Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cutting Crew

Nah, this post isn’t about the ‘80s pop-rock band; it’s just about things that involve cutting. First up is Pink’s video for “F***in’ Perfect.” Very few music videos are as powerful or relevant. No hyperbole. If you know how depression feels, or have suffered from poor self-image growing up, the video will make you cry. Tina Majorino’s in it, playing a self-loathing teen who cuts herself (and later, her hair), and eventually, a successful artist who finally finds and experiences true happiness.

Look it up on YouTube. The uncensored version can only be seen via Pink’s Vevo channel, I think. There’s a shorter, cleaned-up version of the video, but just watch the explicit one.

Next up, something lighter. It still involves cuts, but the accidental, less painful kind. I finished reading Pam Pastor’s book “Paper Cuts,” which collects several of her blog entries from the last decade. I like her concise, witty posts, and I especially like how she ends them with equally witty near-punchlines, reflective of how she’s able to find humor in even the strangest situations. I’ve read some of the chosen entries before, but it’s cool to read them again in print form, compiled with other insightful entries that I haven’t read from her old Blogger and Multiply journals.

I don’t hang out often with Pam, but the few times I did were fun; I do remember getting really, embarrassingly drunk during one of her band’s gigs about three years ago. She’s one of the paper’s editors I’ve been submitting stuff to for years now. There are people there, employees and contributors alike, whose writing abilities and analytical faculties I respect--Pam, Gibbs Cadiz, Vives Anunciacion, Noelani Torre, Poch Concepcion, Jordan De Leon, and Amy Mosura, to name a few--and it’s interesting that you get to see other sides to most of them in blogs, micro-blogs, or social networking sites. Similarly, “Paper Cuts” gets to detail stuff that don’t get mentioned in Pam’s articles, experiences that are certainly unique, and stories told in her own inimitably witty way.

It’s not a tell-all autobiography, so don’t expect bad breakup stories, dirty laundry or potentially controversial subjects (hmm, maybe a future book devoted to that, Pam?). “Paper Cuts,” however, compiles some of her real-life adventures and misadventures (even her proneness to paper cuts and other wounds), made involving by her distinct and very readable thoughts.

‘Four’ scores, just a little

“I Am Number Four” feels like TV shows “Roswell” and “Smallville” rolled into one, mainly because of the recycled super-alien teens hiding amongst humans concept. Its screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are the latter’s co-creators, while director DJ Caruso also did episodes of “Smallville” and “Dark Angel.” So the team already has ample experience with contributing to misfit superteen sagas.

Now, the alien designated Number Four a.k.a. John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) isn’t as distinct as Kal-El or even Max Evans, but his life is less comfortable than theirs. Transplanted on Earth, he and his assigned protector (Timothy Olyphant) hide and quietly flee from violent aliens bent on their extermination. The cycle stops in a small town in Ohio, where he befriends and bonds with an aspiring photographer, Sarah (Dianna Agron).

Again, we’ve seen the human-alien attraction angle before, over and over, in the previously mentioned shows. The movie spends more time telling than showing; we don’t really see the hunted aliens’ culture or anything, and it doesn’t even bother with explaining the science of Number Four’s abilities or the alien tech. Most of the characters are two-dimensional and disaffecting clones we’ve seen countless times before.

If anything, the fantasy flick has a few action scenes that look cool, made flashy by simple effects and decent fight choreography. Pettyfer and Agron are hotness squared, distracting enough to keep you from minding their characters’ predictability too much. The identities and powers of the other alien survivors aren’t all revealed, so the partially solved mystery keeps things a bit intriguing. That should be explored properly, and more creatively, in the sequel.

“I Am Number Four” opens Feb. 23 in Metro Manila.

‘Filipinos love superheroes’

(Published Feb. 21, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Photo by Sany Chua

“Marvel super heroes are relatable because they’re not perfect,” said Simon J. Philips, president of Marvel Entertainment International and CEO of Marvel Animation, during a recent visit to Manila. “I think the Filipino market has embraced them,” he added, citing “Spider-Man 3” and “Iron Man 2” as two of the highest-grossing Marvel films in the Philippines to date.

Philips was in the country to look into possible projects specific to the Philippine market, part of an Asian business trip that included Thailand and Hong Kong. Philips said Marvel Entertainment is focusing on countries in the region with “rapidly expanding economies,” and that the acquisition of Marvel by the Walt Disney Company in 2009 is proving beneficial to this endeavor. Philips gave the Inquirer an interview prior to a press conference at the Manila Peninsula.

How is the cross-promotion with Disney properties working out?

To give you an example of the synergies, the “Thor” trailer premiered in the United States before “Tron.” Marvel utilizes the incredible distribution mechanic that the Walt Disney Company has, to promote our movies. Our characters appeal to a market much different from the average Disney fan. We utilize the distribution where appropriate, [but] it’s not the only way we’re going to promote our movies or animation.

What are your thoughts on Marvel’s recovery from bankruptcy?

I think what changed the course of the company was the licensing. It was the opportunity to take the characters and apply them to T-shirts, toys, video games, and a plethora of different merchandise. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just a comic book company, it was an entertainment company.

How involved is Disney with the creation of Marvel movies?

Marvel Studios was an established maker of movies before the merger with Disney. The Walt Disney Company is saying, “Marvel, you have a competency and a skill in this area, so we’re gonna let you continue doing that.”

What do you expect this Philippine trip to accomplish?

We want to make sure that we’re able to provide everything that the fans may want. And we want to find new fans, to introduce new people to the world of Marvel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

‘Unknown’ quantity, evident quality

American botanist Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) discovers an elaborate scheme that makes him question his sanity. After a car accident in Berlin, he's baffled that someone has taken over his identity, and his wife (January Jones) looks like she’s in on it. He’s soon convinced that there’s a conspiracy afoot when an assassin tries to dispose of him.

Despite typical establishing techniques used in the lead character’s ordeal, “Unknown’s” mysteries unravel steadily, and the revelations are satisfyingly backed up. The desperation of Neeson’s Harris is palpable; Jones as the blank-faced wife perplexes but ultimately fits, and Aidan Quinn as the smug replacement husband rightly infuriates.

The whole cover-up angle isn’t without holes, but “Unknown” manages to control its preposterousness and presents a rather solid and enigmatic escapade.

‘Blockbusters’ summarized

“Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe” is another unique Handbook, organizing information on some of the company’s most popular crossovers and storylines. Summarized arcs are sometimes accompanied by new, original art, and those events that didn’t make it to the main entry section are included in the five-page appendix. “Blockbusters” even has updates, elaborating on the aftermath of each major conflict. The cover isn’t very impressive, but the book is absolutely worth picking up.

Yeah, ‘Just Go With It’

Adam Sandler’s comedies in the last few years have mostly portrayed him as irresistible and super-attractive, so if you’ve gotten used to that idea, you can pretty much suspend disbelief early on. In the aptly titled “Just Go With It,” he’s desired by younger, attractive women, easily falling for the sensitive plastic surgeon who pretends to be on the verge of a divorce. He even enlists his assistant, a single mother played by Jennifer Aniston, to create the illusion of an unhappy marriage, her children posing as his own. They all go to Hawaii with his new girl, a hot blonde teacher played by Brooklyn Decker, to demonstrate how good he is as a parent. Yep, just go with it.

The humor is pretty much what one would expect from a Sandler-starrer. There are the oddball kids, weirdo friends, deception-related pratfalls, and so on. There are pleasant surprises, such as Nicole Kidman’s appearance as some uber-competitive rival of Aniston’s character, married to the guy “who invented the iPod,” played by Dave Matthews (already a Sandler flick fixture).

Of course, this being a romantic comedy, there’s the cute initially platonic relationship between the faux couple, which actually isn’t bad or corny; it’s when things become serious and the two expectedly discover feelings for each other that the steady extraction of laughs just suddenly stops. And we don’t even get to see how the big revelation went between the plastic surgeon and his younger girlfriend after the epiphany.

The Sandler-Aniston pairing is comfy, regardless. “Just Go With It” succeeds to some extent in creating funny scenarios out of complicated family situations, but is one of the more generic, lesson-imparting projects in Sandler’s filmography.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lovers and Fighters

Capes and tights, gay and straight, hugs and kisses. Yeah, Valentine art post.

Invincible and Atom Eve: Cloud Nine

Invincible and Atom Eve, teen superheroes in love. Can’t wait for their reunion now that the Viltrumite War is over.

I imagine Dashboard Confessional playing in the background, either their “These Bones” or “Heaven Here.” I interviewed the band last year and Chris Carrabba said their music would fit the book if it had a soundtrack; Invincible “has an optimism” that he likes “a lot.”

Question and Batwoman

Former lovers Renee and Kate get kissy behind the Question’s mist after a busy crimefighting night. I like this complicated relationship.

Perfect song for this scene: “Worn Me Down” by Rachael Yamagata. Or something differently paced but just as emotionally resonant, like Melissa Etheridge’s “I Want to Come Over.” Maybe they’re the songs in Kate and Renee’s heads, respectively.

Piotr Loves Zsaji

Yup, the relationship that temporarily ended the Peter Rasputin-Kitty Pryde thing (which was kinda weird, because Kitty was 14 and he was about five or six years older). Anyway, Peter fell in love with the alien healer Zsaji during the first Secret Wars. This scene can be interpreted as something that happened during their time at Battleworld, but I prefer to think of it as a brief post-death reunion in another plane after Peter sacrificed himself (to release the Legacy cure), and mere moments before Ord resurrected him.

Song: “Can Your Kisses Fly?” by Lotus Eaters.

Billy and Teddy’s Excellent Adventure

Hulkling, son of Captain Mar-Vell, and Wiccan, son of the Scarlet Witch, relaxing at Avengers Mansion:

“C’mere, Billy-boy. Stop reading for a sec.”

“Later, Teddy. Need to memorize these spells soon or Dr. Strange will be taking the name of the Vishanti in vain again.”

“Nah, he’s busy for at least an hour. Wong’s giving him a massage.”

Song for this scene: “Good Morning Baby” by Dan Wilson and Bic Runga, or “Do You Love Me” by Guster.

Swaggering ‘Swan’

Lacking narrative surprises but very artistically told, “Black Swan” is a decidedly discomfiting film about an obsessed young woman’s gradual descent into madness, her paranoid realities blurring together quite frighteningly. The ambitious but uptight ballerina Nina, magnificently portrayed by Natalie Portman, experiences inner turmoil after landing two much-coveted roles. Her mentor and boss, played by Vincent Cassel, sees her potential for duality; all she needs to do is embrace her uninhibited side.

Darren Aronofsky reins in his wildly abstract and flashy storytelling style and successfully paints a clear and well-composed picture. His unique visual touches add flair to the simple but effective dramatic moments. So no, it’s nothing like the puzzling “The Fountain,” structure-wise. The tightly written script also helps in establishing the fragile emotional state of tragic Nina, whose exceedingly unsettling bouts with depression are always revelatory.

The other really unhappy characters are Beth, played by Winona Ryder, a disgruntled and fading ballet star, and Nina’s mom, played by Barbara Hershey, who pushes her daughter to excel after giving up on her own dreams. Mila Kunis, however, portrays someone who’s far from sulky; her adventurous and playful Lily introduces Nina to her more reckless and dangerous side. If you didn’t take Kunis seriously before (she was from “That ‘70s Show,” yes), you certainly will after seeing this.

“Black Swan” opens Feb. 23 in Metro Manila.

Oh, That Aunt May

In the regular Marvel Universe, Aunt May Parker dated Doctor Octopus and Jarvis, and eventually married J. Jonah Jameson’s dad. In the comic strip written by Stan Lee, she wants to marry the Mole Man. Oh, man. She’s not very choosy in two Marvel realities. I saw this some weeks ago and it just made me laugh.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Gods and Supergods

A few of my fave higher beings from pantheons brought to life by Kirby, Simonson, Byrne, Gaiman, and others. Four new drawings.

Thor Circa 1987

Thor in battle armor, probably my favorite among his costumes. I saw this version in X-Factor (he had a two-page appearance, drawn by Walt Simonson) and Avengers (the issue where they beat up Zeus).

Orion, Son of Darkseid

He was badass during Morrison’s JLA run. He died thrice in a span of months, in three big event books, about three years ago.

Dream Meets Nightmare

DC and Marvel’s dream lords meet at a neutral realm between their kingdoms:

“If you wish to fight me, Nightmare, know that I am more powerful than the costumed mortals that bested you combined.”

“I cower before you, o mighty Morpheus, the warrior-king who spent seven decades trapped in some clumsy dabblers’ rank basement!”

Galactus Vs. Anti-Monitor

The devourer of worlds meets the destroyer of universes.

Counting the harrowing ‘Hours’

Danny Boyle’s mastery of the filmic language is especially evident in “127 Hours” that we get eloquent glimpses of nature adventurer Aron Ralston’s life, even when most of the movie takes place in a narrow, hidden corner of a Utah canyon.

Based on Ralston’s real and agonizing ordeal, “127 Hours” adroitly illustrates his time spent trapped and freeing himself from a boulder that pinned his hand. His tale is often told with bold visual gimmickry, flashy techniques that would look overly pretentious or laughable in less-talented directors’ hands. Trippy dreams, flashbacks, and hallucinations give us all we need to know about him when he’s stuck in that one spot and miserable.

James Franco’s performance is simply mesmerizing; he interprets Ralston with convincing humanity, from a person who’s one with the earth, to someone who expressively goes through the disconcerting stages of grief. And he transmits his desperation successfully especially when frustration-laced survival instincts kick in.

“127 Hours” opens in Metro Manila on Feb. 9.

Bouncy ‘Burlesque’

Pop songstresses Cher and Christian Aguilera star in the silly but somewhat endearing movie musical “Burlesque,” basically an amalgamation of generic plots involving the pursuit of dreams, but with more women clad in sexy lingerie.

So there’s Ali (Aguilera), the girl from Iowa, who sneaks her way into a waitressing job at an LA club owned by a motherly diva (Cher). The club’s scantily dressed dancers lip-synch to sultry tunes, but ambitious Ali eventually shares the stage with them and introduces some changes.

Practically everyone is assigned a perfunctory task and personality: friendly bartender is an aspiring songwriter (Cam Gigandet); inebriated and petulant star (Kristen Bell) gets catty and sabotage-y; the gay guy (Stanley Tucci) is the reliable shoulder to cry on. Cher disappears and reappears from time to time, her character worried about her business and whatnot. But it’s a respectable cast and the soundtrack is pleasant (Cher gets to sing a power ballad reminiscent of her late ‘80s songs and Aguilera flexes her pipes a couple of times). The romance subplot slows things down, though.

The film amuses, however, when it’s not trying to tell a story. Overall, it’s bouncy and brainless fun.

Routine ‘Rite’ of passage

Not as disturbing as the more iconic and influential films about possession that preceded it, “The Rite” adequately establishes the inner turmoil of a skeptical seminarian (Colin O’Donoghue) assigned to assist a seasoned exorcist (Anthony Hopkins). The other threats and conflicts, however, are routinely presented; it gets quite cheesy when expected confrontations and realizations happen. Hopkins isn’t entirely creepy when he needs to be, but the times he does succeed are memorable. O’Donoghue shows promise, giving some depth to an otherwise drab character.