Thursday, September 29, 2011

Look Sharp

Some cool comic book encounters. New drawings.

Daken Meets Shatterstar

Badass bisexual brawlers! Wolverine’s son Daken and Longshot’s rumored son Shatterstar. This really should happen soon.

Cheetah Vs. Tigra

Feline fisticuffs! This was inspired by the one-panel confrontation in JLA-Avengers # 4.

Surviving the ‘Awkward’ phase

(Published Sept. 29, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


High jinks and histrionics abound in “Awkward,” MTV’s new teen comedy series about a misunderstood girl and her daily survival routine. The half-hour show developed by Lauren Iungerich paints a pretty stylized picture of high school and teenage debacles, but it’s easy to identify with the uncomfortable situations and certain campus archetypes.

“Awkward” follows the misadventures of the nearly invisible but attractive Jenna (Ashley Rickards), who starts an intimate relationship with the sweet jock Matty (Beau Mirchoff). But they belong to different cliques, and Matty asks her to keep quiet, so she reluctantly keeps their “friends with benefits” status a secret.

Jenna figures in an accident at home, but her misfortune is misinterpreted by her schoolmates as a suicide attempt.

Calling it a “misunderstanding of epic proportions,” Jenna explains her side in vain, and tries to ignore the judgmental or sympathetic stares. She sometimes has to contend with the mean cheerleader, Sadie (Molly Tarlov), and even has to humor the inept guidance counselor Ms Marks (Desi Lydic).

But Jenna still secretly fools around with Matty from time to time, happy for the temporary intimacy that their secret arrangement allows them. Her insecurities return soon after they part ways, but while Jenna feels a little unwanted, Matty’s close friend Jake (Brett Davern) starts noticing her.

The show’s voiceover narration is nowhere near as insightful and emotive as in “The Wonder Years,” but its sensitive and sometimes caustic musings make Jenna a solid and sympathetic teen underdog you totally root for. Each episode isn’t entirely comedic; it deliberately utilizes dramatic moments to emphasize the main character’s more serious turning points.

Jenna’s troubles are made “real” by promising young actress Rickards, subtly giving the character the necessary naivete, occasional confidence, and charming awkwardness.

“Awkward” airs Sundays, 11 p.m. on MTV.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Learning, Pageturning

Some spoilery comic book stuff:

1. Schism is heating up; I’m glad that it’s not an event title with infinite tie-ins. It’s only 5 issues long, and the few Generation Hope issues are optional, so it’s not a burden on the wallet. The X-Men are dividing a la the superhero community in Civil War, but this story is more straightforward and more focused. I’m currently siding with Cyclops, whose argument makes more sense than Logan’s.

2. Kevin Keller, the Archie universe’s first openly gay guy, is getting married! In the more grown-up world of Life With Archie, Kevin is a war hero and will be marrying his Mr. Right in a tale written by former DC editor and scribe Paul Kupperberg. Life With Archie # 16 will be released in January. In the meantime, you can read about younger Kevin in the ongoing miniseries, two issues of which are out now. Cool that the character used to be an awkward kid, and dreams of following in his colonel father’s footsteps.

3. They’re Hal Jordan-ing Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Children’s Crusade! Finally. They’re calling it the “Life Force,” which took control of the Scarlet Witch, resulting in the disassembling of the Avengers and the decimation of mutantkind. Good issue with some annoying parts. During the X-Men-Avengers confrontation, Rogue threatens Ms. Marvel: “Don’t make me take the gloves off, Carol!” Whaa--?! Rogue destroyed her life, atoned, and was forgiven! Not cool. That part could’ve been written better.

Girl, gun, grandiosity

In the solid revenge thriller “Hanna,” the titular character is tasked to assassinate a target connected to her past. Raised by a superb ex-CIA operative, Erik (Eric Bana), the 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) soon leaves her secluded home in Finland, where she was rigorously trained in hunting and killing. Her first and only mission is to eliminate the cold-blooded--and plaque-free!--CIA agent, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik’s pursuer and the unrepentant killer of Hanna’s mother.

Her first contact with the outside world carefully planned, the seemingly vulnerable Hanna is detained at a CIA facility in Morocco, where she soon demonstrates her lethal abilities in tight (if overly arty) action sequences. Believing her mission accomplished, Hanna escapes and befriends a vacationing family, before proceeding with her planned reunion with her father in Germany. Marissa, however, has plans of her own that just might ruin their pre-organized itinerary.

Ronan previously worked with director Joe Wright in “Atonement,” their comfortable synergy still obvious in “Hanna.” Ronan continues to improve as an actress, able to convey precious nuances that make her ideal for the unique role. From home-schooled innocent to methodical executioner, Hanna is made intriguing by the emphatic Ronan.

The film has science fiction elements that somewhat diminish the character’s mystique by explaining away (and a little belatedly) that Hanna was truly designed for such tasks. The revelations and their repercussions are pretty by-the-numbers, but overall, “Hanna’s” distinctly strange coming-of-age aspects and spirited action scenarios blend splendidly.

“Hanna” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening today, Sept. 28.

Yay, Gay

Sean Maher, who previously played Dr. Simon Tam in Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and “Serenity,” and a current cast member of “The Playboy Club,” recently came out of the closet in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He and his partner of nine years have two children.

“I have these beautiful children and this extraordinary family, and to think in any way shape or form that that’s wrong or that there’s shame in that or that there’s something to hide actually turns my stomach… What would [my daughter Sophia] think if I said, ‘Oh honey, you can’t come with me to work because they don’t know I have an adopted daughter and they don’t know that I’m gay.’ My children and our family, I’ve really never been as proud of anything in my life.”

The actor knew that he was gay even before getting acting jobs in the late ‘90s, and was in the closet when he was doing “Firefly,” but considered his castmates his “family.”

Congratulations and thanks to Mr. Maher for his courage and honesty!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hilariously ‘Horrible’

You don’t see Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell regularly portraying power-mad, abusive characters at all, so it’s pleasantly surprising that they do exactly that just this once, translating quite enjoyably in the comedy “Horrible Bosses.” Joined by Kevin Spacey, who’s done quite an array of memorable villains already, they form a terrible triumvirate targeted by their favorite victims, played by Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, and Charlie Day.

“Horrible Bosses” follows the abused subordinates’ similar plights, longtime friends who, coincidentally enough, are being pushed to the limit by their different, unapologetically wicked bosses. They hire a guy they believe to be a hitman, actually a “murder consultant,” Motherf***er Jones (Jamie Foxx), but end up following their own less-than-brilliant revenge plan.

It’s a treat to see Aniston in the sexy, over-the-top role, and it’s hilarious to see her predatory ways rebuffed by the dental assistant played by Day (whose role is just a little smarter than his regular “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” character). Spacey expectedly does fine as the manipulative and paranoid character, while Farrell is memorable as the extremely insensitive boss and drug-addled martial arts fan. Bateman and Sudeikis have almost interchangeable characters, good-natured pushover guys with dark sides.

Often entertainingly lewd and crude, the movie’s darkly comic situations offer a strange, cathartic escapism. The bumbling antiheroes and their awful antagonists have enough thigh-slapping encounters, and the endeavor benefits from the visible rapport between its actors, as well.

"Horrible Bosses” opens today in Metro Manila.

Raise your slush cup

TV sensation “Glee” gets the big screen treatment in “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie,” collecting some of the cast’s best (and a few forgettable) covers during their live performances in various venues. Now, it’s understandable that the mega-successful show has spawned a movie; it’s definitely the right time to milk it. But to have it in 3D? Well, that is quite the baffling mystery.

It’s strictly for the “Glee” fan; the actors are in character, but don’t expect any addendum to their storylines. Instead, real fans of the show are featured between numbers. Some are affecting, some are pretty dull, but the most enjoyable fan segments by far are those featuring a young boy, Kellan Sarmiento, the “Mini Warbler” emulating Blaine a.k.a Daren Criss’ dance moves.

The performances aren’t consistently captivating. The good ones include Criss and the Warblers’s numbers, Santana’s (Naya Rivera) rendition of “Valerie,” and Artie’s (Kevin McHale) dream sequence/interpretation of “Safety Dance.”

Not as exciting are “Firework” by Rachel (Lea Michele), the cast's version of "Born This Way," and for some reason, Brittany (Heather Morris) delivers a less-than-kinetic version of her Britney Spears song-and-dance number. Other performances are pretty much the way you may remember them from the show, only magnified several times and with better definition. As for the 3D, well, there’s the confetti near the end, fleetingly enhanced tiny bits in all their floating, shimmery glory.

“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” opens today in Metro Manila.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Long Live the Fourboot Legion

Grownup Legion! Dawnstar, Element Lad, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Girl, Bouncing Boy, Star Boy, Superman, Tyroc, Night Girl, Sensor Girl, Polar Boy, Lightning Lad, Shadow Lass, Shrinking Violet, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Blok, Tellus, Earth Man, Duplicate Damsel, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, Lightning Lass, Wildfire, Mon-El, Colossal Boy.

Effervescent f-buddies

“Friends With Benefits” initially revels in its somewhat edgy and cynical anti-romcom humor, but ultimately and expectedly, it becomes exceedingly familiar and formulaic. Still, it’s snappy and sexy; Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis sizzle as new friends turned f-buddies, hitting it off effortlessly and agreeing to periodic sexual activity minus the proverbial baggage. You see the complications coming, of course, but this particular arrangement still charms and mystifies.

Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) are recently single professionals introducing each other to their worlds, intimately knowing each other in more ways that one. They enjoy the expectation-free relationship, attempting to pursue romantic interests elsewhere but failing miserably when it comes to finding the ideal partner. It’s futile; we all know they’ll get emotionally confused after getting it on repeatedly, it just takes them time (and pushy relatives) to realize that they can totally be a legit couple.

The characters are cute and easy to like, even when some seem to whine a lot. Things are kept lively with biting relationship humor (poking fun at clichéd romantic comedies), equal opportunity objectification (by the gay guy played by Woody Harrelson), and hilarious pop music references (involving John Mayer, Semisonic, etc.).

As for gripes, it’s not very believable that Dylan, hailing from LA, is bewildered by and unaccustomed to flash mobs. And when the lovers’ inevitable couple drama happens, things proceed routinely, the forced friction depriving the corresponding scenes of wit. But while it doesn’t break out of the mold (it would’ve been more interesting had the story ventured into riskier territory), “Friends With Benefits” still manages to explore its uniqueness, before deciding to be just like everything else.

“Friends With Benefits” will be having daylong sneak previews on Sept. 19 and 20 in Metro Manila.

Kinnear channels Kennedy, finds the man ‘fascinating’

(Published Sept. 15, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


“I’m walking while talking,” says American actor Greg Kinnear during an exclusive phone interview with the Inquirer. Scheduled for a long drive the next day, Kinnear takes the opportunity to talk about a recent project while enjoying his “sunny and gorgeous” afternoon in Santa Monica, California.

The multitasking actor is promoting the Emmy-nominated History Channel miniseries, “The Kennedys,” airing in Asia on September 19-22 (9 p.m. in Manila). Kinnear is pleased that he’s been nominated for his portrayal of President John F. Kennedy, a figure he describes as “fascinating.” He considers playing JFK (or “Jack”) a rare acting break.

“It was an incredible honor,” Kinnear says. “Jack was president when I was born, and he was assassinated at the exact age I was when I took this job. In a strange way, I just always felt a connection to him, not only because I admired him and thought much of his legacy, but it’s a pretty fascinating human story as well when you consider these incredible relationships he had with his brother, his wife and his father.”

Kinnear first became known as host of the comedy clip show “Talk Soup,” in the early 1990s. He branched out to acting, his performance as a gay artist in the 1997 film “As Good As It Gets” earning him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. He has portrayed radically different roles since, and is thankful for the diversity.

“It’s what I most hope for,” he says. “I kinda like biographies a lot, stories about real people. I’ve done it four, five times. I also like comedy. I thought I’d be making more of that in my career. But I get to do some of that, too.”

Kinnear reveals that researching JFK’s speech patterns and body language was quite easy. “What was very helpful was the large existing archive of film interviews and press conferences,” he says. “Many of his great speeches were filmed or recorded. He recorded many telephone conversations, and you could get some sense of his cadence and sound in all that.”

The actor believes JFK would have made an impressive leader even in a different era: “He’d make a great president today. He was really trusted by the public. I don’t think people realize how terrifyingly close the world was to nuclear war at that time. He was very smart; he was able to prevent that from happening. He’s a fascinating guy who lived through an extraordinary period in time.”

He adds that actors do take some liberties when interpreting the roles, but that “The Kennedys” was carefully created. “I’m not a historian, but I feel an obligation to follow the template of what was real, true and honest,” Kinnear says. “Robert Dallek, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, wrote ‘An Unfinished Life,’ which is unequivocally the best book that’s ever been written about the family and Jack’s administration. There is virtually nothing in the show that isn’t in his book. He’s one of the historians on the show; he vetted the script, so that was good enough for me.”

Kinnear is proud of the show’s 10 Emmy nominations. He and costar Barry Pepper are competing in the category, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries. “Barry [is] unbelievable as Robert Kennedy,” Kinnear gushed. “His performance is staggeringly great work. He took the role and owned it!”

The actor also praised Katie Holmes for her Jackie Kennedy portrayal. “I had worked with Katie before, in Sam Raimi’s ‘The Gift.’ I was ‘killing’ her in the woods when I last worked with her. Jackie Kennedy was the hardest role to take on, and I have the greatest respect for her for doing it justice.”

Kinnear is set to appear in the comedy, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” with Sarah Jessica Parker. He has no plans of returning to TV on a regular basis, but is not ruling out the possibility on account of the onset of prestigious programs. “Cable channels are creating remarkable shows now … so I’m bullish about it. They’re doing some great stuff.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pestilence dispatched

Steven Soderbergh’s smart disaster flick “Contagion” chronicles the apocalyptic rise of a mysterious disease, tracking a number of perspectives differently affected by its onslaught. Oddly enough, this film may as well have been the implied story during the end credits of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” where a virus decimates the human populace on a global scale.

The cast is unquestionably impressive. Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law play besieged characters that react to the unprecedented outbreak, each privy to a different side of the catastrophe. Not everyone survives it; some of them aren’t around for long, but the survivors’ tales offer realistic consequences, as well as insights into human behavior.

It should be frightening, but it mostly isn’t. It connects on a cerebral level; the sometimes-loosely connected tales are a welcome challenge. Your mind grasps the simultaneous upheavals but strangely (and sadly), not every story elicits sympathy or concern. The overall tragedy registers, but there’s very little empathic connection to the more personal misfortunes. The viewer’s attention is too split to really care for all the characters, but to the actors’ credit, they perform their assigned tasks admirably.

TV show asks hard questions

(Published Sept. 9, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


If you witness ethically dubious individuals mistreating others, how would you respond? ABC News’ fascinating “Primetime: What Would You Do?” asks the tough questions, pointing its hidden cameras at manufactured scenarios. Using credible actors, it gets intriguing answers from real people, who react differently to the given situations.

Hosted by veteran journalist John Quiñones, the program tests random “subjects,” presenting them serious quandaries that may lead them to do the right thing, or to ignore the whole incident altogether. The show’s actors are assigned to misbehave at the expense of others, unknown to baffled bystanders.

Each experiment is carefully planned, and sometimes requires the participation of some “regular” people. In various establishments, these scenarios unfold, often prompting vocal civilians to intervene and protect strangers (the actors) from getting victimized or exploited. At a nearby monitor room, the host observes the ongoing potential debacles with behavior experts, who periodically chime in on the body language of certain persons.

In one episode, the show staged a predicament at a pastry shop. A rude store clerk insults and shortchanges a blind woman, which enrages a number of real customers. The more protective witnesses stand up for her, angrily protesting the shamelessness of the clerk. When interviewed by the host minutes after the conflict, the surprised customers thought that it was the natural, immediate reaction to such offensive behavior.

Another segment is inspired by “Wedding Crashers,” about a pair of trespassing freeloaders. Two of the show’s actors pose as friends of the newlyweds, who are aware of the “prank.” During the real reception, the actors flirt with female guests and partake of food and drinks, but they’re inevitably discovered.

Before things truly get out of hand, the host makes an appearance, and explains the test to the unwitting but pleasantly surprised participants. Interestingly, the show sometimes asks tougher questions by changing actors. In similarly disconcerting spots, the race or gender of the “character” is changed to see if people react differently to such factors.

The disparate responses to the staged encounters are often revealing and enlightening. The near-skirmishes are unpredictable, translating as genuine drama that uplifts or discomfits.

“Primetime: What Would You Do?” airs Mondays, 10:30 p.m. on Studio 23.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Live-Action Assembling

Some “Avengers” teaser pics have been released. I found these on CBR, and a Tom "Loki" Hiddleston interview posted on MTV Splash Page. He talked about working on action scenes with his co-stars:

“It’s so funny because we’re all so gentle with each other. With Robert [Downey, Jr.] I was like, ‘Shall I squeeze a bit harder?’ And he was like, ‘Just squeeze baby, squeeze. Keep squeezing, baby.' And then Chris Hemsworth had to properly tackle me, [he asked] ‘Shall I just nudge you in the shoulder, mate?’ And I’m like, ‘Just take me out buddy, otherwise it’s going to look rubbish,’ and you kind of get a kick out of the physicality of it and then you wake up every morning going ‘Awww, I've got a few cracks.’ But it’s fun! We’re making the ‘Avengers,’ you know. It’s too much fun.”

That part with Robert Downey is funny. And interesting images, so far. I do hope that they include other unannounced Avengers characters, which can be played by less-popular actors (think Iceman in the first X-flick). The roster is okay, though. I hope these versions of Black Widow and Hawkeye become likeable, human heroes. It’s in Joss Whedon’s capable hands, so yeah, we’ll probably see that happen.

Fang feast

“Fright Night” is an enjoyable remake of the campy horror classic, updated quite nicely and a fun breather from the more “serious” monster flicks. Anton Yelchin is the new Charlie Brewster, a former geek dating the hot girl (Imogen Poots), and a witness to the bloody feeding frenzy of his vampire neighbor (Colin Farrell).

Like the original, this new version by Craig Gillespie is pretty simple and predictable, but the revived boy-versus-vampire yarn amuses. It’s still funny at the right parts, the humor given a more contemporary spin by screenwriter Marti Noxon, who used to write for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” There are pacing and editing flaws, however; awkward pauses and unnecessarily prolonged moments drain the suspense out of a few scenes.

It’s an impressive cast, despite the less-than-complex roles. Cristopher Mintz-Plasse plays Charlie’s vampire-hunting friend Ed; Toni Collette tones it down but is still good as Charlie’s doubting single mother. David Tennant, fan-favorite former Doctor Who, expressively plays Peter Vincent, now an ill-mannered Las Vegas illusionist and a reluctant participant in Charlie Brewster’s war.

“Fright Night” opens today in Metro Manila.

Disturbing relevance

Depressing but rightly so, the David Schwimmer-directed drama “Trust” follows the victimization of a young teen and the aftermath of her ordeal. Tackling relevant issues mostly effectively, the film’s powerful performances compensate for some narrative lapses.

It’s immediately distressing: a young teen, Annie (Liana Liberato) forms an online friendship with a stranger, “Charlie,” whose charming persona easily reels in the unwary youngster. Meeting up with her admirer at a mall, Annie discovers that it’s a much older man, but the silver-tongued cyber-predator convinces her to keep him company anyway. Annie’s father, Will (Clive Owen), is later informed of the horrific situation, shocked and enraged that his daughter was assaulted.

Unnerving and discomfiting, “Trust” establishes its characters firmly through believable portrayals. One can’t help but feel sickened as well, thanks to Liberato’s strong and versatile interpretation of Annie. We see her gradual and heartbreaking transformation from sweet, promising girl to teenage cautionary tale, and the young actress manages to assert a variety of emotions quite convincingly.

Owen, meanwhile, is characteristically astounding; you can feel him simmering in disbelief, weakened by guilt, and become understandably obsessed with exacting vengeance. His character’s work scenario feels forced (he handles an underwear campaign with ads of sensualized, scantily clad young women, to add more obvious conflict to his situation), but Owen just incredibly exemplifies a helpless father living his worst nightmare.

“Trust” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive opening on Sept. 7.

Monday, September 05, 2011

LNA, Ten Years Ago

Before it was a graphic novel, “Lexy, Nance & Argus” was a comic strip that debuted ten years ago in Pulp, a local music magazine. Back in mid-2001, I pitched it to publisher Vernon Go and then-managing editor Annie Alejo. I was given two pages monthly, and the strip appeared in nine issues. Those 18 pages eventually became the first few chapters of the “Sex, Gods, Rock & Roll” one-shot, published in December of 2004.

I’m still very thankful for that opportunity. I’ve mentioned that a number of times already through the years in different blog entries. The comic strip led to a writing job at a magazine, which led to writing for a broadsheet, and so on. So as a commemoration of sorts, here are a few things that I remember fondly about its creation ten years ago.

The designs of the characters are a mix of influences; I wanted a simple, cartoony style, something that resembled the animated MTV shows of the time, but with a textured, daily comic strip feel to it. I was pleased with the final designs--distinct enough from each other, but still subject to visual change through clothes and hairstyles. They were easier to draw, but I could still control the details I wanted.

I used gray markers to give tonal value to those pages. The intensity varied from issue to issue; sometimes the gray tones translated as brown or yellow because of printing reasons, but I found the variations cool, nonetheless.

I photocopied and stapled all the parts together and gave them to comic creator friends. I once told Gerry Alanguilan that it was my “Wasted,” in the sense that doing it felt very cathartic. I was getting disillusioned with a lot of things prior to that point, and it was a chance to vent about what I thought was wrong with the world.

Doing it was also partly inspired by Carl Vergara’s “One Night in Purgatory,” which centered on a “forbidden” and conflicted relationship. I found myself creating characters that spoke to me, that had secret connections that fascinated me. I’ve always found secret, underlying connections between people fascinating. I often imagine this unseen web connecting real people through sex and sexuality, affection or attraction. So I wrote about these mostly carefree 20-somethings, whose shared “adventures” often led to self-discovery.

My other plans for Lexy, Nance, and Argus were realized through the comic book, three years later. It seems like yesterday, too, but so many things have happened since then. Looking at it now, there are parts that I wish I could change or improve. Still, I’m happy and always grateful that many people connected with it profoundly.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Supersuit Reboot

Superman’s new suit, finally revealed in this behind-the-scenes image from Comicvine. Yep, no red “underwear” like the recent Jim Lee redesign. This movie version looks contemporary enough, and Henry Cavill looks superhero-y handsome and hunky, so the change isn’t really a big deal. This actually looks more promising than that grim, dark promo pic that was released some weeks ago, the shadowy one that conveniently obscured the pants area. Now let’s cross our fingers that the film’s more entertaining than the less-than-action-packed 2006 reboot.

Speaking of ending eras, I just read the final issue of Flashpoint. Touching last few pages, uninteresting premise notwithstanding. It’s no secret that the DC Universe restarted again in that issue, its continuity rebooting anew just like it did during the history-altering events of Crisis, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis. I miss “my” DCU already, the Secret Six book and characters most of all. It’s a little annoying that some of my favorite heroes and villains are gone for now or made over to look like ‘90s Image characters. But I still hope that the experiment succeeds and that the change gets more people to read comic books.

Discovering ‘Hidden Cities’ with Anthony Morse

(Published Sept. 1, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


“Hidden Cities” host Anthony Morse is mum about his itinerary in the Philippines, but is “excited” to finally tour the country where he has some of the “most vocal” fans.

Shortly after his arrival at the New World Hotel in Makati on August 11, Morse gladly talked about the History channel show and its Filipino viewers. “I’m really excited to be doing an episode here because some of our most loyal fans are from the Philippines,” he said. “They offer encouragement as well because I’m new to this TV world.”

Morse, 31, previously hosted the four-episode initial season, which brought him to a number of Asian destinations. The second season is also being shot in Asia, and will begin airing in November. Morse is accompanied to lesser known or forgotten locations by the show’s director, cameraman and sound man.

“We’ve already completed six episodes; there are eight,” Morse revealed. “The Philippines is the seventh and we have a really good feeling about it. We go to the less-traveled areas and destinations, so we’re going to be looking at various periods of Philippine history.”

Describing himself as “a talker” since he was a kid, the host was chosen among numerous hopefuls, the last applicant with the “Asian face” and adventurous attitude.

“They had an announcement saying they were searching for a host,” Morse recounted. “They said, ‘Do you like to travel, learn about history, interact with people?’ I thought, ‘Yeah! You get paid to do that?’ So I applied online. Here I am a year and a half later.”

Morse already had a familiarity with some Asian cultures prior to landing the hosting gig. He lived in Chiang Mai from age 3 to 18. “I was born in Southern California,” he said. “When I was three, my parents moved back to Chiang Mai. My mother’s people are Rawang, one of Burma’s several ethnic minority groups.”

Doing season one made Morse even more inquisitive about ancient civilizations. “A lot of these places we went to have been officially documented but because of their remoteness, they haven’t had the thoroughness of study or research done on them. So there’s still a lot to be discovered. ‘Hidden Cities’ can introduce these places to the general public.”

He added that things “with an element of mystery” in the modern world amazes him. “Throughout Asia, communities are living in a way that they’ve been living for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Of course, they’ve adapted to technology. They’ve got cell phones, MP3 players, television sets. But they still managed to retain a lot of their traditional practices. That’s neat to see in this day and age.”

Morse finds it easy to immerse himself in different cultures, thanks to early exposure. “I think the biggest thing is to go into all these experiences with the mind-set that different isn’t bad,” he said. “Different is different. Since I was a teenager, I recognized that, so I did away with those predetermined views. We’re not there to offer some kind of political critique on the country. It’s really educational!”

Still, he was unprepared for some demands of the job. “One thing that was kinda awkward, it was my first time stripping down to my boxers on TV,” Morse said. “We went to this old bathhouse in Nanjing, China. We’re filming and all of a sudden the director says, ‘I want you to take the whole spa treatment like the ancient workers.’ There was this guy in his underwear, he’s got a wet towel that he’s wrapping around his hand and then he’s just beating and pounding you! But the most difficult thing is when you have ‘off’ days. It can be a combination of things. Energy levels are dipping down for the day so the ability to have a laser-like focus on the camera can be tough.”

Challenges aside, Morse considers the job a unique and empowering one. “That’s one of the rewards of travel,” he said. “It really does enrich your life. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago.”

“Hidden Cities” premieres November 23, 9 p.m.on History