Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sandbox Showdown

X-Babies Vs. Tiny Titans! Beware Speedy’s cupcake arrow!

Less than meets the eye

(Dear SM MoA Imax, no one was handing out 3D glasses when my companion and I entered the cinema; I had to rush out to get them shortly before the movie started. I noticed that some people didn’t get theirs, either.)

Some spoilers ahead.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” thankfully, isn’t the travesty that was “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” That doesn’t mean it’s fully recovered from its problematic aspects; if anything, this third movie doesn’t veer too far away from the established Bay-flick trappings.

“Dark of the Moon” rehashes familiar story elements, and sticks with the confusing, overly ornate designs--Prime still looks like there’s trash clumped all over him, even when he’s not sporting his scrap-looking flight gear--making it hard to really appreciate this live-action version’s overall look. It’s often a challenge to immediately figure out action scenes, and the brief slow-mo sequences don’t really give clarity to the slugfests.

Megan Fox and her character are out and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley plays Sam’s (Shia LaBeouf ) new girlfriend Carly, introduced as someone with ties to the British embassy and the military. Like the previous movies’ attention to the romance angle, Sam and Carly’s cutesy relationship is defined amid thunderous conflicts and much running, the actors adequately sharing some onscreen chemistry. They’re a pretty normal, feelgood summer movie couple, threatened by a conspiracy dating back to the Space Race. This is the second time in mere weeks that the Kennedy administration’s been connected to fantastical epics, but we don’t care about this secret history tidbit as much as the one in “X-Men: First Class.”

John Malkovich and Frances McDormand appear as new characters; the former is wasted while the latter charms but is pretty forgettable. John Turturro is less annoying than in the previous parts. The human-Autobot interactions don’t really make us care for their bond but the Bumblebee-Sam friendship still moves, however fleetingly. And Chicago is invaded and conquered by Decepticons, which looked cool for about a few minutes, but the subsequent liberation process got quite tedious.

Again, this is pretty bearable compared to the second film, but it has its laughable moments. One of them was Carly taunting Megatron into betraying a new ally, because she witnessed the Decepticon leader getting bitch-slapped by that newer character earlier. Megatron’s such a softie; he didn’t do or say anything to the girl, he just attacks the other robot. It would’ve been impressive had Megatron undermined her verbally, “lower” life form that she is, then scared her off with a warning shot, mockingly said “thank you,” and attacked the new robot anyway. But no, that didn’t happen.

And Optimus Prime can get really corny, as exemplified by his declaration to an enemy: “You didn’t betray me. You betrayed yourself.”


‘Outsourced’: Universal hotline

(Published June 22, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


The weekly sitcom “Outsourced,” about an American heading a call center in India, regularly pokes fun at aspects of both countries’ cultures. But while the situations may inspire discussions on differences, the show also depicts universal similarities between people, their location and traditions notwithstanding.

The proverbial fish out of water, Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport) must adapt to the changes that come with being transplanted to Mumbai. But the transition isn’t smooth, even when he thinks that he’s assimilated quite nicely.

Todd often has to explain to his employees the idea behind the gag and novelty items that they’re selling. He also had to contend with harassment complaints filed by his agents at one point, totally oblivious of his mistakes. The young boss and his mostly enthusiastic set of employees routinely question each other’s customs, but issues are often resolved by the end of the episode.

A few distinct agents are focused on: Manmeet (Sacha Dahwan), confident and overly friendly to female clients; Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan), timid but talented breadwinner of her family; Gupta (Parvesh Cheena), the outcast dreaming of Bollywood stardom; Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood), who has a crush on Todd but is focused on picking the proper suitor for her arranged marriage; and Rajiv (Rizwan Manji), the annoying assistant manager openly coveting Todd’s job.

“Outsourced” further illustrates the appeal of the underdog: Despite Todd’s success, he’s considered a failure by his dismissive father. Todd’s employees are sometimes picked on by elitist call center agents of another company in the same building. In the standout episode “Todd’s Holi War,” he leads his bullied team in outwitting and “outmuscling” their well-dressed tormentors during the “Holi” festival.

Newcomer Rappaport and the cast members form a tight ensemble, adding charm and freshness to the periodically campy but celebratory series.

“Outsourced” airs on Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. on 2nd Avenue, and on Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. on Universal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Blinking light

Effects-heavy but a popcorn flick devoid of fun moments, “Green Lantern” is based on the long-running DC comic book of the same name. Bequeathed a will-powered ring by a dying alien, cocky and misunderstood pilot Hal Jordan becomes part of an intergalactic police force, creating light constructs and fighting space-spawned menaces connected to his predecessor.

Understandably, the film is its own entity, as it compresses and revamps details from the source comic book. That may initially impress the loyal reader, but the potential of the semi-faithfulness isn’t fully explored and the movie focuses instead on a very typical, surprise-free hero’s journey. Hal Jordan is played by Ryan Reynolds, who spices up the role a bit despite his sometimes-annoying jokey demeanor. Reynolds gives Hal some recognizable personality, at least, because Hal’s pretty dull in the comics.

Blake Lively makes a decent Carol Ferris, also a strong-willed pilot and Hal’s longtime friend and occasional lover. Unfortunately, their pairing has no sparks; their scenes together are unexciting, and the movie slows down considerably whenever they’re focused on.

As for the villains, the disfigured psychic Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) and the cosmic creature Parallax aren’t at all distressing antagonists; one’s typically the vengeful nerd conveniently pining for Carol, while the other’s a cloudy mass reminiscent of the film version of Galactus. A respected Green Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong), isn’t a villain yet, but older fans might wish that his fascistic tendencies were more concretely hinted at. Still, he’s shown as someone likely to pursue his own agenda.

The super-brawls proceed mechanically, sadly, disappointing with less-than-imaginative fight tactics and emotionally disconnecting confrontations. “Green Lantern” ultimately does little to make the main character a sympathetic and awe-inspiring figure, and his cosmic feats lack grandeur and lasting impact.

Cold comfort

It’s easy to dismiss “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” as a cheesy family flick, as the trailer rather painfully shows Jim Carrey teaching a group of penguins some dance steps. Carrey’s practically done everything, but it still strikes you as odd that he’d be involved in something so… strange.

But it’s surprising that it’s not at all a horrifically done or treacly pet movie; “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” actually pleasantly diverts with its yarn about fathers and children, unresolved issues and recovering relationships. The family comedy-drama’s titular character Tom Popper (Carrey) is a divorced real estate developer who inherits a couple of penguins. He transforms his posh apartment into their cold but comfy habitat, his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and their kids becoming closer to him again because of the adorable new pets.

There aren’t new stuff or surprises happening here; the movie is pretty formulaic with its family-oriented themes and stages of epiphany, but it’s still quite heartwarming and cute. A toned-down Carrey sufficiently provides humanity to a partly-fantastical setting. Also, Tom’s assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond) amuses consistently with her quirky obsession with words starting with the letter “p.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stars and Lightning

Just random Marvel characters, so no real theme here. Hmm, let’s connect them anyway: Thor’s dad Odin declared Dazzler the winner of a singing contest. Dazzler is rumored to be Shatterstar’s mother. Shatterstar almost hit on Thor.

Classic Thor

Thor, son of Odin and Gaea, Avenger and former All-Father.

Disco Dazzler

Dazzler: Retrospective collects disco diva Alison Blaire’s greatest hits and previously unreleased studio tracks, remastered for this special release. The artist, praised by All-Father Odin himself for her “voice so sublime,” was declared “the fairest songstress of Asgard and Midgard” early in her career.*

Track List:

(1) Love From Beyond (2) The Shattered Star (3) A Little Girl’s Dream (4) The Power Cosmic (5) Asgardian Idol (6) You Only Live Twice (Feat. Lila Cheney) (7) Siege Perilous, Siege Fabulous (8) Go For It! (Feat. Johnny Storm) (9) Hammer Bay Heartbreak (10) X-Lovers (11) Black Bolt Screaming (12) Mutant And Proud (2011 Utopia Remix)

*Dazzler # 16

Shatterstar + Rictor

Bodacious bisexuals Ric and ‘Star sometimes smooch in the GLAAD award-winning X-Factor book by Peter David.

Music in their heads: “The Ballad of You and I” by Melee and “I Will Remember” by Hard Rain.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

They Got the Beat

Go-Go’s vocalist Belinda Carlisle and her 19-year-old son, actor-activist James Duke Mason, discuss his homosexuality in a recent Advocate video (scroll down that page, it’s below the article). Belinda mentions seeing hints--Duke was furious when she postponed their scheduled “Brokeback Mountain” movie outing, for example--but still admits to feeling shocked and worried when he came out a few years ago. She accepted it, eventually: “Of course I’m gonna have a gay son.”

Aww. They really are making heaven a place on earth. Okay, only older, ‘80s pop music-loving people will get that reference.

New ‘Skins’ less edgy but still racy

(Published June 13, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


The new American remake of the acclaimed British teen drama “Skins” duplicates its themes and controversial content—about a group of sexually active and weed-smoking teens. But this new MTV series is less edgy, although its depictions of sex, drug use and bad behavior are still racy, and it tackles subjects too touchy for regular US network shows.

Those already familiar with the original series may find the re-imagined version a toned-down déjà vu, as it has virtually the same characters and storylines but sans the excessive use of expletives and with less nudity. MTV Asia blurs out certain intimate scenes as well.

The Americanized characters are still believable, thanks to their core traits. Tony (James Newman) is the manipulative alpha male; Michelle (Rachel Thevenard) is the hot but insecure girl; Stanley (Daniel Flaherty) is the awkward virgin smitten with Michelle.

There are major changes: The pill-popping and depressed Cadie (Britne Oldford) doesn’t have an eating disorder, which was exceptionally portrayed in the original show. And instead of a gay guy, this version has a lesbian, Tea (Sofia Black-D’Elia), a cheerleader easily bored by overly dramatic and confused partners.

The Tea-centric episode exemplifies the potential of the show, creatively utilizing elements exclusive to the American setting. She discovers her senile grandmother’s sexual identity during the latter’s sad recollection of the homophobic “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s.

Tea also has a one-time tryst with Tony, but it makes sense because she likes challenges and considers him an equal. Interestingly, British Tony had a brief affair with the gay guy, so this is a different rapport altogether.

Its more insightful changes make “Skins” interesting and may still impress diehard fans of the predecessor, even if they find the interpretation uneven. But the uninitiated viewer will nonetheless be stunned by the interwoven tales of teen pain, over-indulgence and rebellion.

“Skins” airs Sundays, 11 p.m. on MTV Asia.

Lively and Lustrous

Lookit Finn’s hair! This was the big reveal in the “To Cut a Woman’s Hair” episode of “Adventure Time.” Jake is super-stunned.

Sentimental summer

J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” isn’t quite “E.T.,” but it’s reminiscent of kid-friendly summer popcorn flicks of yesteryear that seem to have been replaced mostly by flashier, inflated, and more bombastic fare. It’s not exactly mind-blowing, and it has more than its share of cloying characters and situations, but the science fiction-adventure flick is solidly told.

Set in 1979, “Super 8” focuses on a bunch of kids making a super 8 movie during their summer vacation, but their filmmaking takes a turn for the bizarre when they witness a train crash and a succeeding military cover-up. They piece together clues to a well-hidden puzzle, which just might be an enigmatic creature stalking their small town.

Two talented young actors, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, stand out as schoolmates surviving their respective traumas, aspects to their personas and blossoming friendship believably substantiating their shared adventure. Their well-meaning but flawed fathers, the generic lawman and generic outcast, are nonetheless competently played by Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard, respectively.

Again, the film doesn’t have labyrinthine twists, nor does it break new cinematic ground. The predictability might actually annoy the more impatient or more jaded viewer; nonetheless, the sentimental “Super 8” is properly paced and it evokes nostalgia adequately.

(My thanks to Mae and Ayala Cinemas for the invite. “Super 8” is now showing at all Ayala Cinemas. Log on to www.sureseats.com for reservations and movie info.)

Friday, June 03, 2011

Genuine ‘Class’

A prequel that also partly reboots the continuity of the established Marvel franchise, “X-Men: First Class” impressively reintroduces the team of mutant adventurers, linking them this time to a tumultuous period in history. The latest reinterpretation quite stunningly examines the long-mentioned friendship between opposing mutant leaders Professor X and Magneto, both integral to the formation of the team in this iteration.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who’s already successfully retooled and translated popular comic books “Kick-Ass” and “Stardust” into movies, “First Class” gives a much clearer picture of the challenges facing mutantkind, as well as the strife facing its future shepherds. The young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is a telepathic genetics expert who eventually befriends the revenge-driven Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), a Holocaust survivor with mastery over magnetism.

The film pleasantly surprises with its handling of that precious bond, which was talked about repeatedly in the previous film trilogy but bandied about with little emotional resonance. “First Class” rectifies that, finally, giving substance to both characters and their intimate enmity. But giving Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto depth is Fassbender, who portrays the future villain with uncommon intensity. Magneto’s thirst for vengeance and steely determination are further solidified, while Charles Xavier is expounded on delightfully. McAvoy’s suave and animated Xavier charms and surprises, still exhibiting familiar qualities of the future mutant messiah between his more human moments.

And the film has its share of human drama, made extra-palpable by fine actors. Nicholas Hoult, formerly known for his bisexual alpha male role in the original “Skins,” plays super-genius Hank McCoy/the Beast, who sees himself as disfigured. Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) portrays Raven/Mystique, Charles’ dear friend who believes in his cause initially, but is unable to fully accept her own visible mutation.

Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Shaw, an unrepentant mutant madman that’s pretty run of the mill but nonetheless a threatening and inescapable presence thanks to the actor. Readers of the comic books may see some resemblance to the Mister Sinister character because of his first/flashback scene. Not all cast members leave a good impression, however. January Jones plays Shaw’s telepathic lackey Emma Frost, sadly an emotion-devoid mannequin.

“X-Men: First Class” has a number of finely shot action sequences, but it’s still very much in touch with its emotions. The persecution drama, the impending ruin of a brotherly rapport, and the mutant-gay/outcast metaphor keep this excellent film layered and extraordinarily moving.

Collective amnesia still funny

Duplicating the structure and the irreverent, lowbrow humor of the first “Hangover,” this sequel inspires gasps and guffaws despite having lost its element of surprise. Alan (Zack Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) reunite for another wedding in “The Hangover Part II.” Of course, they end up forgetting crucial events prior to the occasion again, and must retrace their steps to figure out what went wrong during that one night in Bangkok.

Still a strange but synergistic grouping, the trio of Galifianakis, Helms, and Cooper manages to keep the silliness fresh. Like in the first film, however, the laughs are largely split between Galifianakis and Helms, with Cooper’s more “normal” character ending up as uninteresting and forgettable (again). Justin Bartha, like last time, is barely seen, but he’s not the missing person here and he doesn’t participate in the search.

Again, familiarity with the first film makes “The Hangover Part II” considerably less intriguing and charming, but its typically icky and lewd humor still tickles.

“The Hangover Part II” opens June 8 in Metro Manila.

Beaver Fever

Yes, modern Archie is with-it and pop culturally aware. Justin Beaver debuts in an issue of Little Archie and Friends. And also appearing, according to the text at the lower right corner of the cover: Meowly Cyrus, the Jonas Barkers, and Lady Arf Arf.

Lady Arf Arf. Interesting.


Posted this on Facebook last Thursday:

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Saw X-Men: First Class… Fan-f*cking-tastic! Excellent storytelling, excellent actors. Fassbender! MacAvoy! Bacon! Hoult! Ahhhh!!! And no distracting Stan Lee cameo. Hope Joss Whedon’s Avengers has similar pathos. X-Men: First Class! Watch it. Watch it thrice!!!

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I’ll be posting a proper review later.