Thursday, March 24, 2011

Strapped Cuteness

This “Hangover”-inspired shirt is so darn cute. Saw an ad of it in a comic I bought.

Other designs from movies, TV shows, and pop music can be found in the 80stees site.

Schlock ‘Sucker’

Let’s get this out of the way: Zack Snyder is incredibly talented. “Dawn of the Dead,” “300,” “Watchmen,” “Legend of the Guardians”—the director is no stranger to sweeping epics and action-packed sagas. He’s very visual; he’s able to make painterly live-action or animated translations of beloved stories.

“Sucker Punch” is Snyder’s big, busty babe-fest, a bullet-riddled action flick with mostly unfazed heroines trouncing hordes of bad guys. But all the action happens in one young woman’s head. Babydoll (Emily Browning) is an imprisoned orphan who wishes to escape a heavily guarded asylum that doubles as a prestigious brothel. She meets potential comrades, prisoners forced to entertain for years, as well as their detestable jailer Blue (Oscar Isaac). In her fantastic visions, she gathers clues integral to her and her prisoner/patient friends’ escape. These video game-y monster-slaying scenarios happen while she does her supposedly sultry and mindblowing dance to Bjork’s “Army of Me.”

It starts intriguingly, and quite powerfully. Browning’s version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” hauntingly accompanies the protagonist’s dark and distressing introduction. A shift in realities is hinted at, and Babydoll finds herself part of a production where the girls are trained to perform for a variety of clients.

Babydoll’s initial trip to her personal Matrix is quirky; however, the grandiose quality of the fantasy fights dissipates after a while. The sequences unleash a barrage of bombastic imagery: Giant samurais with gatling guns! An ax-wielding Vanessa Hudgens! A really pissed dragon! An unending supply of ammunition! Slow-mo’d action poses!

But disappointingly, the film is nowhere as solid as Snyder’s previous works. It’s got some attractive scenes, fanboyishness gone nuts, for sure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the story itself is problematic. The fortune cookie wisdom grates; sometimes it belabors the obvious, and other times it’s just silly. Its girl power attitude fizzles eventually, and the element of defiance just considerably weakens. Whatever philosophical self-help messages it’s trying to send, they ultimately end up as trite and flimsy clich├ęs. It’s not even mindless fun—it’s just empty, joyless schlock.

‘30’ still rocks

(Published March 21, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Still clever and witty, the weekly sitcom “30 Rock” unapologetically satirizes the eccentricities of American show biz. Former “Saturday Night Live (SNL)” writer and performer Tina Fey’s brainchild regularly peeks into the otherworldly, but still has very accessible behind-the-scenes debacles.

Fey is still brilliant as self-deprecating but motherly Liz Lemon, head writer of a sketch comedy series and often the butt of immature jokes. The rapport between Liz and her network executive friend Jack (Alec Baldwin) is still being explored properly, their close platonic friendship is a likeable paradox that creates inspired comedic situations.

“30 Rock’s” potential gets further realized with every season. Its characters get themselves repeatedly involved in fiascos during the creative process. A specific theme translates riotously throughout every episode, but some things remain constant: Liz has to balance her personal time with her work duties, but she often experiences the blurring of both. She sees to the needs of her spoiled stars, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski), both prone to making bad career moves.

The previous season was characteristically star-studded. There were appearances by “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm (Liz’s dumb ex-boyfriend), Matt Damon (Liz’s pilot boyfriend) and James Franco (who played himself, but obsessed with a “body pillow”). The involvement of those guests enhanced the hilarity; Julianne Moore appeared as one of Jack’s girlfriends in a subplot that wasn’t as funny as the show’s other relationship arcs, but it was still quite watchable.

Its current season has the memorable live episode guest-starring “Seinfeld” actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also plays Liz Lemon—in flashbacks! Fey’s “SNL” friends Bill Hader, Chris Parnell, and Rachel Dratch (who appeared as multiple characters in Season 1) also appear in the unique and tightly presented episode.

“30 Rock” airs Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. on JackTV.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Makes You Wonder

So this is the new TV version of Wonder Woman. Hmm. The costume looks like a compromise between the classic uniform and the most recent design. Adrianne Palicki will star in the NBC show written and executive produced by David E. Kelley. The character is being reimagined as “a successful corporate executive.” So there will probably be lawyerly moments. Anyway, a writer from the afterelton site said she looks like “a Kardashian on Halloween.” Heheh.

‘Mars’ needs watching

“Mars Needs Moms” doesn’t look like the traditional Disney CGI extravaganza, and will remind you a little of “Polar Express” and “Christmas Carol” because of its motion-capture artistry. It doesn’t have the freaky, glazed look of those two films, however; most of its characters look cartoonier and seem to fit alongside more “unreal” beings and settings. But if the animation isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably be drawn to the simple but heartfelt story, anyway.

Good earthling mothers are being abducted by Martians, who need their parenting skills to raise hatchlings. Martian society has an extreme gender division; the females comprise the military force while the males are sent away, surviving as primitive scavengers outside the technologically advanced hub. The female Martians kidnap earthling mothers who can discipline their brood. But a human boy, Milo (motion-acted by Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky) stows away on a Martian ship to free his captured mom (Joan Cusack).

Except for some overacted movements in one quick scene (the bratty girl throwing her ice cream cones), the motion-capture tech and the actors impressively do their job. It’s a painstaking process, as shown during the end credits. You’ll also notice that the sleek alien headquarters and technology are “Star Wars”-worthy, but if you know what production designer Doug Chiang did before this, then it shouldn’t be surprising.

Its messages of motherly love and sacrifice are transmitted rather creatively. The characters are generic but mostly easy to like, except for Gribble (Dan Fogler), who was really annoying when he was introduced. But you’ll get him and root for him after you hear his sob story.

“Mars Needs Moms” needs more people in the cinemas. The moving parent-child relationship is easy to relate to, and gender role and familial issues are quite amusingly tackled.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dani Moonstar, No Mirage

Former mutant and current member of the New Mutants squad, Danielle Moonstar has always shown exceptional leadership abilities and strength of will, even back in the character’s early appearances. She reminds me of the mid-80s version of Storm, but minus the inner conflict and repetitive agonizing. Like Storm, though, Dani lost her powers. That didn’t stop Storm from leading the X-Men, and similarly, that doesn’t keep Dani from being an integral member of her team.

She’s quick-thinking and is still an excellent combatant without her illusion-casting gift. She did gain new powers through the Asgardian goddess Hela during the Utopia arc, beating up proud Ares on live TV with them, but they faded not long after.

This page above is from New Mutants 20, released a few months ago. She was imprisoned in Limbo and was held captive by the mutant Inferno babies, all grown up and nasty. Tortured and her arm broken, she later escapes, and uses an enemy’s weapons against her captor.

“Look at me,” she calmly says to her torturer, who’s rushing to the busted cell.

“Good girl.”

“SHUNK!”

She kicks ass. No doubt about it.

Boorish, bang-up ‘Guy’

(Published March 16, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

Still irreverent after all these years, “Family Guy” airs on two cable channels, making it hard to miss boneheaded fat guy Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional family. No, they’re not the Simpsons. Sure, Peter is a dumb and embarrassing father like Homer. He and his attractive wife have three kids—but the similarities end there.

On its ninth season, “Family Guy” still resorts to lewd, crude humor whenever it can. In this less realistic world, pet dogs can talk and act like humans, and a baby behaves and schemes like a grownup.

Peter Griffin is an unlikeable and insensitive fellow, but he does figure in some of the most hilarious and nonsensical exploits. While Peter’s got the lowbrow factor covered, his baby Stewie (who speaks like an adult English villain) gets into the more unpredictable situations, dressing in drag in some episodes and taking on different roles (a child actor, an agent, a teenager, etc.) in others.

The family dog, Brian, has a crush on Peter’s wife Lois, and is an aspiring author. Brian and Stewie’s adventures bring them to the most unexpected places, including caricatured versions of the Star Wars galaxy, the North Pole, and even alternate realities rendered in different art styles. Show creator Seth MacFarlane impressively voices Brian, Peter, and Stewie, characters that sound nothing alike.

“Family Guy” usually has a couple of visual punch lines every episode via the “cutaway gags,” just random scenes from satirized TV shows or memories brought up by characters. It often pokes fun at pop culture and celebrities: The Jetsons, the Smurfs, Britney Spears, Uma Thurman, Christina Aguilera, and Will Ferrell, among many others.

Sometimes the humor is hit-and-miss. But the show has proven that it can be brilliant, outrageous, and is not for the easily offended.

“Family Guy” airs Mondays, 7:30 p.m. on Jack TV; and Fridays, 6:40 p.m. and 11:40 p.m., on Fox.

‘24’: The clock stops

(Published March 16, PDI-Entertainement)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

A few seasons were marked by rehashed ideas and diminished by waning subplots, but the groundbreaking action series “24” has kept quick-thinking Jack Bauer on his toes.

The quintessential terrorist-hunting agent, always racing against time, has gone through countless traumas, recovered and continues to pay the price for saving America from horrific threats.

The series’ eighth and final season recreates the suspense of the better-written seasons. Jack (Kiefer Sutherland), now a grandfather, hesitates rejoining CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit) in New York when a trusted ally from the revived agency suspects something amiss. Jack investigates and discovers a plot that threatens President Allison Taylor’s (Cherry Jones) peace treaty signing.

As with the previous season, President Taylor is faced with difficult choices, but she succumbs to temptation, covering up unsavory details to preserve the peace talks. Jack switches from legit agent to rogue operative, targeting armed goons, a new CTU mole, and a returning villain.

Season 8 has a number of tough female characters. Aside from the beleaguered president, acerbic tech-nerd Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and troubled ex-FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) also return. New CTU agent Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff from “Battlestar Galactica”) has a complicated past, while Dalia Hassan (Necar Zadegan) is the widow of a martyred leader, forced into the fray like some real-life female politicians.

“24” airs weekdays, 12 noon, on JackTV.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bright Brigades

Solar-powered strength, mystic mallets, alien power rings. My new drawings.

The Supers

Men, women and dog of steel: Mon-El, Superwoman, Steel, Super-Soldier, Kingdom Come Superman, Superman, Superboy, Krypto, Strange Visitor, Power Girl, Superman 1,000,000, Supergirl.

Thor Corps

Thunder gods and demigods! Ultimate Thor, Thorion, Magni, Thunderstrike (Kevin Masterson), Dargo, Storm, Thor, Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike (Eric Masterson), Throg, Thor Girl, Asgardian.

Lantern Parade

Color Corps! Team Huey! Sinestro, Deadman, Green Lantern, Atrocitus, Saint Walker, Indigo, Black Hand, Star Sapphire and Larfleeze.

Paler shade of ‘Red’

The reimagining of an old and popular fairy tale, “Red Riding Hood” is an odd romance-monster whodunit that will probably appeal to the younger “Twilight” movie-loving set. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) isn’t a little girl, but a pretty young woman torn between two smoldering young men (Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons).

The love triangle is further complicated by the idea that one of the suitors may well be the werewolf terrorizing the village. A monster-hunter (Gary Oldman) arrives and begins ferreting out suspicious characters, which doesn’t stop the creature from rampaging again.

The mystery of the werewolf’s identity does keep the audience guessing. From the town weirdo to Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie), almost everyone is a suspect. There are red herrings aplenty, and the clues are placed quite strategically, so the revelation actually makes sense.

But like the artificial love connections in the story, the puzzle itself doesn’t keep you emotionally invested. There aren’t truly likeable persons in the menaced town, Red Riding Hood included. The stylish storytelling, characterized by showy visuals and blaring music, hardly leaves room for mood and suspense.

Relics Redux

King Gilgamesh

Something from April of 2000. Pencil drawing on 11”X17” vellum.

Batch 72

The superpowered band Batch 72, characters created by Budjette Tan and Arnold Arre, spotted at the Justice Corps movie preview. Drew this almost eight years ago--October 5, 2003, the numbers on Brownout’s shirt.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Creation, Elucidation

In December of 2009, an anonymous commenter posted on my blog, reacting to my drawings:

“The drawings are not bad. But I think u should stick to being a critic and writer. Not everyone has it takes to do everything.”

My response was, “Thank you for preferring one skill set over the other. :) But I’ve been drawing long before I ever wrote anything coherent, so I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon.”

Referring to his or her final sentence, I added: “That’s probably true, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing things that make us happy, or things that help us express ourselves more.”

The person later said he (or she) “was just teasing.” It’s been a long time, and I just saw those comments again. I’d just like to talk about the topic for a second.

I do consider myself lucky that I can both write and draw. I developed my illustrating ability years before I began writing professionally. I’d say these were the results of being exposed to comic books, Pinoy and foreign, and to different forms of media available to me as I was growing up. Like any person with similar talents, I knew that I had the aptitude for them back in school, and teachers and peers saw my potential. I was mostly self-taught before I went to college, and considered comic books as my main source of artistic inspiration, although I remember doing pencil portraits of Debbie Gibson, Terence Trent D’Arby, and ALF. The X-Men were my heroes, and I drew them quite often. Here’s something I did when I was 14, scanned off a friend’s notebook.

By college, I mostly learned art techniques from friends and classmates, more than from teachers. I was exposed to more styles and forms, but was still looking at comic books for inspiration. We were prepped for ad agency jobs, but after graduating, I took time off from job-hunting and decided to draw more, getting involved in indie comic projects. One that did get published was a collaboration with writer David Hontiveros, which later became a National Book Awards finalist.

Finding good-paying illustrating jobs was difficult back then; I remember drawing Bible comics for an educational mag and cringing at the results. But Marvel comic book artist Whilce Portacio trained me eventually. It was a big deal because he taught me for free, in his Quezon City studio. He had an art school at Megamall but he had other people teaching. We focused on penciling techniques and anatomy in a span of a few months, but he had to leave for the US so the training abruptly ended. I’d continue drawing, and even joined some art contests. Below is one such entry, “Audacity.” (© Comic Quest-OLS)

Again, getting drawing assignments I was comfy with was tough during that period. But my first official writing gig came about a year later. It was a comic strip that I also drew for a music magazine. That led to writing comic book reviews for another publication. With only a few articles published, I felt the desire to keep doing it. I embraced the career shift. I submitted articles to an entertainment section of a daily. The editor wanted me to write regularly. That was a life-saver. It led to some copywriting opportunities. I became a regular contributing writer during this period, reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities for that section. I would later write for the lifestyle section too.

One thing that has remained constant through all of this is learning. Life before the paper was like I was in limbo; during the times I felt directionless, I’d watch movies at a nearby mall, and be there for the first screenings on opening day. I’d keep buying and reading comic books at Book Sale branches, and read art, celebrity and mythology books and all sorts of magazines at bookstores for hours as if they were libraries. Subscribing to a monthly comic book catalog for years helped me. I didn’t read the 300-plus page tome from cover to cover, but I did absorb the rules of grammar and different styles of ad copy. I watched cable shows from dusk till dawn (which got me scolded one time; but Dad would later be proud of me for doing just that and talking about TV shows through my articles). I became thankful to the few good English teachers back in high school whose basic lessons I was able to remember many, many years later.

I’d say that those two things—writing and drawing—continue to help me communicate my thoughts, my ideas, apart from helping me pay for things I need. I feel embarrassed whenever I see anything I wrote back in the ‘90s, and there are artworks that just make me groan. Still, there are old stuff I’m proud of, like the very first movie review I wrote, a report I did for a sibling in college. There are a few drawings that make me smile, too.

Anyway, learning doesn’t really stop; I still learn new things that I’m consciously applying to my craft. I’m glad that I’m able to express myself through these ways. No one’s stopping me from doing them. But I do know my limitations, which is why I only sing in karaoke booths, or when nobody’s around.

Creative scavenger hunts

(Published March 7, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Contributor

The quirky and campy fantasy-sci-fi show “Warehouse 13” ponders: What objects are too dangerous in the hands of regular folk, and what should be done with these potential weapons? A secret American government agency retrieves them, then neutralizes or contains them in a hidden storage facility called Warehouse 13, the latest in a line of buildings equipped to handle such exotic artifacts.

Two Secret Service agents are partnered for the retrieval missions: Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) and Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) used to protect the president, and despite the workplace friction between them, they’re soon recruited by the mysterious Mrs. Frederic (C.C.H. Pounder). Myka is organized and thorough, while Pete is more instinctive and spontaneous. He has a “sixth sense,” too, very useful and quite accurate in pinpointing trouble.

An “X-Files”-ish vibe does help add some familiarity and accessibility to the show, but this lighter, much simpler series has learned much not only from that groundbreaking program, but from shows belonging to other genres. The sexual tension between the partners, the procedural structure of the episodes, the comedic touches, the potentially limitless mythology—“Warehouse 13” competently fuses seemingly unconnected storytelling elements without becoming watered-down or turning into a confused mixture of different things.

The love-hate dynamic between Myka and Pete is likeable for its rom-com cuteness, but their interactions with other team members are just as important. Scene-stealing supporting characters are played by similarly talented actors; Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) is their busy egghead boss, while Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti) is the resident smart aleck and tech-mistress.

While the science surrounding the rampaging objects can be vague, some explanations actually make sense; sometimes, one won’t mind the hokey details too much. Inventively tying most of the featured gadgets and items to historical figures also enhances stories. Some of the more dangerous relics that the agents had to deal with include Lewis Carroll’s dimension-bridging mirror, and Edgar Allan Poe’s reality-disrupting pen and notebook.

“Warehouse 13” airs Mondays, 8 p.m., on Fox.

Apt ‘Adjustment’

Defying a grand, unseen plan, politician David Norris (Matt Damon) and dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) meet again after an initial chance encounter, despite being monitored by mysterious agents of the inexplicable “Adjustment Bureau.” The self-appointed guardians of humanity have forbidden David from pursuing her, as both humans are meant to fulfill separate destinies.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s story “The Adjustment Team,” the fantasy film smartly connects humanity’s self-destructive nature to the occasional absence or non-involvement of the seemingly higher beings, who have been assigned again to preserve the well-being of the planet. Interestingly, the allusions to angels and a grand overseer (the unknowable “Chairman”) inspire age-old questions about free will and purpose, queries that are asked by David repeatedly. Also intriguing, and quite reassuringly revealed, is the malleability of the Chairman’s grand designs.

“The Adjustment Bureau” partly feels like the sci-fi flick “The Box,” in that the mystery men’s interactions with humans hint at some bizarre agenda. But the enigmas surrounding this particular secret group are better-defined and more acceptably answered.

Its romance angle is believable; Damon and Blunt are an unexpected onscreen pairing that actually works. The plight of the cosmically illegal lovers conjures up fond memories of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because of the focus on a couple seemingly destined for each other, or even “Sliding Doors,” for its attention to choices that affect the bigger picture. A few pacing glitches aside, “The Adjustment Bureau” inspires introspection, while entertaining with its take on “divine” intervention and predestination.

Uatu Unleashed

The Watcher does more than just watch in this panel from a recent issue of Deadpool Team-Up. Poor Deadpool! Oh, the previous issue was also hilarious; he teamed up with Hellcow.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Go donor, go blitzing

The drama “Never Let Me Go” is moody and pessimistic, luring with its scenic landscapes and coming-of-age trappings before unveiling its subdued science fiction conundrums. At a boarding school in England, youngsters are raised and educated before their eventual service as donors. These clones’ organs will be harvested, a continuous process until they run out of parts vital to their survival.

Directed by Mark Romanek and written by Alex Garland, “Never Let Me Go” is based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro. Narrator Kathy (Carey Mulligan) befriends the emotional and artistic Tommy (Andrew Garfield), but the friendship is stifled by his relationship with the envious Ruth (Keira Knightley). The three grow up together and face preordained objectives, realizing necessary--and sometimes painful--truths along the way.

There’s a pervading sadness to the film; the characters are very human but don’t really exploit free will to redefine their purpose. They do entertain the thought of living differently, but they don’t do anything drastic to alter their fates. The feeling of inescapability translates very well thanks to the actors, often expressing vulnerability and resignation with authenticity.

Romanek’s music video background isn’t immediately obvious, as his penchant for snappy, stylish imagery is replaced by more lingering, more meaningful shots; however, the visuals are still well-composed, despite the toned-down audacity. He’s proven himself a good storyteller a while back, and does so again with this gloomy but perceptive film.

“Never Let Me Go” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive.

Lez Loving

Smooching lezzies: Comic book versions of Willow and Kennedy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (above), and Allison Mann and Agent 355 from Y the Last Man. Speaking of gay characters, do read the Afterelton article “13 Gay Badasses We Love.” They’re all gay men, though; there must be a list of badass lesbians somewhere. Must check.

The Retcon Avengers

The “First” Avengers, characters that will be appearing in an upcoming issue of New Avengers, are Sabretooth, Namora, Dominic Fortune, Dum Dum Dugan, Ulysses Bloodstone, and Kraven the Hunter. This sort of reminds me of the “secret” X-Men team that was supposedly assembled before the Giant-Size X-Men roster. It’s cool that Namora seems to be a member of every other pre-Fantastic Four team, and that Bloodstone is being used after years in comic book limbo. Will it add anything significant to Avengers mythology? We’ll find out in a few months.

Sweet Caroline

“Everyone just needs to stop kissing me!” My, how she’s grown. Caroline was mostly a hapless victim in the first season of Vampire Diaries, but learned to be a kind vampire and became a confident jock magnet in season two. She even sang an aptly sappy (sappier?) version of the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” in the latest episode. Hmm, I wonder who’d win in a fight between her and True Blood’s newbie vamp girl Jessica?