Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Foolish Beat Vs. Could’ve Been

And the future is Electric Youth! Well, the future is now and, yup, those are former teen queens Tiffany and Debbie Gibson glaring at each other. The “rivals,” actually friends in real life, will appear together in the upcoming SyFy original movie Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid. These are caps from the short preview video, which shows the former pop sensations in a funny smackdown; there’s slapping, hair-pulling, cake-smearing, and so on. Younger people will be baffled, but this is just pure awesomeness for fans of the ‘80s chart-toppers.

‘Salt’: Spicy spy spectacle

A simple but effective spy thriller, the Phillip Noyce-directed “Salt” stars Angelina Jolie as a CIA agent accused by a Russian defector of being a double agent. Versatile Jolie once again shifts effortlessly into an action heroine, Evelyn Salt, whose exceptional combat skills and elusiveness soon make her allies--and the audience--question her loyalty.

Tying the mystery of Salt’s true allegiance to the Kennedy assassination, screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Brian Helgeland create a foreboding, paranoid environment, empowered by Jolie’s convincing portrayals of vulnerability and indomitable fortitude.

There is no absence of clich├ęs, but sometimes, the lines are precise and powerful. There are scenarios where nobody utters a word, but the well-composed visuals tell most of the story. Excellent actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber add flavor to the spy caper, their roles mandatory but nonetheless well-portrayed.

The narrative decoys aren’t obvious, and the daring action choreography keeps things quite lively. Evelyn Salt’s ordeal absorbs, getting viewers invested enough in the character’s fate, and making them care enough to identify whether her actions stem from careful duplicity or uncontrolled duality.

Future Intense

Forget the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fans of the classic cartoon series are happy that the saga continues in Avatar: The Legend of Korra, airing on Nickelodeon next year. Above is the teaser image. The story begins seven decades after the original series and centers on teen Avatar Korra, who has mastered bending three out of four elements. Exciting, exciting news.

And here’s an image from MTV Splash Page. The Avengers cast, together in one room. From left to right: Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Sam Jackson (Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), and director Joss Whedon. I hope they don’t entirely base the story on the first Ultimates arc; hopefully, it’ll have a classic feel to it as well. We’ll find out in two years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Delightfully disturbing ‘Dexter’

(Published July 22, PDI-Entertainment)

Michael C. Hall talks about the popular serial killer of serial killers

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

After playing a stuffy gay mortician in “Six Feet Under” for five seasons, Michael C. Hall metamorphosed into an avenging serial killer in “Dexter.” Four years, several nominations, and a Golden Globe Best Actor award later, Hall swears he’s still challenged by the role of Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst by day and a violent vigilante by night.

“Some things are easier now,” Hall said in a recent interview by conference call. “I am used to the clothes he wears and the place where he lives. I feel like I have real memories of that place. It does remain a tightrope walk. It hasn’t gotten easy; it certainly isn’t boring!”

Hall, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease last year, is thankful for the support of friends, family and fans during his treatment and recovery.

“The disease is in complete remission. I am through with my chemotherapy treatment. So it’s onwards and upwards. I am very fortunate to have [caught] something curable and treatable.”

The actor revealed that casting “fantastic” guest actors like Jimmy Smits and John Lithgow in key roles continues to be beneficial to “Dexter.” Smits played a manipulative assistant district attorney in season 3, while Lithgow plays the calculating “Trinity Killer” in season 4, currently airing in the Philippines.

“Sometimes, it’s the first choice; sometimes, someone falls through and another person is cast at the last minute,” Hall said. “But I do think we’ve been lucky. We have amazing actors on the show.”

As for Dexter Morgan, Hall thinks the character is popular partly because he disposes of villains, and also because of one resonant, relatable trait.

“Generally, people relish being given the permission to identify with someone with such a shadow because we all have that shadow. We all have some kind of secret [that makes us] feel separated from the rest of the world.”

The character continues to transform, targeting Miami’s most ruthless murderers while becoming the ideal family man. Hall believes many unexplored story lines will allow Dexter to develop further.

“Certainly, I never foresaw the [current] landscape. Rita (played by Julie Benz) and I have a child and we are married [in season 3]. I certainly think that as we are shooting the fifth season, there’s more to explore, more stories to tell.”

“Dexter” season four airs Mondays (10 p.m.) and Tuesdays (9 p.m.) on FoxCrime.

Lost ‘Airbender’

M. Night Shyamalan’s humorless and disjointed film adaptation of the excellent animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is an hour and a half of tedium. Often flashy but lacking in emotional tug, “The Last Airbender” tries to remain faithful to the source material but ends up alienating both those familiar and unfamiliar with the three-season cartoon series.

Important scenes translate as one bulletpoint after another, with barely anything between them to make the viewer care for the characters. It’s hard to give a damn about Aang (Noah Ringer), the recently revived airbender Avatar, who must master his manipulation of the four elements and stop the war started by the Fire Nation. His allies, Water Tribe siblings Sokka and Katara (Jackson Rathbone and Nicole Peltz), barely develop distinct personalities because the story keeps zooming and jumping to the next key scene.

The action starts weakly with the unconvincing revolt of the earthbender prisoners; however, it isn’t a sign of bad stunt sequences to come. The other effects-enhanced fights improve, and they’re about the only watchable things in the movie. Appa the flying bison does nothing; Dev Patel’s Zuko isn’t majestic or pained enough; the Fire Lord (Cliff Curtis) isn’t devastatingly charismatic or mysterious. And there aren’t philosophical or spiritual insights, which made the epic series more layered than the average cartoon show.

Clint and Bobbi Love

This book is rocking. Instead of getting the Bendis-written Avengers titles, I’m buying the new Hawkeye and Mockingbird series written by Jim McCann. I enjoyed his previous book (last year’s Hawkeye and Mockingbird: Reunion) a lot! The guy knows and understands Avengers lore, and he’s got good stuff happening, so I’m really excited.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mutant evolution, revolution

(Published Juy 19, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Thematically darker than previous animated shows starring Marvel Comics’ mutant adventurers, “Wolverine and the X-Men” depicts the characters at their most desperate and vulnerable.

Separated after the mysterious disappearance of their telepath leader Professor X, the X-Men are reassembled by Wolverine and the Beast, who’ve had encounters with the mutant-hunting members of the MRD (Mutant Response Division).

Most characters that appear in “Wolverine and the X-Men” have previously featured in the comic books, so those already familiar will recognize them in the show despite changes in appearance or allegiance. Some of the characters are younger than their print incarnations; others are now counted among their foes.

While older TV shows like the 1990’s “X-Men” and the early 2000’s “X-Men: Evolution” had their share of dark moments, “Wolverine and the X-Men” explores a world where the powerful outcasts—believed by many as the next phase in human evolution—are constantly hounded and incarcerated. In this reality, the X-Men fight to liberate fellow mutants from their human oppressors, as well as to protect humans from disruptive mutants like Magneto, the Brotherhood and the Shadow King.

Inspired by popular story lines, but immersing the characters in a number of new situations, the series gives most of the team members ample focus: The destructive potential of Storm is partly realized in one episode; Nightcrawler shines in a solo mission against mutant-abducting pirates in another. The show also has unexpected guests, just like in the comics. Marvel’s iconic man-monster, the Hulk, makes his rage felt in an action-heavy episode.

“Wolverine and the X-Men” is accessible to newbies, but it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the established mythologies. It’s not as fun as the visually brighter and more dynamic “X-Men: Evolution,” but the more serious tone still works. The series impressively reshapes the X-universe and effectively reintroduces the dramatic struggles of mutantkind.

“Wolverine and the X-Men” airs weekdays, 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., on Cartoon Network.

‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’: Amateur wizardry

Nicolas Cage plays a patient immortal wizard, Balthazar, in Disney’s derivative but somewhat diverting “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” directed by “National Treasure’s” John Turteltaub.

Balthazar must find and train a powerful young wizard while fending off ancient enemies. The chosen young mage, Dave Sutler (Jay Baruchel from “Tropic Thunder”), is a dorky college guy who witnessed a mystic battle between Balthazar and his arch-rival Horvath (Alfred Molina) when he was a child.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” like other fantasy-adventure flicks made for younger audiences--“Percy Jackson,” “Eragon,” “The Seeker” and so on--is about an ordinary teen destined for greatness, transformed by an old conflict that he’ll affect significantly. Structurally, the film is very familiar; there aren’t real surprises storywise. The young hero is a generic nerd who discovers extraordinary gifts and pursues a girl against his master’s wishes. How “Star Wars”-ish, but it’s nowhere near as serious as that.

The magic training is a crash course; Balthazar teaches the chosen one the most important lessons in a short period. The interruptions, whether caused by foes or dates, are expected. There’s forced friction between Dave and his mentor from time to time.

The action sequences are loud and gaudy with special effects; they either fascinate (the dragon attack scenes) or annoy (Dave catching and casting magical energy with hands positioned a la “Dragonball’s” Goku). But despite the rehashed ideas and imagery, it’s still a solid enough effort. Its lighter, less serious tone works favorably, diminished magic notwithstanding.

‘Essential Dazzler’ goes for it

Reluctant super-heroine Alison Blaire just wanted to be a star, years before she became a full-time member of the X-Men. But the mutant singer faced threats like Doctor Doom, the Enchantress, and Doctor Octopus, and even became a temporary herald of Galactus back in the day! “Essential Dazzler Vol. 1” reprints 21 issues of the ‘80s title, as well as three other books where she appeared.

Wordy and excessively descriptive like many comic book stories of the era, Danny Fingeroth and Frank Springer’s “Dazzler” adventures nonetheless entertain with soap-ish drama, romance, humor, and competent superhero action. The series also reflected the timelessness of celebrity culture, and periodically, the struggles of women and mutants. Dazzler is a uniquely stubborn and determined character--she used to yell “Go for it!” a lot--and this well-developed, hesitant heroine’s stories deserve to be discovered and enjoyed by new readers.

Walking, Gawking

This is the cast of the live-action TV version of Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman’s zombie comic book. Hmm. Interesting. I imagined Rick as a younger-looking fellow, but we’ll know the changes eventually. I hope these people are good actors.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Men With Swords

Just some quick drawings of my fave swordsmen from fantasy comic books and TV. Did these last week.

Scott Pilgrim

He-Man

Zuko

Crying Freeman

Lion-O

Richard Cypher

Swordsmen

They ‘Twist and Shout’ no matter what

(Published July 16, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Celebrities perform and sometimes crack under pressure on the new ABS-CBN game show “Twist and Shout,” hosted by singers Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera.

Every hour-long episode pits two three-member teams against each other in challenges that require them to sing while ignoring major distractions. A treadmill-like gizmo, a vat filled with freezing water and ice chips, and a smoke-blasting “volcano” are the contraptions the celeb contestants have to deal with while performing their chosen songs.

In the first episode, singers out-do each other. Balladeers Christian Bautista and Richard Poon sing as long as they can on the gradually speeding and tilting treadmill before falling off into heaps of foam blocks. Pop singer Nina is strapped in a harness, her body dipped repeatedly in cold water. In the same challenge, Frenchie Dy channels Aretha Franklin, unmindful of the coldness and even scooping up some ice to press on her cheek. In the last challenge, Juris and Bugoy stand in a volcano-like device that “erupts” thick gusts of smoke.

It was a fun first night, but because the “weapons of mass distraction” and the sequence of their use were the same the following night, the show became quite repetitive, even when the competing teams were lively comedians and band members.

The three judges--Aiza Seguerra, Jimmy Bondoc and guest Bianca Manalo--briefly comment on the performances and why they’re giving points to a specific contestant. While many of their reasons make sense, some don’t, reiterating that it’s a less serious show than most game shows. Those, and the number of points they give can be baffling, as pointed out by a defiant but still funny K Brosas during a deliberation.

Valenciano and Nievera, who perform the opening “Twist and Shout” song together, are okay hosts. It’s undoubtedly an easy gig for both of them, and they mostly look like they’re having fun. And while it’s fun to watch local celebrities doing their darned best to keep their balance or composure, “Twist and Shout” should present more distracting and disruptive ways of keeping contestants on their toes. The show has the potential to be truly wacky and edgy, so the possibilities have to be explored creatively, and soon.

“Twist and Shout” airs Saturday and Sunday, 8:45 p.m., on ABS-CBN.

‘Inception’: Living in Dreamtime

Labyrinthine and audacious, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” weaves a complex, complicated tapestry about dreams and the subconscious. Realities converge and mutate in the missions of one crafty mindscaper, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who intrudes in people’s dreams and unlocks their prized secrets.

Constantly challenging in its exploration and execution of ideas, “Inception” introduces a team of agents with the technology and expertise to infiltrate and reshape dreams as they see fit. Cobb is joined by fellow dream-walkers, the structure-sculpting “architect” (Ellen Page), the shape-changing “forger” (Tom Hardy), and the resourceful “point man” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), among others.

The group shares an adventure in a target’s dreamspace, encountering unexpected defenses along the way, as well as problems posed by Cobb’s baggage. The manifestation of his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard) keeps appearing in the dream realm with him, disrupting the group’s meticulous plans repeatedly.

Visually arresting scenes complement “Inception’s” mind-blowing concepts; it gets especially insane when multi-layered dreams intersect and shift. It gets confusing from time to time, too; sometimes, it’s hard to keep track of all the simultaneous realities. That said, it pulls out all the stops and doesn’t bother with plying the obvious routes. A second viewing will make more sense of the deliberately circuitous and tangled subplots.

DiCaprio leads a brilliant cast; the aforementioned actors perform excellently, as do Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe, who previously worked with Nolan in “Batman.” As with Nolan’s other intelligent films, “Inception” asks tough questions, but this cerebrally stimulating endeavor still has an accessible human side. The deep and maze-like “Inception” offers an exceptional experience that, unlike many temporary sojourns to dreamscapes, indelibly leaves its distinct mark in the waking world.

Leave a Light On

Power’s back after almost 40 hours. Horrible. Was unable to work because of that. I hope the coming storms aren’t as bad, and the people concerned can pinpoint and fix power interruptions quicker.

Anyway, some spoilers and announcements:

1. Captain Britain (Brian Braddock) recently became an Avenger. He’ll be joining the ever-growing team whenever he can, which means when he’s not busy with MI:13 missions.

2. Hope Summers can copy mutant powers. She used Cyclops’, Armor’s, Iceman’s, Magma’s and Colossus’ powers during the climactic battle with Bastion.

3. Edward Norton won’t be playing Bruce Banner/the Hulk again in Joss Whedon’s Avengers film. Some of the actors rumored to replace him are Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix.

4. Avatar: Special Edition will be in 3D cinemas exclusively starting August 27. There will be eight minutes of new footage, previously unseen characters and action scenes. For details, drop by the 20th Century Fox Philippines Facebook page.

I Gave What I Gave

Love this song by Stars, "Your Ex-Lover is Dead." My favorite lines: “I’m not sorry I met you; I’m not sorry it’s over; I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save.”

Revamped ‘Front Act’ rediscovers its funny bone

(Published July 11, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Local “alternative comedy” weekly program “The Front Act Show” duplicates the formula that made it initially successful, but certain aspects have been improved.

The revamped version has a new and catchy animated opening theme showing an expanded cast. Comedians Mike Unson and Stanley Chi are joined by rock musician LC “Reklamo” De Leon, and cosplayer Benedict Bartolome, who both appeared in a few episodes of the show’s previous incarnation on another channel.

While Unson and Chi still do what they’re good at, they both explore other ideas. Unson puts his analytical wit to good use in his short “GNN: Good News News” portion, while Chi appears regularly as “Dr. Fake,” who dispenses inane advice to “patients.” But they can still be spontaneous: Unson interviews celebs; Chi does non-celebs (effortlessly).

The expansion of the group allows for an eclectic range of humor. “Front Act” fully embraces its geeky side with Bartolome, whose “Ben’s Room” is a venue for toy talk, succinct movie reviews, and nerd jokes.

LC “Reklamo” does the “Turo Turo” music lesson segment (the punchline is always, “Don’t form a band!”). LC has recorded the “Jejemon” song co-written by executive producer Jako De Leon.

Guests Jon Santos, Jojo Alejar, RJ Jacinto and RJ Ledesma have been the livelier interviewees. Jao Mapa and Madam Auring have appeared in short but sweet “torture scenes.” In these inspired bits, shadowed figures taunted Mapa for the “Jao Mapa haircut,” and Madam Auring was “punished” for her wrong predictions.

“Front Act’s” experimentation with offbeat ideas often works; aside from the previously mentioned segments, parodies of “24” and “Crocodile Hunter” should be further mined.

However, not all ideas translate properly, and some skits come off as strained and plodding. But despite some inevitable missteps, each comic contributes to the show, and the distinctly diversified program is revitalized by self-aware and permeating geek guy humor.

(“The Front Act Show” airs Saturdays, 4:30 p.m., on Solar TV-Channel 9.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The problematic world of a 17-year-old vampire

(Published July 8, PDI-Entertainment)

Deborah Ann Woll on 'True Blood's' virginal vampire

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Describing herself as “a nerd her whole life,” actress Deborah Ann Woll finds it “cool” to be hanging out with her “True Blood” co-stars. The 25-year-old from Brooklyn plays 17-year-old vampire Jessica Hamby in the Alan Ball-created HBO series.

Woll previously landed guest appearances in TV shows such as “My Name is Earl” and “ER.” In “True Blood,” she appears regularly as Jessica, the problematic undead teen “made” by vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).

Following are excerpts from a recent roundtable phone interview with Woll, arranged by HBO Asia.

How do you feel about Jessica’s disappointments and discoveries after becoming a vampire?

It’s absolutely tragic and sad. And when I think about her relationship with her father and the cage that he was trying to keep her in, when that moment happened, in my mind, [I thought] “You won, Dad. I will be a child forever.” This is not what you want when you’re 17.


Before “True Blood,” were you interested in vampire or monster films?

Oh, wow. I love the old Universal films, like “Dracula,” “Wolf Man,” “Frankenstein,” “Mummy,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The Ray Harryhausen pictures, like “It Came From Beneath the Sea,” even some old Japanese films like “Prince of Space” and stuff like that were always really fun.


Which other “True Blood” character do you find interesting?

One of my favorite characters is Jason. He’s so delightfully dim. Ryan (Kwanten) plays him so well! I’d laugh at everything he does because he’s so endearing, you just love him. And you want things to go well for him. You want him to find a woman who will stay with him.


What about vampires attracting people, especially now?

We have the stock answers, like “they’re sexy,” and I agree with that. There’s also something very permanent about vampires. They are eternal. There’s a consistency to that and there’s something very comforting in that. I think we live in an inconsistent, insecure world right now, and to watch a show about something that never changes is fun.

“True Blood” season three premieres July 19, 9:00 p.m., on HBO.

All Together Now

Super-Villain Team-Up, drawings one to twelve. I think I miss action figure-collecting, probably one of the reasons why I want to contain this many characters in one place. But I loved drawing this set. Maybe I should do a DC villains version. Maybe later this year.

‘Predators’ hunt again

The iconic alien monster returns in “Predators” after appearing in the forgettable and underwhelming “Aliens Vs. Predator” series of movies. The new action-science fiction flick isn’t re-inventing anything, but the concept gets refreshed, nonetheless.

Directed by Nimrod Antal (“Vacancy”), the film re-establishes humans as the prey, transported somehow to a jungle planet where they fight for their lives. The latest abductees--soldiers, killers, and a doctor--are an adaptive and resourceful batch that must put aside their differences, and give the Predators a hunt they won’t forget.

Actor Adrien Brody transforms well into a killing machine, while Topher Grace’s doctor character adds awkward but welcome humor to the somber gathering of warriors. Laurence Fishburne’s part, however, could’ve been played by someone else, but he still manages to imbue life to a disturbed character.

“Predators” works in reminding us of the old action-sci fi dynamic of the original ‘80s film, replicating part of the intensity in a simpler, more straightforward setting. Its slasher flick structure remains the same, so it’s just a matter of guessing who bites the dust first, next, and so on. But there are a few pleasant surprises, storywise. As for the action sequences, they’re not spectacular but they’re clearly done, except for the human-alien swordfight, which could’ve looked much better.

“Predators” opens July 8 in Metro Manila.

LNA Blurbing

My thanks to Jonas Diego for exploring the casting possibilities of Lexy, Nance & Argus in his article (here), and thanks too to Johnny Danganan for telling me about it. It’s so cool. Interesting choices!

Speaking of the LNA characters, I’m planning the “Psychic Love” spinoff book, starring Jim and Ma-An; I don’t know when I’ll finish writing that, but I’ve got a story that I really want to tell. Lexy, Nance and Argus will be appearing again, but just briefly. It’s going to be different. Man, I have some stories I want to write and draw, aside from this. I just hope that I get to do them all, eventually.

Un-chic Wonder

Like many comic book readers, I’m not happy with Jim Lee’s redesign of Wonder Woman’s costume. DC’s most popular heroine looks like a generic ‘90s hero, thanks to the jacket, shoulder pads and unnecessary straps on her feet.

Lee designed good costumes that fit heroines’ personalities quite well back in the day: Psylocke’s scantily clad, Elektra-ish look was sexy and apt for her ninjafication; Rogue’s jacket-and-tights uniform was a logical phase; Void’s simple shiny look was the antithesis of the more accessory-heavy but bikini-wearing females of her generation.

Lee’s sexed-up version of the Huntress about six years ago, the hot pants-wearing one, was an odd departure from her more covered look. This new Wonder Woman costume is the opposite of that change; Diana becomes conservative and covers up her legs with black tights. And that jacket! How hopelessly retro.

Also, she doesn’t look very powerful in this sketch--I’ve seen a painting of WW in the new costume rendered by someone else, and it looked somewhat majestic. But it’s still like an Elseworlds version of the character--there’ve been really good ones like in the “Amazonia” and “Kingdom Come” realities. That said, this temporary change fits writer J. Michael Straczynski’s restructuring of WW history.

Yes, like Superman, who sported his “electric blue” look for a few years in the ‘90s, Wonder Woman will be back in her iconic, classic costume one day. For now, she’s wearing dated-looking, uninspired duds. It’s like bringing back the ‘90s too soon, but it feels more like the designer just didn’t leave the era behind.