Saturday, January 29, 2011

The sweet, strong sound of woman power

(Published Jan. 29, PDI-Super)

Established female singers experimented and engaged in 2010

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


In 2010, several women made their formidable presence felt, and they continue to do so. Experimentation, exclusive perspectives, and eclectic influences characterize some of the better-sounding works by established female music artists:

Sarah McLachlan, “Laws of Illusion”

The more things change, the more Sarah McLachlan stays the same; not surprisingly, her latest songs are a reliable, comfortable map of emotional states. The Lilith Fair founder is still a precise, relevant, and gifted musician, capable of evoking the right emotions through finely crafted pop tunes. “Laws of Illusion” has more melodic and memorable creations than her previous studio album “Afterglow.”

Christina Aguilera, “Bionic”

A more subdued Christina Aguilera gets Gaga-esque with “Bionic,” mostly a pulsating dance album with a few distinct ballads. Using vocal gymnastics sparingly, but getting creative lyrically and musically, the more self-aware Aguilera revels in bleeping, layered soundscapes. She’s almost unrecognizable in “Elastic Love,” a new wave-ish number. But she still gets to cut loose in simpler and more vocal-driven tracks. She slows down with “Sex for Breakfast” and “All I Need,” both nice breathers from the senses-stimulating dance floor ditties. Often campy but daring, Aguilera enchants, embracing motherhood and other sides to her evolving personality.

Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream”

Losing none of her wit and her penchant for attention-baiting lyrics, Katy Perry delivers a solid follow-up to her hit album “One of the Boys.” Pop anthems “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls” are easily among its most infectious songs. Perry gets wacky with the retro pop-sounding “Last Friday Night (TGIF)” and reaches out with two self-esteem songs, “Firework” and “Pearl.” Perry confidently sings with sensitivity and sensuality, a stronger and more focused artist this time around.

Norah Jones, “…Featuring Norah Jones”

Jazz chanteuse Norah Jones gets collaborative with cool and talented friends, ending up with a truly pleasant-sounding album. It’s mostly a collection of light duets, the chosen songs a lively mix of country, bossa nova, R&B, and fusions of different styles. Among the many standouts are “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Willie Nelson, “Dear John” with Ryan Adams, “Virginia Moon” with the Foo Fighters, and “More Than This” with Charlie Hunter.

Taylor Swift, “Speak Now”

More comfortable with expressing her feelings through songwriting than calling up exes, Taylor Swift unleashes a more mature collection of honest, heartwarming and scathing pop-country songs. Listeners who know or speculate about her relationships assume that some songs are dedicated to fellow celebs Cory Monteith, John Mayer, Taylor Lautner, and Joe Jonas. She also addresses other experiences; she sings about the Kanye West incident insightfully, and bashes an unnamed, boyfriend-stealing “actress” who’s “better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” From first to last track, “Speak Now” showcases Swift’s musical maturity while sharing juicy and intimate stories.

Natalie Merchant, “Leave Your Sleep”

Sensitive singer-songwriter and ex-10,000 Maniacs vocalist Natalie Merchant experiments with other people’s words, resulting in an audibly adventurous album. Merchant’s translations to music of mostly obscure poems and nursery rhymes make “Leave Your Sleep” a diverse set; styles utilized include reggae, bluegrass, and Chinese folk, among others. Merchant’s voice is still warm and versatile; in “Bleezer’s Ice Cream,” she clearly and playfully conjures up imagery of 28 “divine” flavors, while “If No One Ever Marries Me” is a soothing ballad illustrating a young woman’s plans should she stay single.

Lady Gaga, “The Fame Monster”

Love or loathe Lady Gaga’s attention-grabbing costumes and music videos, her “Fame Monster” is a collection of songs almost as otherworldly as her clothes and performances, and the eccentricity fascinates and hooks. “Fame Monster” has catchy dance-pop tunes, and easily mantra-fied lyrics. Whether she’s singing about some déjà vu-inspiring stranger in “Monster,” or the less-bouncy but emotionally charged “Speechless,” fearless Gaga pulls you into her uncompromising, sonically structured worlds.

Thundercats are Loose, Again

The Human Torch is dead (at least for now), another character died in the penultimate issue of Buffy Season 8, and some deceased Marvel heroes live again in the last chapter of Chaos War. I’m only affected by that last one; I hope that the resurrected characters are used properly now that they’re released from comic book limbo.

In other news, the Thundercats are back, ditching the spandex-y duds for a more anime-y look. Lion-O looks younger than his original incarnation, and the redesigns look less sexy, but I hope that it’s a good reboot, regardless. The show will air later this year on Cartoon Network. There will also be updated versions of sidekick characters Snarf, WilyKit and WilyKat, according to an MTV article.

‘The Good Wife’ is no damsel in distress

(Published Jan. 30, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Talented Julianna Margulies shines as Alicia Florrick, the wife of a philandering district attorney, in the intelligent courtroom drama series, “The Good Wife.”

Like some real wives whose politician-husbands’ adulterous affairs are exposed, Alicia is confronted with unwanted media attention and personal quandaries. Months after the sex scandal involving her spouse, she begins working for a prestigious Chicago law firm as a junior associate.

Alicia is recovering from the betrayal of her husband Peter Florrick (played admirably by “Sex and the City’s” Chris Noth), who is jailed for corruption. Her life has irrevocably changed—she has to prove herself a worthy new recruit while addressing the needs of her teen children, and dealing with disruptions stemming from her husband’s case.

Created by Robert and Michelle King, “The Good Wife” draws inspiration from headline-making scandals, and the resilience of women whose worlds are turned upside down by erring partners. Executive producers include filmmaker siblings Ridley and Tony Scott.

Margulies, previously known for her role in “ER,” astonishes with her portrayal of a constantly challenged wife, mother and professional; she’s vulnerable but collected, and often connects with the clients she defends. Known to most of them as “Mrs. Florrick,” Alicia’s tarnished celebrity status sometimes proves helpful during trials, and her bosses know it. Regardless, she’s an impressive lawyer who looks at angles unseen by most—thanks to her unique experiences—and is unafraid of contradicting judges when necessary.

As for the cases the firm handles, they’re not as compelling or as quirky and appealing as those in David E. Kelley’s “The Practice” and “Picket Fences,” but the simpler legal puzzles are executed competently and with finesse. Her colleagues help save the day—some strong female characters that complement the determined and outspoken Mrs. Florrick, who has proven herself a good wife and unrelenting survivor.

“The Good Wife” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Diva Universal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

‘Tangled,’ spangled

Rapunzel gets a makeover in Disney’s “Tangled,” an endearing, if highly routine re-interpretation of the Brothers Grimm’s classic tale. Like many Disney princesses, Rapunzel is tormented, only this girl is a prisoner of a hag who abducted her as an infant and poses as her overprotective single mother. The teen’s golden, untrimmed hair has healing properties, and has kept her “mother” perpetually young. Rapunzel is forbidden from leaving their doorless tower, which keeps imagined dangers away.

The songs, while not as catchy as Disney’s older fairy tale soundtracks, still enhance the storytelling. There are stock characters and situations; however, their inclusion is easily forgivable because of focused characterization.

Rapunzel’s love interest, Flynn, looks like a generic charming rogue, but he’s got a few secrets that make us understand his less-than-lawful ways. Also, the angry horse Maximus starts out as a bitter adversary to lawbreakers, but there’s more to it than that, and his personality is well-defined despite his inability to speak. The friendly barbarians, they’re typically quirky background characters, less-fleshed out and briefly utilized but useful story elements.

A rich color palette also helps in creating mesmerizing, mood-conducive environments. Rapunzel’s adventure has its twists and turns at expected intervals, and the sure and total recollection of her real identity is a bit iffy. Still, “Tangled” deserves to be seen and enjoyed; it’s a Disneyfied fairy tale, but it also pleasantly reminds us of the company’s beloved films from decades past.

"Tangled” opens Feb. 2 in Metro Manila.

Blogging, Etcetera

My original blog just recently turned six. Wow, it’s like time flew at superspeed. I’ve been looking at the archived entries and I find reading old posts a little surreal. Most posts I still stand by, some intimate posts about love and romance maybe not as much. I noticed a tendency to share how I felt without giving away too much, and I’d say I was more comfortable with talking about my emotions during the early years.

Much has happened, though it may not always appear that way. I’d like to think that I’m a better person now because of some challenges. Writing my blog entries sometimes helped me put into words the thoughts or feelings that I struggled with. As for my reviews, doing them started out as a job, but I began loving it early on, and I do like sharing my thoughts on different items here, along with my more personal entries. And reviewing stuff also helps me keep tabs on my style and structure.

There are events in my life, of course, that I choose not to document. I’m not the type who overshares, anyway. But I will blog stuff when it suits me. I’ll keep posting drawings worth sharing, too, here and elsewhere. To my readers, old and new, thanks for dropping by.

‘Hornet’ horses around

Bored party boy Britt Reid inherits a fortune and fights crime with his trusty mechanic Kato in the campy but amusing comedy-action flick “The Green Hornet,” re-imagined and starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou as the new masked vigilantes.

While it only vaguely resembles its previous counterparts, this new “Green Hornet” transitions smoothly into its contemporary setting, jettisons its serious pulp hero trappings for a more cartoony but nonetheless sturdy reality, and works as a straightforward action-comedy. Now, the love triangle between Reid, Kato, and 30-something secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz) feels forced, but she’s written competently even if she’s just someone who mostly fills in the blanks for the bungling, newbie crimefighter.

As for the archfoe, aging LA crimelord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), he’s actually a badass, as those muscling in on his territory discover quickly. He’s quite two-dimensional, but he’s a necessary component to the comedic dynamic. And speaking of laughs, the boss-servant relationship between Reid and Kato evolves spiritedly into brotherly rapport; both characters get creative when they put their crime-stopping plans into motion, and often elicit hearty giggles in the process.

Darren, Chris

Aww, ain’t that sweet. The gay Glee boys get covered. Gifted half-Pinoy Darren Criss, a.k.a. new guy Blaine, and Chris Colfer, who was recently declared Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor for his Kurt character, share an upcoming Entertainment Weekly cover.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Long Live the Lost Legion

The Archie Legion! My fave version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the post-Zero Hour team: Saturn Girl, Gates, M’Onel, Kinetix, Gear, Apparition, Ferro, Star Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dreamer, Spark, Karate Kid, Kid Quantum, Superboy, Shikari, Live Wire, Umbra, Chameleon, Sensor, XS, Wildfire, Ultra Boy, Invisible Kid, Brainiac 5, Violet, Andromeda, Triad, and Timber Wolf. Wish I could include Thunder, Monstress, RJ Brande, and Element Lad but space ran out. I hope to see this particular Legion again soon. This was drawn on two bristol boards (10.5” X 14”).

‘Hereafter’: Life after the afterlife

After the acclaimed sports/political biopic “Invictus,” Clint Eastwood works with Matt Damon anew. The new collaboration is the moving paranormal drama “Hereafter,” about a hesitant psychic and two other figures coping with separate tragedies. Damon plays George, who previously communicated with dead people. Marie (Cecile De France) is a French reporter who recalls experiencing a different state after dying for a few minutes, and Marcus (played by twins Georgie and Frankie McLaren) is an English kid looking for ways to reach his recently departed sibling.

“Hereafter” is moving and insightful. Three characters’ unrelated stories ultimately connect, their different encounters with death motivating each to find personal answers. George’s search for normalcy lets him experience satisfaction through a construction job and a cooking class; Marie pursues the truth about the afterlife she glimpsed; Marcus wishes to contact his brother, and approaches an assortment of questionable characters claiming to be clairvoyants.

De France and the twin actors give emotionally resonant performances, while Damon is more subdued, somewhat unrelatable as the troubled psychic. Adding nicely to the equation are Bryce Dallas Howard as George’s cooking companion, and Lyndsey Marshal (“Rome,” “Being Human”) as Marcus’ alcohol-addled mother.

It presents questions about life after death and paranormal phenomena that aren’t always clearly answered, but the mysteries are acceptably presented. The way the stories eventually converge could’ve been more dramatic and creative, but “Hereafter” nevertheless conveys its messages consistently, and sans hokiness.

“Hereafter” opens January 19 in Metro Manila.

‘Generator Rex’: Mighty machines, menacing monsters

(Published Jan. 9, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Nanites, or microscopic machines, transform an amnesiac teen into a superhero in the animated “Generator Rex,” created by the same team behind the hit cartoon series “Ben 10.”

Able to change his limbs into weaponry, communicate with machines, and sprout vehicular parts, 15-year-old Rex is the secret weapon tasked to fight or cure humans changed into mighty but mindless monsters. Nanites have been transforming people all over the globe, but the freakish EVOs (exponentially variegated organisms) are unable to control their new forms. Trained and unleashed by Providence (a well-funded organization dedicated to defending the earth against out-of-control EVOs), Rex is accompanied by martial arts expert Agent Six, smart monkey Bobo, and teen friend Noah.

Like the ongoing “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien,” “Generator Rex” is about a superpowered teen facing a variety of extraordinary threats, usually connected to the source of his special abilities. Aside from gigantic man-beasts, Rex is repeatedly confronted by a scheming foe, Van Kleiss, who claims to know the truth behind the planet-wide spread of the nanites.

The action-packed show sports nicely designed characters and introduces a simple but solid mythology. Co-created by the Man of Action team (consisting of comic book writers Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and Steven T. Seagle, and artist Duncan Rouleau), “Generator Rex” focuses on a smart teen who knows his heroic duties, but is known to enjoy his unique gifts at times, like “Ben 10’s” Ben Tennyson.

In the first episode (“The Day That Everything Changed”), Rex helps stop a rampaging creature, and later leaves the Providence base to have fun. He deliberately shows a group of teens his abilities, illustrating his need to belong and be accepted for being different.

But he’s accepted the fact that he’s far from normal and he needs to help free people from their nanite-mutated forms. In episode two (“String Theory”), Rex disobeys an order and must find a way to save a zombie-making EVO from Providence’s nuclear attack.

“Generator Rex” premieres today at 9 a.m., on Cartoon Network.

Incidental ‘Tourist’

The heist flick-romantic comedy “The Tourist” stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp as flirty strangers being pursued across Venice by the law and thugs alike. The actors look good together but Jolie’s character is devoid of a discernible personality, and Depp’s is an iteration of his awkward leading man roles. It’s a pretty rudimentary, often superficial tour, and the developing romance being touted feels non-existent. It’s a pairing that doesn’t live up to its potential; maybe Depp and Jolie can work together again on something else eventually, perhaps give life to other characters that truly deserve their talents.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Hot Monsters

The Walking Dead cast members show some teeth. What a talented bunch, and a cool picture (thanks,!). Man, the second season is still nine months away.

‘Metanoia’: Might and mettle

The local animated fantasy-action movie “RPG Metanoia” pleasantly surprises with its imaginative and well-designed worlds; the online fantasy realm of Metanoia and the “real” Filipino environment where the protagonists reside are intricately and painstakingly rendered. Also surprising is the simple but tightly written adventure, about a boy who often feels more comfortable in the action-heavy virtual dimension than the real world.

“Metanoia’s” likeable, thoughtfully developed characters (voiced by actors Zaijan Jaranilla, Aga Muhlach and Eugene Domingo) and engaging action sequences impress repeatedly. Despite some imperfections (the characters’ strobey, slower movements in Metanoia, thin sound effects during battle scenes, and some mouth motions that don’t fit the words), it’s an exciting, inspiring endeavor that showcases Filipino artistry and imagination.

‘Gulliver’: Gargantuan déjà vu

The contemporary retelling of the classic tale is a family-friendly comedy centering on modern-day loser Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black), an unambitious and complacent mail room clerk. He plagiarizes travel articles to impress a long-admired journalist (Amanda Peet), and soon finds himself shipwrecked on a land of tiny, understandably frightened people.

The lost giant “beast” also regales them with stories taken from Hollywood blockbusters, convincing them that they’re his own adventures. This new take on the old tale is very formulaic and utterly silly. It has some talented actors in it, including Peet, Emily Blunt, and Catherine Tate, who play requisite females doing routinely silly, inconsequential things. Messages are transmitted, but seizing the day and changing for the better feel like colossal chores this time.

"Gulliver’s Travels” opens Saturday, January 8, in Metro Manila.