May, single again.
Silver Surfer: A herald of Galactus again.
Monica Rambeau: Ex-Next Waver, current Marvel Diva, sassier than ever.
Daredevil: Leader of The Hand.
Man-Thing: "Killed" by Ares, will be a Thunderbolt soon.
Dr. Strange: No longer Sorcerer Supreme.
Ghost Rider: Johnny Blaze again (I think).
Sasquatch: Helped form a short-lived Omega Flight team.
Guardian: Was killed off-panel.
Shaman: Was also killed off-panel.
Wasp: Dead, her body sent to another dimension.
Black Widow: Impersonated the villainous Black Widow.
Hawkeye: Ninja'd up, will be Hawkeye again soon.
Angel: Transforms to the more efficient Archangel from time to time.
Iceman: Still an X-Man, has matured somewhat.
Thing: Almost got married to a teacher but called off the wedding.
Mr. Fantastic: Now has uber-genius daughter Valeria to nerd-speak with.
Invisible Woman: Sometimes hangs out with the Lady Liberators.
Human Torch: Joined a band and starred in a reality show.
Hercules: Dead for now, was bisexual.
Wonder Man: Joined the Lethal Legion during Dark Reign.
Hulk: Banner can't change to Hulk, fights using smarts and tech.
Beast: Quit the X-Men, will be a Secret Avenger.
Storm: Wife of T'Challa, Queen of Wakanda.
Kitty Pryde: Saved the Earth single-handedly, later saved by Magneto.
Cyclops: Leader of remaining mutants, decisive, loves Emma Frost.
Nightcrawler: Still an active X-Man.
Wolverine: Member of Avengers, X-Men, X-Force.
Banshee: Temporarily resurrected during the Necrosha event.
Thor: Former lord of Asgard, will be an Avenger again.
Scarlet Witch: Hiding in Europe after magicking away mutants.
Vision: Previous "personality" inactive, body taken over by successor.
Captain America: Alive again, will be adopting a new identity.
Iron Man: Deposed SHIELD director, will be rejoining Avengers.
She-Hulk: Was a lawyer, then a bounty hunter, met two new She-Hulks.
Cage: Husband, father, New Avenger, new mentor to Thunderbolts.
Iron Fist: Occasional Avenger, sometimes wears better footwear.
Northstar: Taught at Xavier's, active X-Man, slept with Hercules.
Snowbird: Joined the God Squad, slept with Hercules.
Marrina: Monster form unleashed by Norman Osborn.
Puck: Killed off-panel.
Aurora: Has several personalities, refused to join Osborn's X-Men.
John Byrne: Should do a Marvel book again, maybe revive Alpha Flight, write She-Hulk, or work on an FF mini.

Avenging in Secret

Here's the Secret Avengers lineup, unveiled at last: Beast, Valkyrie, Nova, Moon Knight, Black Widow, Steve Rogers and Irredeemable Ant-Man. Sharon Carter is also working with the team, according to writer Ed Brubaker.

I'm glad that this group has three new members, or members that have not been included in previous incarnations of the A-team. Also, I'm excited about Christos Gage's Avengers Academy, which will star six student characters and five teachers (among them Speedball!). Oh, and there's the new bi-monthly Young Avengers book, too. Finally!

Surviving the 'Greek' pantheon

(Published April 19, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Brotherhood, brashness and beer are crucial components to the survival of some college students in the fresh comedy-drama “Greek,” created by writer-producer Patrick Sean Smith.

Brainy freshman Rusty (Jacob Zachar) tries to fit in by joining a fraternity, hoping for admission into the “cool” crowd. His older sister Casey (Spencer Grammer) is a popular sorority member, a sweet girl torn between her directionless but passionate ex, Cappie (Scott Michael Foster), and her ambitious but two-timing current beau, Evan (Jake McDorman). Being related to Casey easily gets Rusty into Cappie’s fraternity, so the new kid has to prove himself a worthy addition to the ranks while juggling academic responsibilities.

“Greek” presents several romantic rivalries, aside from the staple frat competitions. Characters are written as imperfect but fleshed-out young people, making it hard to classify anyone as a classic villain. Strategically timed flashbacks add dimension to Evan, while the initially despicable Rebecca (Dilshad Vadsaria) eventually redeems herself.

Season one partly chronicles Rusty’s growth, as he’s initiated into the intricacies of college life. He gains a few reliable friends (a newly outed gay guy from the rival frat, and a conservative Christian roommate), and briefly dates a smart, attractive girl. He’s protective of his sister Casey and she’s not embarrassed by her nerdy and “uncool” brother. In an environment where students are surrounded by uncaring and competitive peers almost 24/7, this unconditional rapport is welcome and refreshing.

The focus on personal discoveries and fellowship in this volatile period is consistently creative. Peer pressure, parties and perplexing predicaments recreate familiar situations, and manage to cram in several characters that are easy to identify with. The motivated, the misguided and the misunderstood make a fun, combustible mix.

Season 2 of “Greek” airs Sundays (7 p.m.) and Mondays (12 p.m. and 4 p.m.) on Hallmark.

Soar, 'Losers'

"The Losers," based on the DC-Vertigo comic book by Andy Diggle. Culling and modifying key parts from the series, the film is snappy despite its basic actioner structure. The brazen Special Forces group monikered The Losers aptly translates as a funny, efficient, and explosive unit; its members include cocky Jensen (Chris Evans), decisive Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and enigmatic Aisha (Zoe Saldana), among others. The over-the-top villainy of Max (Jason Patric) likewise elicits chuckles, but it's hard to take him, and his threats, seriously. The fierce fisticuffs, dramatically shot gunfights, and clashing personalities win you over, making the simple revenge caper watchable.

'Taking Chance' based on true events

(Published April 21, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Somber and moving, the HBO original movie “Taking Chance” is based on actual events and stars Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Michael Strobl. Bacon recently won a Golden Globe (Best Actor in a Miniseries) for the portrayal of the marine who documents events in his journal while transporting the body of a young recruit to his hometown.

Tasked with accompanying the casket containing Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old killed in Iraq, Strobl witnesses overwhelming displays of respect from Americans back home.

“Taking Chance” illustrates the universality of appreciation; the solidarity of diverse people in quiet recognition is almost surreal. The people Strobl meets along the way may not belong to the same political affiliation, or share the same religious beliefs, but in their own ways, they mourn and contemplate such an unnecessary loss.

“Taking Chance” doesn’t rant about the senselessness of war, but rumination on the tragedy is felt throughout the story.

Young Chance’s time abroad is briefly recounted and summed up by a friend (Enver Gjokaj), giving Strobl—and viewers—a clear idea of who he was.

Strobl’s firsthand experience translates quite clearly; Bacon is subtle as the unflagging officer, warmly welcomed and given much respect for his sacred responsibility. The clean, carefully composed imagery adds a dash of optimism to an otherwise gloomy subject.

“Taking Chance” airs April 23, 10 p.m.; April 24, 6:30 p.m.; and April 25, 4:15 p.m., on HBO Signature.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gleefully Singing

I attended a special viewing of the first new episode of the returning musical series Glee at Red Box Greenbelt last Wednesday. Still funny and cute. A new character, Jesse, is introduced, played by openly gay actor Jonathan Groff. He’s Rachel’s new love interest from a rival glee club. The ambitious character admits to being a “drama queen.” But nah, I don’t expect him to go bi. Jane Lynch (a.k.a. Sue Sylvester) is gay, but the character she plays is straight. Still, Glee is awesome for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s a gay-friendly show.

Speaking of gay people, just a few weeks after the Ricky Martin and Anna Paquin announcements, there’s another celebrity outing. According to a CNN article, Christian rock artist Jennifer Knapp recently came out as gay! Oh my God, indeedy! That’s great news. I was introduced to Miss Knapp’s music about ten years ago, when she was among the artists featured in a CNN Christian music special. I liked her voice immediately. I remember seeing her CD in one of those stalls that sell Christian stuff some years back, but I didn’t buy it, and I know her music more because of dozens of YouTube videos. Anyway, she sounds like the middle “sister” of KT Tunstall and Melissa Etheridge. “I would rather be judged before God as an honest human being,” she said. Attagirl, Jennifer! Her new album, “Letting Go,” is about “inner conflicts, spirituality, and life lessons.” Very interesting.

And lastly, speaking of new albums, I’ve listened to a few Natalie Merchant interviews about her new two-CD offering, “Leave Your Sleep.” The eclectic-sounding songs have lyrics that are actually old poems, according to the ex-Maniac. I wondered how her music would change since becoming a parent some years ago, and the answer is this inspired album. I’ve yet to own it, but I’ve heard a number of tracks via YouTube, and some of my faves are “Janitor’s Boy,” “Dancing Bear,” and “If No One Ever Marries Me.I also like her song from David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” album, “Order 1081,” sung from the perspective of Imelda Marcos’ old yaya. Anyway, here’s a cap from the Maniacs’ “These are Days” video. Cool seeing that again.

Killer ‘Kick-Ass’

In a world devoid of super-heroes, teen geek David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) dons a scuba suit and decides to fight crime in the take-no-prisoners action flick “Kick-Ass,” based on Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s ultra-violent comic book. It’s a good translation; the modifications are welcome ones, including a romance between David and his long-admired schoolmate, and a different history for Nicolas Cage’s masked vigilante Big Daddy. Scene-stealing Chloe Moretz plays merciless Hit Girl, diminutive killer of scum, while Christopher Mintz-Plasse enjoyably brings conniving Red Mist to life. Involving and funny at the right parts, the Matthew Vaughn-directed film’s insane juvenile fantasies interlock cohesively with serious and silly scenes of butt-kicking.

Our Lady of Gaga

Just a quick drawing of Miss Germanotta. I like her, yeah.

Hard to out-‘Rank’

The Deadpool Corps Rank and Foul handbook is neither rank nor foul; fans of the old Joe Kelly Deadpool book and the Great Lakes Avengers (or Initiative, etc.) will appreciate the detailed character profiles. Blind Al, Zoe Culloden, Weasel, Dinah Soar, Big Bertha, Madcap--they’re all here! But don’t look for Deadpool arch-foe T-Ray; he was included in a previous handbook. You won’t miss him, though, because this issue is crammed with about five dozen old and new characters that have appeared in Deadpool’s various titles. Rank and Foul is a fun, often funny read (DP’s had some inane adventures, after all), and has some nice new illustrations by Gus Vasquez.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Rip Tide

I just discovered two TMZ-inspired local shows: TV5’s Dokumentado has Luchi Cruz Valdez as the Harvey Levin-esque host; it has exclusive footage of politicians and, of course, commentary on campaign issues and minutiae by a small group of journalists… I found myself switching channels after a few minutes because politicians make my head hurt, and the joke graphics and jingles feel forced. Meanwhile, there’s the more unabashed TMZ ripoff, Q’s lively Tweetbiz, which has an odd but watchable mix of personalities (Mr. Foo, Sam YG, Tim Yap, etc.). Pinoy stars and starlets’ tweets are read, and there’s even a whiteboard for listing down local artista sightings and comments. I can’t look away.

Darling ‘Date Night’

In the comedy “Date Night,” sitcom stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a dorky married couple who try out new things together to rejuvenate the romance. They soon realize that taking someone else’s table at a pricey restaurant is a bad move, and they spend the rest of that night fleeing for their lives.

“Date Night” makes good use of the finely matched Carell and Fey, who continue to portray well-meaning but awkward protagonists successfully in their respective TV shows. While their characters here are a mite toned down, they--and the mishaps they figure in--are no less funny; together, they “dub” dating couples at neighboring tables, panic after their near-death experiences, melt at the sight of perpetually shirtless Mark Wahlberg, and infiltrate a kinky strip joint. The situations could have been more circuitous and audacious a la “The Hangover,” or even the better episodes of “30 Rock” and “The Office,” but despite opting for a simpler, more obvious structure and style, “Date Night” still has riotous moments of adorable awkwardness.


More toon heroes. Here are my versions of Perry the Paltypus a.k.a. Agent P, from Phineas and Ferb, and Fry and Leela from Futurama.

Fry and Leela

Perry the Platypus

Friday, April 02, 2010

Closer to ‘Fine’

Robert De Niro plays Frank, a widower who decides to visit his kids (Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore) in the drama “Everybody’s Fine,” a simple but tidily told tale about less than ideal familial bonds. Frank discovers the truths behind the realities fabricated by his children--or by him, in some cases--his visits insightful and relatable especially when examining the oft-unstable rapport between fathers and children. Adequately paced and visually composed, the film ponders dreams and disappointments, the revealing voice-over conversations between the siblings complementing scenic and symbolic shots of telephone poles and cables. A few scenes can be especially moving, even heart-breaking, and it’s quite easy to identify with specific situations and issues. De Niro and the rest of the cast perform spiritedly but subtly, despite some iffy lines.

“Everybody’s Fine” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening on April 7.

Pick Your Jesus

I’m rereading some comic books that starred or co-starred different versions of Jesus Christ. Again, no, I don’t believe, and I’ve blogged about it a couple of times. Still, I’m familiar with the messiah figure’s history and deeds, after years of theology classes and rituals. Anyway, these three comic book iterations are irreverent, entertaining, and not for the humorless.

Loaded Bible: Jesus Vs. Vampires. In this post-apocalyptic future, Jesus has returned to protect mankind from vampires. He’s a kickass, sword-wielding warrior, and his “holy spit” can destroy vicious vamps.

Battle Pope. Now this gun-toting Jesus is funny, a bumbling sidekick to the formidable but flawed Battle Pope. Jesus H. Christ often finds himself in embarrassing situations, but has helped out during missions and has displayed incredible powers.

Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun. A surly, cigar-smoking Jesus confronts his indifferent heavenly father--who looks like Marlon Brando--about the Holocaust. Jesus time-travels to the past and attacks the Nazis. He can run on water, has killer martial arts moves, and is an excellent marksman.

Distract and Deviate

1. On the afternoon of April 1st, DeviantArt avatars changed into gif images of Team Edward, Team Jacob, Team Seeker, and Lady Gaga, which scared and confused many users. Mine changed into Edward. Weird April Foolery. After 24 hours, everything was back to normal.

2. Some comic book spoilers:

2.1. Kitty Pryde has finally returned, rescued by Magneto in the latest Uncanny X-Men issue. But she’s stuck in her intangible form again. The first time was back in 1987. The problem was solved in the X-Men Vs. Fantastic Four mini.

2.2. Man, the Mighty Avengers broke up because Pym did something awful. I hope (but doubt) it’s part of a bigger plan, and we’ll see if the team reassembles before the title gets cancelled.

2.3. Hercules is dead again. At the wake (Hercules: Fall of an Avenger), four women he slept with--Black Widow, Namora, Snowbird, Queen Alflyse--proudly admitted fighting and getting busy with him at different times. Snowbird invited other attendees to admit the same: “Now come, I know there are others in the crowd who should join us… don’t be shy.” Northstar suddenly leaves. Yup, Herc is… or was, bisexual. And Northstar slept with an Avenger.

Regurgitate the ‘Titans’

Campy fantasy classic “Clash of the Titans” is re-imagined in the visually grand but less entrancing film directed by Louis Leterrier, starring Sam Worthington as the avenging demigod Perseus. Like the original movie, this new “Clash” weaves together elements from Greek mythology, centering on conflicts involving defiant mortals and manipulative gods. This time, escalating enmity between man and the father deity Zeus (an armored Liam Neeson) is worsened by the obviously duplicitous Hades (Ralph Fiennes), whose machinations also affect exiled half-god Perseus.

The monster-hunting scenes look spectacular in 3D, but Perseus and company’s journey, while stunning, doesn’t do much for viewers already familiar, even saturated with sweeping, earth-shaking fantasy epics. Calibos looks less beastly and threatening than the previous version, and the vaunted Kraken’s simpler facial features make it look like a toothier cousin to other gigantic screen behemoths Cloverfield and the Rancor Monster. The addition of long-lived demigod Io (Gemma Anterton) presents a new dynamic; she’s the token girl companion who must explain everything to Perseus.

Worthington’s dour demigod moves predictably and lacks dimension, but the actor brings a renewed verve to the character. This new “Clash of the Titans” is still fun despite unavoidable narrative and conceptual imperfections, and it compensates with its colossal effects-knitted clashes. Also, those who adored the original movie will appreciate the brief, joke-y appearance of robotic owl Bubo.