Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dragoness unbound

Watching David Fincher’s latest opus is a different experience altogether, whether or not you’ve previously seen the first film adaptation, or read the seminal books. From the filmmaker’s command of music video imagery during the opening credits to the florid storytelling, his unique style is indelibly imprinted. 

Often eerie and distressing, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has an unpredictable titular character in Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an efficient investigator tasked with getting information on  disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig).

Mikael, meanwhile, is hired by aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the mystery of his niece’s disappearance several decades ago. Mikael eventually teams up with a hesitant Lisbeth, whose researching skills, determination and tactical ingenuity just might provide the edge needed to figure out the baffling enigma.

Clocking at two hours and 40 minutes, the film gets to elaborate on both characters’ situations separately; we get to see just how complex Lisbeth is, and we understand enough of Mikael’s life and drive to sympathize with him. The film gets irrevocably dark when it details Lisbeth’s horrific ordeals, but it does become fittingly and darkly humorous when she’s out for revenge and inflicting serious damage.

Mara stands out and dazzles as the ink-adorned Lisbeth. The oft-misunderstood, socially inept but intelligent misfit is a brilliant conundrum that’s just mesmerizing in its inexplicability. Mara previously appeared in “The Social Network” and the rebooted “Nightmare on Elm Street,” unrecognizable here because of the drastic, total makeover, and bound to snag more career-defining roles thanks to this unforgettable portrayal.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” will be shown uncut at selected cinemas beginning Feb. 1. 

Ennobling Eighties

New drawings. Characters from comics I read as a kid.

Beast, Circa 1988
Hank McCoy reverted to his original, human-looking form in an early issue of X-Factor. During Fall of the Mutants, one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen made his mind deteriorate. Months later, he regained his genius-level intellect and became furry again after he was kissed by the mutant-evolving Infectia. He wore this costume during Inferno and the Evolutionary War. Beast is a teacher again at Wolverine’s new school, and is also a Secret Avenger.

Cyclops, Circa 1987
At the end of X-Factor’s Fall of the Mutants event, Cyclops was given a new costume by grateful New Yorkers after the team saved the city from Apocalypse. This was when Cyclops thought his wife Madelyne was dead; he left her to see the “resurrected” Jean Grey for himself, and co-founded X-Factor shortly after. Cyclops currently leads the remaining mutants on the island nation Utopia.

Rogue, Circa 1984
Rogue ditched her semi-androgynous look after the first Secret Wars. She was 18 when she joined the X-Men; she asked Professor X to help her control her powers and keep her sanity. She absorbed Carol Danvers’ powers, as well as her psyche, which takes over her body from time to time. She became a valuable X-Man and is currently a teacher at the newly built Jean Grey School. She can control her powers now.

Starfox, Circa 1983
Starfox a.k.a. Eros is cosmic villain Thanos’ brother. He’s an Eternal, which makes him an immortal with various powers like superhuman strength and flight. He also has a unique ability: he can stimulate pleasure centers of the brain. He joined the Avengers, but left them occasionally to embark on space missions. A few years ago, he became controversial; it was alleged that he used his euphoria-causing power to sap people of their free will.

Survival of the luckiest

In the scifi-action flick “The Darkest Hour,” humans deal with a different kind of alien invasion after the systematic decimation of mankind.  

Russia becomes the battleground for survival, as two visiting software developers (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella), their two tourist acquaintances (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor), and their former business contact (Joel Kinnaman) find themselves trapped in Moscow and eluding the invisible attackers.

“The Darkest Hour” has competent effects, although there aren’t many scenes where they’re used. The spare use of effects wizardry was hinted at early on in the trailer, where humans and an animal were shown getting disintegrated by unseen aliens. As for the 3D enhancements, they’re pretty average; sometimes they’re unnecessary, and don’t really get noticed.

The alien invasion angle is given a slightly different spin; they’re a bit reminiscent of Predators in that they can stalk their prey invisibly, except this movie’s aliens can be detected via their proximity to light bulbs. They’re personality-devoid, intelligent creatures that the human characters mostly run away from, and there’s much running, which gets pretty tiring on our end after a while.

Its action-adorned conflicts don’t offer new or innovative fight scenarios, and the science of alien-busting eventually gets a bit hokey. If anything, some characters unexpectedly bite the dust, but even then, it’s hard to feel anything for any of these survivors, whose conversations often become uncomfortably speechy. 

Kinda Sporty

Yikes. Totally forgot about these. I drew sports editorial cartoons, among other illustrations, for the high school paper when I was 14.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Might Versus Misfits

So here’s the cover to the first issue of A Vs X, or Avengers Vs. X-Men. I’m not happy that John Romita, Jr.’s handling the art; I prefer him doing solo books like Kick-Ass. For some reason, his Avengers last year looked pretty messy.

Anyway, it’s an interesting cover by Jim Cheung. If previous teasers are to be believed, Wolverine and Beast will switch sides. Speaking of those teaser images, some of those matches are weird, like Hulk vs. Emma Frost, Beast vs. Cage, and Iceman vs. Spider-Man.

There are specific encounters that I doubt will happen, but I’d still like to see them during the event: Valkyrie vs. a Hela-repowered Dani Moonstar; Kitty Pryde vs. Amadeus Cho; Dr. Strange vs. Magik; Quicksilver vs. Northstar; Thing vs. Rockslide; Moondragon vs. Emma Frost; M vs. Jewel; War Machine vs. Warlock; Justice vs. Hellion; She-Hulk vs. Frenzy.

I think it’s more likely that there’ll be meetings like Avengers Academy vs. Jean Grey Institute, and X-Force vs. Secret Avengers. Let’s hope that those conflicts won’t be limited to just a few pages, if indeed they do happen.

As much as I really like the Avengers, I’m siding with the underdogs this time. I’d like the X-Men to win it. It’ll be a challenge to think of another moniker for the Avengers if they’re not “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” anymore, but it would be an intriguing new status quo. I do think that they’ll beat up the X-Men resoundingly, but there's a possibility that the deus ex machina-ish Phoenix Force will merge with Hope Summers and turn the tables at the last minute. 

Blood makes noise, again

Kate Beckinsale is still rocking that skintight suit, playing her vampire-warrior character Selene for the third time in “Underworld: Awakening.”

“Awakening” is the action-fantasy series’ fourth part. It’s still a very mechanical enterprise; the action and stunts are top-notch, but like the other parts that starred Beckinsale, you don’t really get invested or deeply affected. The characters are almost impervious, and its typical hunt-fight-regroup structure doesn’t offer anything new, different stakes notwithstanding. The third film, “Rise of the Lycans,” at least had the forbidden love angle and hidden history that made sense of the movies’ mythology.

Still, some sequences impress. The stylish opening credits illustrate a changed world; vampires and werewolves are outed, uniting humans in flushing out and destroying the “infected.” Selene is separated from her hybrid lover Michael (Scott Speedman), and is cryogenically imprisoned for 12 years.

She escapes, of course, only to be stalked by an underwear model—well, not really, but fellow vampire David (Theo James) sure looks like one. They run into some sickly Lycans and save a girl (India Eisley), who happens to be Selene’s… yes, you probably guessed it the first time.

If anything, “Awakening’s” 3D effects do enhance the elaborate fight scenes; flying pieces of windshield and other debris and projectiles translate quite nicely.

The film isn’t even an hour and 20 minutes long, but there really isn’t much story to tell anyway. Video game-y fisticuffs, gore, repetitive monster mayhem—yes, it’s another “Underworld,” with some confused parent-child dynamic added to the recycled mix.  

Still chipper ‘Chipmunks’

(From the Jan. 16-31 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Whether you adored, abhorred, or felt nothing for their first two movies, the squeaky singing sensations are back in “Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked,” which actually isn’t as bland as the trailer suggests.

The big screen versions of the beloved TV cartoon characters are distinct from each other: Alvin is adventurous and reckless; Simon’s the smart one; Theodore is cute and has a big appetite. Their favorite human, Dave (Jason Lee) treats them and their unrelated female counterparts, the Chipettes, like his own kids. The furry little critters are celebrities, almost always winning over listeners with their unique renditions of classic and contemporary pop hits.

That’s pretty much what the first two live-action films were about; whatever relevance they tried to imbue the stories with—assimilation into human society, career exploitation, etc.—are easily forgotten, and don’t really enhance those movies. The merging of CGI rodents with real environments automatically skews sense and logic in this reality, and it often feels like their stories are just filler scenes between energetic music numbers.
But even the novelty seems to have worn off; the Chipmunks’ and Chipettes’ performance of “Bad Romance” in the trailer feels a tad odd, even desperate. Yes, they’ve done pop songs du jour, but the idea of yet another movie with mostly trendy, with-it covers can inspire advanced exhaustion.

Good thing the movie itself has a more coherent story this time. Spending time off at a cruise ship, bored Alvin and company fly a kite, which soon lifts them off and forces them to land on an island. They soon discover that it isn’t uninhabited, as a long-marooned woman (Jenny Slate) welcomes them to her “Castaway”-ish world.

Bespectacled Simon suddenly undergoes a personality shift after being bitten by a spider, changing from the somewhat uptight one into a suave and outgoing French version of himself. Alvin, usually the irresponsible and misbehaving chipmunk, is unhappy with the transformation, and eventually becomes active in getting the Chipmunks and Chipettes organized during their island “vacation.”

“Chipwrecked” has its cartoon characters (voiced by Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate, etc.) performing typically sped-up and cartoonized renditions of old and new-ish songs, including the Go-Gos’ “Vacation,” Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (although they aptly changed it to “Whip My Tail”), Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (sans the gender identity enumeration part).

Dave and the Chipmunks’ nemesis, the smarmy ex-record label guy Ian (David Cross), also returns. But he’s not exactly the despicable character that previously menaced the good guys; oddly enough, he’s given the chance to redeem himself in this installment.

Humor-wise, only very young kids will find the characters’ antics funny. It’s a good thing there’s no unnecessary and wince-inducing love angle between the adult human characters this time.

The animated parts and performances are nicely done, as usual. But there’s not much to admire, as the computer-rendered imagery are limited to the characters and some sets. Still, young viewers may find “Chipwrecked” pleasantly diverting, while adults may forget about it even before they leave the cinema. 

1998 Dhampyr Interview

This “trading card set” was used for the interior back cover of a comic book I drew, “Dhampyr,” written by David Hontiveros and published by Alamat nearly 14 years ago. The arrangement of these drawings was changed, and the spaces between and around them were made black, so it had a striking window frame-like look.

My thanks to Reggie Manlungat, who unearthed and posted this old 1998 interview for a fanzine called La Liga Filifina. I totally forgot about it until he reminded me last month. I’m reposting it with some punctuation corrections. According to Reggie, he gave me a questionnaire via snail mail and I sent my handwritten reply to him. I was in my early 20s back then. This made me smile (and wince) when I read it a few weeks ago.

Reggie Manlungat: When did you start in comics?
Oliver Pulumbarit: Dhampyr is the first comic book that got printed, although I have other stuff that’s been done for Alamat way before Dhampyr was given to me.
RM: Who are your influences? Your style is unique compared to other artists, especially Jim Lee clones and some manga artists.
OP: I have lots of influences and Jim Lee is one of them. I think that artists who clone manga or any “hot” artist will eventually evolve into their own style. It’s a phase, after all, and it’s their choice. If they’re happy with it, well and good. Back to my influences, I like the ‘80s stints of John Romita, Jr. and Marc Silvestri on X-Men, and Art Adams, Walt Simonson were also influential to me back then. A few years ago, I discovered the art of Bernie Wrightson, Nick Manabat and Albrecht Durer. Recently, I’m into drawing from life. I try to incorporate a more realistic and observant approach. I’m letting movies, music, and life experiences broaden my mind, as well as help develop my talent further. You get new ideas that way.
RM: What do you think is wrong with the Philippine comic book industry?
OP: Before Alamat, “the industry” was about local “komiks”– quick reads which almost every time eventually ended up as fish wrapper. But that was meant for that crowd. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a decent job for most people involved in it. Alamat serves as an alternative to US comics, and a more sophisticated crowd is what the group is after. Alamat, and other alternative publishers have struggled and are now getting recognized. Hopefully, bigger things will happen to Pinoy comics.
RM: What is the worst comic book that you’ve seen in your entire life?
OP: Lots. I just can’t recall a specific one right now. And I’d rather not name them. After all, one man’s bad comic book may be another’s gold.
RM: When you first read the script for Dhampyr, did you have any idea how much work it was going to involve?
OP: I knew it was going to be very visual. I was worried, because it was a 3 issue mini-series. I thought it might take forever to finish. The 3 issues merged into a one-shot, and if you noticed, each chapter was an issue long, because that was the initial intent.
RM: What kind of research did you do for the Dhampyr comic?
OP: David Hontiveros lent me postcards and photographs of places and gothic stuff. They were very useful. Also, watching vampire movies for the nth time (like Coppola’s Dracula, and Interview with a Vampire) helped make me feel the mood of the story.
RM: How closely did you work with David Hontiveros in creating the character designs for Dhampyr?
OP: He gave me short descriptions, and gave me free reign on the characters. For instance, Gregor is brutish, has piercings and tattoos, etc. Nikolai wears a crucifix pendant and earring. He left the other details to me.
RM: What kind of tools did you use in making the comic book?
OP: Almost everything: pens, brushes, quills, ink, and paint.
RM: After looking at the finished product, do you have any regrets about how the Dhampyr comic turned out? Was there a time when you think that you could have changed a couple of pages to make it better?
OP: Most of my pre-Dhampyr stuff, I’d look at them now and I’d go, “What the heck was I thinking?!” I’m that kind of artist. At one point I’d be content with my stuff and I’d just wake up one day and tell myself, “Oh, this should’ve looked this way, I should have drawn it differently…” I guess in that sense I try to be a perfectionist. I’m quite happy with my Dhampyr work, although I’m not congratulating myself. I’m constantly learning new stuff and I’d redraw a few things if we reprint the book.
RM: Do you have any scathing criticism on the book? How do you cope with people who never shut their hole on how they can draw better than you?
OP: Everyone gets criticism. I get constructive criticism, but only a few for Dhampyr. It’s okay because I draw comics not only for myself--people buy these things and my work is always subject to scrutiny. It’s challenging to show them my perception, my individuality as an artist, and if people respond to it positively or not is up to them. I always let my work speak for itself. If people like my work, thanks. It’s icing on the cake. I have to please myself before I can show my work in printed form. My art is an acquired taste. I don’t want my style to be predictable and uninspired. I want the reader to be challenged by my busy line work. On the subject of “foul” criticism, it’s different. It’s a sad fact that “talangka” people exist to malign other people in the creative field. It only reflects the frustration and lack of talent of the person, belittling efforts or achievements he can never have. It’s pitiful.
RM: What is your deep, dark secret?
OP: I’m a deep, dark secret.
RM: Horror or Superheroes?
OP: Both. I liked superheroes before horror. I also like sci-fi/fantasy. There are so many subjects to be read and drawn, and comics is a very rich medium for readers and creators alike.

Men and monsters

(From the Jan. 1-15 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Just a year after the “Clash of the Titans” remake, Greek mythology is reimagined once again in the eye-popping fantasy actioner “Immortals,” a visually striking if unevenly paced film by Tarsem Singh.

And just like “Clash,” the extraordinary feats of the gods and the bold conflicts of mortals converge in an effects-drenched canvas, often enhancing the rather simple tale involving revenge and mythic enmities.

“Immortals” follows the saga of a peasant outcast, Theseus (Henry Cavill), favored by the father-king of the Olympian gods, Zeus (Luke Evans). Theseus’ mother is killed in a village raid led by cruel King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who’s after a fabled weapon that can free the long-imprisoned Titans.

Arch-foes and defeated predecessors to the gods, the savage Titans depicted here are humanoid-looking beings trapped in a location that’s accessible to some humans, oddly enough. Zeus sternly forbids his god relatives from interfering in the affairs of mortals, but some of them do so anyway, repeatedly protecting Theseus’ small band of renegades behind his back.

“Immortals” feels like a working mishmash of the aforementioned “Clash of the Titans” and Zack Snyder’s “300,” a testosterone-y and bloody sword-and-sorcery epic that should please mainstream comic book geeks. It’s got the cosmic, thunderous climactic duels that “Thor” and “Green Lantern” didn’t deliver. It does, however, take some time to get there; scenes between furious stunts and effects enhancements are often sluggish.

Theseus is pretty much the unerring hero who easily wins over the vague prophetess Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and the supposed scoundrel Stavros (Stephen Dorff). The peasant hero expectedly rallies forces against the tyrant Hyperion, who typically underestimates his inexperienced opponents. And buff Zeus is an optimistic but wrathful god, a less than omniscient being lording it over family members with switchable personalities.

Be that as it may, it does some things differently. Singh has command of challenging imagery, even when they don’t really make sense. Remember his cool but too art-conscious “The Cell”? “Immortals” is a tad toned down, but most of the costumes still look like they’re House of Gaga-worthy. The fancy and ornate hats, helmets and battle armors look music video-ready, but they’re imaginative designs and they complement the scenarios well.

Demigod-like Cavill, the latest actor cast as Superman, is decent as vengeful Theseus, but Rourke is the scene-stealer, always icky and discomfiting as the vile warrior-king. Their confrontation and Theseus’ fisticuffs with Hyperion’s “Minotaur” henchman are aptly vicious. Other stunning action scenes include the destructive plunge of Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) and Zeus’ punishment of a law-breaking Olympian.

The quests aren’t anything new and a couple of characters are either annoying or two-dimensional (although “Vampire Diaries” fans may appreciate Joseph Morgan’s traitorous soldier character getting beat up).

Style also often overpowers what little substance it has, but “Immortals” is a popcorn movie that wields its superficiality and flashy fury quite adeptly. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Safe haven

Versatile Matt Damon’s now doing father roles, credibly appearing as a beleaguered dad in last year’s apocalyptic thriller “Contagion,” and more recently in the Cameron Crowe-directed family drama “We Bought a Zoo.”

Based on a true story, the predictable but sometimes-poignant “We Bought a Zoo” centers on a widower, Benjamin (Damon), a former journalist who impulsively purchases an old house located at the site of a decrepit zoo. The single dad moves his family to the new home, delighting his young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) but alienating his teen son Dylan (Colin Ford).

The film plods at certain points, but it succeeds in tugging at the heartstrings at the precise moments. Like in most of Crowe’s films, the story’s romance angles are characterized by epiphanic bursts; the puppy love between Dylan and Lily (Elle Fanning) is cute, if ultimately perfunctory. Quite affecting, however, are Benjamin’s recollections of meeting and spending time with his much-missed wife (Stephanie Szostak).

There’s relatable family drama; this particular troubled father-son relationship isn’t anything new, but the actors make us care about it. The film is uplifting but schmaltzy, a friendly but formulaic sojourn that emphasizes healing and renewal.

“We Bought a Zoo” opens January 18. 

Debby Ryan, cool nerd

(Published January 15, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Teen actress Debby Ryan isn’t the typical Disney “princess.” The “Suite Life on Deck” star admits she’s a nerd who sometimes talks a lot about geeky topics without realizing it.

But like the regular Disney heroine, she struggled with bullies in school and later emerged triumphant.

Ryan, 18, opened up about the challenges of growing up, among other things, in a recent phone interview with Inquirer. She stars in the new Disney sitcom “Jessie,” which debuted last September in the United States and will be airing in Asia this March. She’s being touted by some as the “next” Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez.

“It’s funny but it’s definitely a progression,” Ryan said. “I really want to have a long career. No one is ever gonna be the next Miley or the next Selena. I would love to be the next anyone. I love having a creative say in all my projects.”

She identifies more with former “Saturday Night Live” comedienne and “30 Rock” creator Tina Fey. “I’d love to be the next Tina Fey or someone like that—people [who] are able to be funny, on top of just being pretty onscreen. I had no idea I could make so many expressions with my face and they’re totally unattractive! And I’m totally okay with it. I can growl or even have cake on my face. That’s what I love about my job: I can be silly and make people laugh!”

Ryan played country girl Bailey Pickett in “Suite Life on Deck” for three seasons. In “Jessie,” she plays a Texan girl who moves to New York and becomes a nanny to four kids. Ryan can relate to Jessie to some degree, having helped out classmates back when she was younger.

“I was home-schooled, accelerated in classes and I was the kid who would stay behind writing papers and grading tests for the teacher,” she recalled. “And the only reason other people talked to me would be to ask, ‘Hey, how did I do in my test?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah you got a B. You missed some tough questions; I’ll tutor you if you want.’”

But it was also tough, being “different.” “I was made fun of for being academically accelerated, being in the chess club, being home-schooled, living in Germany,” Ryan revealed. “I was the German kid when I got back to America and they were like telling me that I was fat, nerdy and that I didn’t belong there… It was really hard to ignore those bullies. On my first week, I would get shoved and pushed, all my books on the floor while I was in the hallway at school… When I started pretending I had a secret and acting like I owned the place, that was when I realized that they don’t have any power over me.”

She added, “People will call you everything and with Hollywood, all these things are magnified. It’s important to being able to stand up for yourself.”

Now idolized by teen and tween fans, Ryan is appreciative of her own female role models. Aside from Fey, whom she describes as “quick, witty and very enthusiastic,” Ryan is also inspired by actress Natalie Portman and rock star Joan Jett. “Joan Jett, [she’s] created a new vibe,” Ryan said. “She’s like, ‘Girls don’t rock, so I’m a girl and I’m gonna rock, let’s do this!’ [And I’m inspired by] people who don’t take no for an answer.”
Ryan also loves writing stories, poems, and song lyrics. She recognizes her growth in the business, and keeps in mind the importance of individuality.

“Be yourself no matter what other people say about you,” she said. “Know who you are, know what you stand for. And don’t pay any attention to what people are saying!”

(“Suite Life on Deck” airs Sundays, 11:30 p.m. on Disney Channel. “Jessie” will air Saturdays, 10:30 p.m., starting March 3.)

In With the New

Two new drawings.

Young Superman
This younger version of the rebooted Superman is currently appearing in the Grant Morrison-written Action Comics. I’m intrigued by this less-experienced and somewhat impudent version. And the homemade, pre-spandex costume is growing on me.

Red Hulk
When he debuted a few years ago, he defeated almost every powerhouse hero he was pitted against. It was pretty silly that he even decked the Watcher, but this Hulk’s early irreverent exploits reminded me of DC’s Lobo. Red Hulk, a.k.a. “Thunderbolt” Ross (whose ‘stache oddly disappears after transforming), later switched sides and is becoming a valuable Avenger. 

Fil-Am executive producer reimagines History Channel

(Published January 13, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“If you ask how we got this big, one of the most important factors is the fact that we emphasize entertainment,” said History Channel’s Filipino-American executive producer Paul Cabana, during his Manila visit last December.

Cabana added during the press lunch at the Peninsula Manila: “It’s our challenge to find different ways to incorporate history with entertainment – consider ‘The Kennedys.’ Ultimately, it’s about how you tell a story, and how you keep people captivated.”
According to Cabana, having a hand in the channel’s programming was the farthest thing from his mind five years ago; he initially thought it aired only black-and-white war documentaries.

Born in the United States to parents from Pampanga and Quezon, the Harvard-educated Cabana grew up influenced by an “incredibly emphasized” work ethic.

“I studied Business and a lot of other things,” he said. “My first jobs were in advertising and magazines. But I watched a lot of TV. About 10 years ago, I decided to move to New York [from Chicago]. I started from the ground up, getting coffee, running errands and being a PA [production assistant]. I worked my way up as a researcher… I spent most of my time in television, just learning how to make shows, produce, hold a camera, tell a story… and doing a whole range of things, from home makeover shows to biographies, to science docus.”

Eventually, he had the opportunity to pitch some ideas for the revamped channel. He became field producer for the 2008 Travel Channel miniseries, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy.

Now 37, Cabana is actively involved in several History programs, including “How the States Got Their Shapes,” which explores facts about the differently shaped US borders, and “Top Shot,” which showcases the shooting skills of competing marksmen.

“In the Philippines, just like in the States, competition shows are hot – whether it’s in fashion, food, or losing weight. [‘Top Shot’] was a huge risk; we didn’t think it would do well, to be honest. We didn’t know if the audience would accept it, but we were pleasantly surprised to see the ratings.”

Several ideas for new shows, however, don’t make it past the pitching stage. “We get hundreds of pitches everyday and some of them are really bad,” Cabana revealed. “The worst ones are 100 percent copies of something that’s already on air. A lot of times, people just pitch themselves.”

The success of certain programs in the US doesn’t assure the same reception in other regions, Cabana said. “There are shows that [failed] in the US but do incredibly well internationally. There’s ‘Jurassic Fight Club,’ that’s doing well here. We actively talk to our regional officers and make sure the ideas we’re developing will translate.”

He added that combining entertainment with relevance is crucial to winning over viewers from different countries. “One of the most important things you have to do, now, more than ever, is to connect whatever story you’re doing to people’s lives,” he said.

Periodically planning new shows also requires a discerning perspective. “To be a good programmer, you have to think in somebody else’s head,” he said. “If someone is interested in the Bible, or in another subject that I’m not interested in, I have to figure out what that person is thinking or watching. The biggest lesson I’m learning is to think about the whole audience, not just myself. It’s hard, too!”

Cabana is currently working on a top-secret project that he described as “huge” and with “an international scope.” He’s confident that Filipino viewers will respond favorably to it: “In the next two years, it will be big in the US – and in the Philippines!”

(“Top Shot” will air Tuesdays, 9 p.m., beginning Feb. 28.)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Gainful ‘Game’

Guy Ritchie’s sequel to his clever and gritty “Sherlock Holmes” pits the quirky detective (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his hesitant partner Watson (Jude Law) against an unusually formidable foe.

In “A Game of Shadows,” the duo’s lively rapport is re-established; Holmes and Watson investigate anew and are targeted by the mysterious Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).

Like the first “Sherlock,” the sequel emphasizes the uniqueness of this particular version of the detective. Holmes here is just as calculating and imperturbable, practically a dozen steps (or several seconds) ahead of his opponents’ moves. Whether he’s confronting bruisers in an alley or plotting against the Professor, quick-thinking Holmes has got most of the angles covered, and his oft-uncouth appearance belies his tactical prowess.

Irene Adler’s (Rachel McAdams) absence in the trailer is explained; she briefly appears in a few scenes and enlivens them. The other female character is the fortune teller Sim (Noomi Rapace), who joins the inquisitive pair in their mission. She’s less imposing than Adler, and is actually pretty indistinct, personality-wise.

The adventure is quite complicated; it takes some time for puzzles to unravel, but you’ll eventually admire the crafty machinations of Professor Moriarty. Quite the cunning schemer, he’s actually a worthy arch-foe, providing momentous confrontations with Holmes.

The film could’ve been shorter, but “Game” mostly combines smarts with rough-and-tumble coolness, further and firmly reminding us of Downey’s flexibility, and the reinvented protagonist’s misfit appeal. 

Mythology, 2012

Some titles I’m currently reading. I’m loving Uncanny X-Force and Avengers Academy, two of Marvel’s consistently engrossing books. I still get the new Marvel Handbooks whenever they’re out, and I’m also rereading the Handbook-inspired Walking Dead: Survivor’s Guide.
I’m hoping that the final issue of Avengers: Children’s Crusade will be much better than the penultimate one. Wanda’s story continues to unfold, but I’m disappointed by a major revelation. I knew something was coming (they’re Hal Jordan-ing her after all), but that part could’ve been presented better.  

Thursday, January 05, 2012

In With the Old

New drawings, old fave characters.

Superman Blue
I wasn’t really interested in the design when it was introduced back in the late ‘90s, but Grant Morrison made electric blue Superman so badass.

Warriors Five
Ka-Zar the Savage, Warlord of Skartaris, Crying Freeman, Conan the Barbarian, and Tarzan of the Apes. Some of the toughest, fiercest fighters from the most dangerous realms.

I actually started the drawing last summer but shelved it until I felt like doing it. Finally inked and colored it last week.

One of my childhood favorites from Alpha Flight. Sasquatch, a.k.a. Walter Langkowski lost his monster form so his soul was mystically encased in the super-strong Box armor. It’s cool that the robot mouth was also expressive; I remember him smiling when they thought they found a suitable replacement body (which turned out to be the Hulk).