Friday, March 23, 2012

Siege Fantabulous

AvX! Sort of. New drawings of old fave Marvel rosters.

Uncanny X-Men, 1989
Psylocke, Storm, Colossus, Rogue, Havok, Longshot, Wolverine, Dazzler.

The “Legends” team faked their deaths to become more proactive and to secretly deal with serious threats to mutantkind like the Marauders and Mr. Sinister. The heroes actually died during Fall of the Mutants, but were resurrected by the goddess Roma. I like this focused, Australia-based team; they went after their targets, couldn’t be detected by mechanical sensors, and even made Christmas better for the Reavers’ theft victims.

West Coast Avengers, 1989
Human Torch (Jim Hammond), Wonder Man, Vision, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Dr. Pym, US Agent.

John Byrne really shook things up during his run; Wanda Maximoff lost her husband (the android Vision) and fake children (Billy and Tommy). Wonder Man refused to share his brain patterns after the Vision was rebuilt (these gave him a personality the first time), because Wondy’s in love with Wanda. She became furious with her “ineffectual human” teammates, snapped, and became a super-villainess for a time. Good times.

Hunting for talent in Manila

(Published Mar. 24, PDI-Super)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“What we’re looking for is original, something we haven’t seen before,” said Marvel Comics’ C.B.Cebulski, senior vice president of the company’s Creator and Content Development, during his recent visit to Manila.

Cebulski was in the country for the “Next Comic Marvel” event and talent search, organized by National Bookstore. The call for art submissions yielded a total of 244 entries, which the talent scout and “Loners” writer went through and shortlisted to 35 hopefuls shortly after his arrival last week.

“There are about four people who are definitely ready to take the step to working professionally at Marvel or the US comics industry,” Cebulski revealed during an interview at the Hotel Intercon. “The next step for me is I take their samples and I go back. I have meetings with the editors at Marvel and I try to find a place for them. So nothing is guaranteed just yet. It’s a matter of the editors deciding which artists are right for which projects.”

Cebulski added that his first visit has been “extremely fruitful,” elated at seeing a number of promising talents. “I am über-impressed. I go to any country and my goal is to find one artist. If I can find one artist to bring back to Marvel, then my trip has been a success. Usually, it’s hit or miss. The place I had the most success with was Italy. I can find one or two artists with each trip; I can safely say that we can hire at least two pencilers and two colorists from the Philippines!”

He expounded on his admiration for established Filipino comic book artists from previous decades. “What’s unique about the Filipino artists in particular is that there is a ‘giving back’ in the artistic community here that I don’t see anywhere else.

“Going back to the ’70s, Filipinos artists, once they made it, they didn’t just rest on their laurels. They turned around and started studios. They wanted to train the next generation, to take their knowledge and their experience and the connections that they’d established, and give it back.”

The talent scout, author of the “100 percent autobiographical” Image title “Wonderlost,” has gotten used to immediately identifying aspiring artists’ influences, and is determined to keep looking for more “original” art styles.

“Basically what I’m looking for is something unique,” he said. “It’s okay for artists to take inspiration from other artists. Everyone is influenced by someone. The trick is to walk the line between inspiration and originality. You have to cross over to originality sooner than later in your career.”

Marvel continues to accept online submissions for penciling jobs. Writers, however, may have a harder time breaking in, according to Cebulski. “It’s almost a Catch-22. To break into Marvel, writers have to have been published somewhere else first. You have to break into the comic industry. But it’s easier than ever before with the Internet, doing web comics, doing self-publishing, selling your work on your own website or blog.”

He also disclosed that inkers won’t be rendered obsolete any time soon. “That’s a myth I’m happy to dispel,” Cebulski said. “The art of inking is invaluable. Digital inking is being phased out, in a way. It’s hard for a computer to understand linework. Inking is not just filling in the black line. It’s embellishing; it’s enhancing. Inking is fixing the flaws of the penciler. A computer can’t do that.”

Cebulski foresees the continued branching out of American comic books to different media, and more people buying collected editions. “I think we’re going to see more TV shows, definitely more movies,” he said. “The trade paperback market is still continually growing, which is a great sign for us. The future of comics right now is figuring out exactly what digital is.”

He added that despite the advent of the digital format, fans and collectors will always support the more established monthlies. “Print will never go away,” Cebulski enthused. “As much as comics is a reading experience, that’s just 50 percent of the whole experience.

“It’s about a culture, about community, about collecting. And you have all those people who have been reading Spider-Man since ‘Amazing Fantasy,’ or reading ‘Fantastic Four’ since the beginning; they go to the shop every month and get every issue, and they’re completists. So we can’t just stop publishing ‘Fantastic Four’ as print. There are those people out there who are hardcore enough, and I’m one of them, who want every single issue in that long box!”

(Photo by Oliver M. Pulumbarit)

Bullet Thoughts

Some of my status updates, compiled.

March 7, 2012
I never imagined that the future would involve a lot of shameless pimping, self-promotion, and open thinking in a floating dimension. I love it.

March 7, 2012
The oddest, and probably the saddest thing I’ve seen at a nearby bookstore: a kid playing with a gadget game, ignoring dozens of books beside him.

March 9, 2012
Blank bristol boards. Exciting.

March 9, 2012
Seriously. People should stop brandishing their ancient “holy” books like loaded weapons. Gay people get hurt.

March 16, 2012
Sometimes, I wish the schools I went to taught us how to deal with anger issues, heartaches, and mental fatigue. I wish they also warned me that the future would involve a lot of humoring other people, and dealing with unworthy and dubious characters. Still, I’d say that I’m stronger for learning and surviving real life’s crappy lessons firsthand.

Crime-solving for real

(Published Mar. 23, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Hit crime shows “CSI” and “Dexter” emphasize the importance of DNA evidence found at crime scenes. Identifying the genetic codes left by culprits is crucial to solving mysterious or complicated cases—a meticulous process that the Philippines’ top DNA analyst, Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria, considers imperative if one must prove or disprove a suspect’s presumed guilt.

De Ungria will appear in the fifth episode of the C&I (Crime & Investigation Network) series, “Partners in Crime,” which features real cases from different Asian countries. “I was contacted by the producers in late September 2011 via e-mail and phone to participate,” De Ungria said in an e-mail interview with Inquirer.

“They filmed overtime one weekend before I left for a conference in Singapore,” she said. “I give credit to the hardworking crew and my team at the UP Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI) DNA Lab for being able to work on such short notice.”

In the episode, the scientist relates how DNA testing was done in a case involving an elderly man accused of abuse. She also talked about a separate case, a grisly crime committed in another part of the country.

De Ungria told  Inquirer: “TV is a very important medium that reaches a wider public without the limitation of physical location, cultures and beliefs. I needed to select the vehicle that could carry this message… without sensationalizing or distorting. The producers of ‘Partners in Crime’ convinced me of their professionalism, so I agreed to be part of the series.”

In the Philippines, admission of DNA evidence for crime cases was allowed by the Supreme Court in the late 1990s. De Ungria suggested that strict training in the gathering of such irrefutable evidence be prioritized. She elaborated: “I recommend focusing on the training of individuals who collect samples from crime scenes, [such as] scene-of-the-crime officers, investigators, and allied medical professionals [including] pathologists, nurses, medical technologists and dentists.”

De Ungria continued: “Given the development in DNA technology, the training should include precautionary guidelines in the collection of samples that may be useful sources of DNA. [These] would help in the reconstruction of the series of events leading to the crime.”

As head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory of the NSRI based in UP Diliman, De Ungria manages research projects and services performed in the laboratory. “Our greatest achievement to date is our active involvement in initiatives that promote the use of science for the protection of human rights,” she said. “From 2001-2006, we worked with the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on the anti-death penalty campaign because of a number of wrongful convictions that were discovered upon closer study of the cases …”
(“Partners in Crime” airs Mondays, 10:30 p.m. on C&I. Dr. De Ungria’s episode airs on April 2.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fab and furious: 10 film females fight back

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

Girl power! There are many different film roles for women, but the ones that usually stand out are those that portray them as capable and competent, even dangerous. To commemorate International Women’s Month, here’s our rundown of empowering action heroines and tough gals from different genres. There are many unforgettable ones, but let’s narrow it down to ten:

Ellen Ripley (Alien 1-4)
Surviving horrific encounters with monstrous extraterrestrials, Ripley became knowledgeable in dealing with them, fending off attacks on fellow humans and sacrificing herself to get rid of the creature incubating in her. She revived in another body after two centuries, stronger than ever.

Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill Vol. I, II)
Katana-wielding Beatrix, a.k.a. The Bride, tracks down her former assassin colleagues who attacked her and left her for dead years ago. Trained in strict fighting disciplines and driven by revenge, she separately stalks, confronts, and trounces her formidable and ruthless targets. 

Selene (Underworld 1, 2, 4)
Changed into a vampire centuries ago, Selene became a pistol-toting “Death Dealer,” destroying both werewolf and vampire enemies alike. She later pursued her own path, eventually forming a relationship with a vamp-wolf hybrid and becoming a protective mother to their child.

Sarah Connor (Terminator 1, 2)
She was a clueless waitress in the first movie but transformed into a toughened warrior in the sequel. Sarah Connor survived a harrowing Terminator attack, and was determined to teach her son about fighting the onslaught of intelligent machines.

Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars - Episode IV-VI)
When future Jedi champion Luke Skywalker was still a farmer, his long-lost twin Leia was already busy fighting the Empire’s despotic rule as part of the Rebel Alliance. She eventually slew crimelord Jabba the Hutt while she was his captive, and later helped in major liberation efforts.

Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass)
Fascinated with butterfly knives and other weaponry, 11-year-old Mindy Macready was trained in various martial arts and combat techniques by her mentor Big Daddy. The vigilante sidekick almost single-handedly defeated armed goons while rescuing newbie superhero Kick-Ass on separate occasions. After Big Daddy met his untimely end, she attacked the bad guys’ headquarters, decimating their forces with ease.

Evelyn Salt (Salt)
Resourceful CIA agent Evelyn Salt, accused of being a Russian spy, flees to find her missing husband. She’s actually a double agent who defies her programming; she soon goes after her would-be spy allies, foiling their scheme and dealing with them efficiently.

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Highly skilled investigator and techie Lisbeth doesn’t conform to most social norms. A complex and strategic thinker, she once savagely exacted revenge on a man who assaulted her, and blackmailed him into doing her bidding. She also helped solve a decades-old case with a journalist she previously investigated.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter 1-8)
Hermione was one of the most driven Hogwarts students, well-read on documented spells and related matters. As Harry Potter’s trusted ally, the teen witch became crucial to many missions, bravely risking her life and confronting powerful adversaries repeatedly.

Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings 2, 3)
Disguising herself in armor, noblewoman Eowyn joined the big fight, eventually defending her injured uncle from a Nazgul. She beheaded the winged steed, but was nearly strangled by the rider, who taunted, “No man can kill me.” She did kill him, of course, but not before declaring, “I am no man!”

Scout's Honor

Interviewed Marvel talent scout and writer CB Cebulski at the Intercon, Monday morning. Fun guy. He likes my John Carter shirt.

He mentioned the company’s big event, Avengers Vs. X-Men. For those who have yet to read Avengers: Children’s Crusade, some spoilers ahead. Won’t be including this in my article, so I’m sharing it here:

Me: Was it really planned to have Dr. Doom as the mastermind behind the (mutant) decimation?

CB: Alan Heinberg has had that kind of plan in his head the entire time. This isn’t a retcon. This is something that… Alan is an amazing thinker. For not being as involved in the Marvel Universe as some of the other writers like Bendis and Brubaker, who’ve been helping us plot the course of all this for ten years, even with the limited things he’s written and the contact he’s had, he’s still tight with all those guys. He presented this plan years and years ago, and everyone kind of worked around it to give Alan the leeway to tell his story. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Intimate Enmity

New drawings. Love and war.

Lobo Vs. Logan
“Fraggin’ bastich!”

“You’re dead, bub!”

Bounty hunter Lobo and mutant hero Wolverine fought in the 1996 crossover series DC Vs. Marvel. Wolverine won that fight, I’m assuming because he was overwhelmingly popular, and readers got to vote for their favorite characters in five main bouts including that one. Anyway, I still believe that Lobo would’ve won against “bone claws” Wolvie in a fair (or poll-less) fight; he’d have delivered a fatal strike as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Adamantium-laced Logan, though, that’s another story.

Zaturnnah, Naloka
Nahuli ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah ang naglalandiang Ginoong Lakas at Dodong!

I’m intrigued by Ginoong Lakas; I’m guessing he’s secretly one of the characters introduced in the first issue. But we’ll see. He might really be a girl with a gender-bending meteorite, for all we know. Antagal ng next issue! 

Zombie apocalypse, now

(Published March 12, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Not surprisingly, the gripping horror-drama series “The Walking Dead” has become one of the most-watched shows on cable. Its weekly chronicling of zombie apocalypse survivors’ activities continues to win new viewers from across the globe.

Currently on its second season, “The Walking Dead” was developed for TV by former showrunner Frank Darabont, who recently exited and was replaced by writer Glen Mazzara. Robert Kirkman, who created and continues to pen the source comic book, is still heavily involved with the show as executive producer and writer, helping conjure up a familiar yet altogether unpredictable reality.

The previous season ended with the uneasy group of survivors leaving the destroyed Center for Disease Control facility. Season two starts with the convoy stopping behind a lane filled with abandoned vehicles; the survivors soon cross paths with a horde of zombies, which separates Sophia (Madison Lintz) from the group. Former cop Rick Grimes (Andrew

Lincoln) and the others look for her, but after Grimes’ son Carl (Chandler Riggs) is injured in a hunting accident, they end up in the farm of elderly veterinarian Hershel (Scott Wilson).

Pairings and concepts from the seminal comics nicely make it to the show. There’s tension between Rick, his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and her former lover Shane (Jon Bernthal). Also translating well is the developing relationship between Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Hershel’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan).

The once-grieving Andrea (Laurie Holden from “X-Files”) is evolving into a confident, competent markswoman. The farm is a sanctuary that’s familiar to readers of the comic book, but some things turn out differently.

Characters that didn’t debut in the comics help contribute to the series’ unpredictability. Some that appeared regularly in the monthly title undergo new traumas or are killed off, reminding viewers that most of these survivors aren’t safe.

Still intriguing with its adept handling of human behavior within an apocalyptic setting, “The Walking Dead” regularly delivers the scares as well with swarms of aptly horrific and deftly choreographed undead. And the conflicts will escalate; it was recently announced that the Governor, an important character from the comics, will be played by Brit actor David Morrissey in season three.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays, 8 p.m. on Fox.

Rainbow reconnection

It’s self-referencing and has a roster of characters that can be described as an acquired taste, but “The Muppets” entertainingly brings back the late Jim Henson’s disparate and strangely charming puppet characters from the hit TV show.

Yes, “The Muppet Show” had a bizarre, mostly era-reflecting group of puppets, led by the familiar Kermit the Frog, who also appeared on the more educational “Sesame Street.” We get to see how the Muppets are doing post-cancellation, tracked by a devout fan, Walter.

Walter is a misfit among regular humans, and is the puppet sibling of kind and loyal Gary (Jason Segel). The brothers, together with Gary’s teacher girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), help look for the long-forgotten Muppets during the couple’s anniversary trip. The former stars must reunite to stop a mean businessman, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), from owning and demolishing their old studio.  

Often hilariously nonsensical, the film co-written by Segel and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s” Nicholas Stoller nonetheless manages to tell different characters’ tales cohesively, and quite imaginatively. We see how changed the characters are post-stardom, working hard to find some renewed relevance in a radically changed world.

It’s hard not to get giggly at the disco era- and ‘80s pop culture references, lively music numbers, and the rekindled inter-species attraction between Kermit and the ever-feisty Miss Piggy. It’s also star-studded; there are precious cameos by Dave Grohl, Leslie Feist, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Emily Blunt, among many others. A new, updated version of Kermit’s beloved classic “Rainbow Connection” is also performed, bringing back memories of the characters’ first film, “The Muppet Movie,” released back in their heyday.

“The Muppets” opens March 21 in Metro Manila. 

Cool Random $#!+ Part Two

Alex Luthor and Superboy Prime. Powerful whiners.
Jim Lee sent me this postcard back in 1993. This was in response to my letter praising Nick Manabat for his work on Cybernary # 1.

Classic Avengers comic books. Eakos, Wackos, talented creators.

Buffy and Spike. “This isn’t sodding Twilight!”

Seussical tree-hugging

Its color-dipped, surreal world populated by typically oddball creatures and characters, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” is a timely parable that transmits its eco-preservation message despite some iffily executed parts.
We’re introduced to the inimitable Seussical realm of Thneed-Ville, distinct because of its lack of actual trees and its various uses for the profitable invention “thneed.” It’s also a place where fresh air is sold in plastic bottles, its citizens noticing nothing amiss about the strange tradition.

Change comes when young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) tries to impress the tree-dreaming Audrey (Taylor Swift) by looking for a real plant. He finds the Once-ler (Ed Helms), whose tale reveals the secret behind the extinction of trees, and the existence of a forest “guardian” called the Lorax (Danny DeVito).

“The Lorax” very easily absorbs viewers into its swirl of eye-pleasing oddities, the animation very busy especially when it comes to depicting its characters doing seemingly trivial things in the background or in the periphery. The Seussan denizens here are just as unique and interesting, and probably as naive as most of those from the parallel worlds of “Horton Hears a Who” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Their challenges are likewise unique, the environmental awareness points reminding young and adult viewers of real-life responsibilities.

Some points are creatively made via catchy, music video-esque numbers, but one would wish that it also had more complicated challenges for the protagonist and a more detailed origin for the villain O’Hare (Rob Riggle). But it’s still pretty solid and absorbing, obvious imperfections aside.

Summer loving, bittersweet reunions

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

If cooling down at a nearby cinema is your way of beating the early summer heat, grab some popcorn and catch these surprisingly breezy offerings.

Sleeper hit “The Vow” has been around for weeks, successfully attracting curious moviegoers and exhibiting its post-“love month” longevity with ease. Interestingly, it’s not the usual feelgood date movie, in that it centers on a young couple whose happy marriage is marred by an accident that causes one spouse to suffer partial amnesia.

Rachel McAdams’ Paige is the sculptress wife who wakes up from a coma and fails to recognize her devoted hubby Leo, played by Channing Tatum. Paige only remembers details from her younger years, unsure of her relationship with Leo because he’s not in her resurfacing memories.

“The Vow” ably mines that intriguing conceit, which was inspired by actual events. Paige attempts to retrace her last steps, but only finds emotional connections with her estranged parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), and her ex-fiance (Scott Speedman). The quietly suffering Leo remains supportive, although seeing her regressing to an immature and naïve version of the woman he loves does test his patience.

 McAdams typically imbues the role with believable dimension. Tatum is a bit uneven; he’s often surprisingly subtle here, but sometimes, his imprecise emotive outbursts uncomfortably jolt.
   “The Vow’s” reality-inspired and periodically weepy situations do pose challenging questions about the nature of love and chemistry. And while it doesn’t always answer them creatively, it nonetheless connects with its emotionally charged scenarios.

The Steven Spielberg-directed drama “War Horse,” meanwhile, starts as a seemingly regular pet movie, but eventually evolves into a sweeping epic. The titular beast is a colt named Joey, trained by its young owner Albert Narracott (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) in plowing the family’s field. Sold to the army against Albert’s wishes, Joey becomes an active part of war efforts, a silent witness to human hostility.

Much like the musical instrument in 1998’s “The Red Violin,” the horse changes ownership in a span of years, becoming integral to some people’s plans and activities. The strange farm animal becomes one of many horses used in a cavalry’s daring attack on German forces during World War I, and subsequently figures in its different owners’ tales.

“War Horse’s” lush and transporting visuals complement its solid cast of brilliant actors. Irvine, who somewhat resembles a young Ethan Hawke, shows promise, competently balancing out scenes with Emily Watson and Tom Hiddleston, among others. Just as important is the young actor’s rapport with the horse; they do look comfortable with each other.

Running at almost two and a half hours, “War Horse” manages to expound on several characters’ tragic stories, unified by their connection to the majestic animal. This fine film is heartbreaking at certain junctures, but is also heartwarming when one least expects it. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

Martian mystique

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 sci-fi novel hero is reinterpreted a hundred years later in Disney’s “John Carter,” about an American ex-soldier who finds himself instantly transported to Mars (or Barsoom, as its inhabitants call it).

The characters have gotten various comic book reboots and translations through the decades; some of the most striking re-imaginings are illustrator Frank Frazetta’s sexier versions. Populated by different sentient races, Mars has cultures with earth-like characteristics, as seen in its ongoing war and gladiatorial duels. The main character’s basically the quintessential fish out of water, its inspiration felt in subsequent DC comic characters Travis Morgan and Adam Strange.

The film’s John Carter (Taylor Kitsch from “Wolverine”) is a former soldier who refuses to choose sides, but after fleeing warring forces on Earth, the natural fighter and swordsman discovers an object that teleports him (or more specifically, his essence) to Mars. Gaining exceptional physical prowess on the planet, he picks a side in a war orchestrated by enigmatic beings. He allies himself with the wise princess Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins, also from “Wolverine”) and some warriors from the multi-armed Thark people.

Barsoom’s various terrains look heavily inspired by “Star Wars,” which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but more imaginative imagery could've been utilized. Still, the effects are spectacular and the visuals impress, although there are creature and costume designs that are pretty uninspired.

Kitsch as Carter is just adequate; you’d ultimately wish the actor had a wider range. Collins as Deja Thoris is good, but her character’s quite typical; it’s funny that she was rescued by Carter three times, and has to overcompensate by showing off her swordfighting skills almost immediately after.

Despite the flaws and repetitiveness, it’s still a pretty watchable and effects-heavy sci-fi epic, and an interesting iteration of the iconic fantasy hero.

“John Carter” opens today, March 9, in Metro Manila. 

Sensual spectacle an ‘experiment’

(Published March 9, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

During their 25-minute technical rehearsal, the agile female performers of “Fuerza Bruta” presented a sultry number in a transparent pool, suspended several feet above the floor.

The scantily-clad quartet moved around in a tight choreograph, splashing to the meshed beats of tribal music and electronica, smiling underwater at their captive audience just a few feet below the gradually lowering pool.

The sensual spectacle is a popular part of “Fuerza Bruta’s” one-hour, stunt-dance show, according to artistic director assistant and performer Juan Martin Fernandez-Ozan.

The show debuted in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2005. Its cast and crew eventually toured and won over fans from Portugal, England, the United States, Germany, Mexico, Spain, and Brazil, among other countries. The nightly “Fuerza Bruta” (or brute force) at the Manila Hotel Tent runs until March 26 as part of Manila Hotel’s centennial celebrations.

“All the cast members are from Argentina,” Fernandez-Ozan said. “We have actors without fear of heights. Many of them are dancers and acrobats.”

He described the show as a “unique experiment … new theater mixed with real catharsis. It’s an experience that people feel in their body … When the audience leaves after the show, they feel the adrenaline.”

One of the six female cast members is Jimena Abente, who’s appreciative of the ongoing “Fuerza” tour, and the chance to perform energetic numbers nightly. “Every show is different because people [are different],” she enthused. “The energy of the audience keeps us up. We don’t feel tired; we just enjoy it.”

A few weeks after its Philippine debut, “Fuerza Bruta” still drew a huge, eclectic crowd to the Manila Hotel Tent. Promptly starting at 8 p.m., the show immediately introduced its audience to its interactive nature. There were no seats because the various stages and set pieces moved around the area, pushed and pulled around by its crew members.

A male “Fuerza” performer dressed in office clothes jogged on an elevated treadmill. The machine was moved across the room, the running man’s number accompanied by dimming lights, sprays of water, and a loud “gunshot” which “wounds” him.

Attention shifted to a wall, where two cable-suspended women twirled amid bright pink lights and pulsating music. The numbers seamlessly blended; eventually, “treadmill guy” was joined by other performers, who ran and burst through “walls” with him.
Another highlight was a number where five dynamic “Fuerza” actors danced on another elevated stage. They soon joined the audience on the floor, picking spectators game enough to dance with them or be hit on the head with small Styrofoam blocks with confetti.

And, of course, there was the jaw-dropping pool sequence, which made some guests fumble for their cameras.

The hour-long “unique experiment” left many in the audience visibly giddy, stepping on confetti-filled puddles and half-dancing to pounding beats as they stepped out of the venue.

(Photo by Oliver Pulumbarit) 

Deafening rumination

A little over a decade after 9/11, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” reminds us that the wounds are still there, that the attacks will remain unbelievable and senseless. Dealing with a particular family’s grief and resilience during the aftermath, the Stephen Daldry-directed film sharply reflects the trauma felt and experienced by the victims’ kin.

Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock portray loving spouses Thomas and Linda Schell, proud parents of unusually intelligent Oskar, played by Thomas Horn. After his father’s death, Oskar and Linda grieve differently, and slowly begin drifting apart. The kid hopes to solve one last puzzle that his father left him, which requires identifying the owner of a key and what it opens.

“Extremely Loud…” spends most of its time detailing the boy’s quest; he tries to find answers from disparate places and people, and the film is told from his less-than-perfect perspective. It seems like a perfect fit for Daldry, though, who directed “Billy Elliott.” But this film’s child actor isn’t always effective. Now, Horn is pretty good in some scenes, but can be quite annoying in others where he’s not required to be. Still, the kid shows promise and can improve.

And yes, the Oskar character gets unsympathetic. He’s condescending and disrespectful sometimes, which makes rooting for him difficult. Like the characters he approaches, though, you’ll find yourself humoring him, just to get things over with.

While not always around, Linda is still a sweet and reassuring presence even when Oskar doesn’t see her as such. Bullock’s performance is likewise reassuring, providing the film with some of its most dramatic, tearduct-loosening moments. 

Musings, Minutiae

Just some status updates from elsewhere. Encapsulated blogging in one entry.

Feb. 21, 2012
Left brain, right brain. Busy day.

Feb. 23, 2012
Damn, Glee. Karofsky storyline made me sob. Excellent job!

Feb. 23, 2012
Man, Beauty and the Beast is 20 years old. I still like it, Belle’s Stockholm Syndrome notwithstanding.

Feb. 29, 2012
Must work, but been missing a lot of things from the weekend, like swimming (or what passes for it) and the food from that awesome buffet breakfast.

Feb. 29, 2012
What has life taught me, so far? Friendships can be fleeting; love is true if you’re lucky enough to find and recognize it; I can’t believe in a God touted by other people. I don’t know everything, but learning never stops.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Dream team, dramatic data

The accessible biopic/sports drama “Moneyball” provides an extensive look at the business of baseball, getting behind the scenes and dissecting the mechanics of assembling a functional team. It’s also based on the fascinating true story of an underdog figure whose maverick efforts challenged conventional thinking.
Brad Pitt surprises with his inspired portrayal of Billy Beane, a promising baseball player who didn’t quite achieve his dreams. Shifting to scouting and management, Billy eventually tries a new gambit after his team’s resounding defeat: he hires oddball analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who helps him revamp the Oakland A’s, adding unexpected and underused players to the roster.

“Moneyball” manages to make the sport and its complicated team-shaping practices interesting and comprehensible to non-baseball fans. There’s a lively synergy between the parlance and the imagery, partly making the drama intriguing. But it’s Billy Beane’s tale that actually hooks; there are times when the viewer will question his perfectionist and idealist traits, and admire his morale-boosting tactics and no-nonsense attitude.

Directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”), the film immensely benefits from the deft portrayals of Pitt and Hill, the latter effectively subtle as the brains behind the more adventurous player suggestions.

“Moneyball” opens today, March 7.

Cool Random $#!+ Part One

Old stuff, new-ish pics. Geeky fun.

Battered and tattered X-books. They were my drug when I was a kid. They helped me escape, time and again.  Thanks, Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson.

MODOK and Mojo! They won’t fit in your car.

Vertigo and Wildstorm cards! It’s strange that some of their characters are part of the DCU now.

God is a nihilist.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Phoners and Actors

(Blast from the past! This is an article I wrote for the Inquirer back in October of 2006. I was able to  interview actors Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale through separate and exclusive phoners arranged by Warner Bros.)

From dark avengers to feuding tricksters
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Magic face-off!

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play warring magicians, an obsessed pair locked in a cycle of envy and revenge in “The Prestige.” As Alfred Borden and Robert Angier, respectively, the actors effortlessly slip into contrasting personalities with similarly sinister objectives. Ditching their costumed screen identities of Batman and Wolverine temporarily, Bale and Jackman join director Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “Memento”) and actors Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis and David Bowie in the dark, complex Victorian-era thriller.

Prior to appearing as dueling artisans in “The Prestige,” Bale and Jackman have breathed life into choice roles through the years, so they’re no strangers to different levels of convincing illusory techniques. Chameleon-like actor Bale debuted in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” and later appeared in films like “Velvet Goldmine,” “American Psycho,” and “The Machinist.” Of course, there’s also last year’s “Batman Begins,” where he’s the latest to don the mask of DC Comics’ caped crusader.

Versatile Aussie thespian Jackman, meanwhile, received a Tony Best Actor award for his portrayal of ‘70s singer-songwriter Peter Allen in the musical “The Boy From Oz.” He appeared in “Kate and Leopold,” and is famous for playing Marvel Comics’ most popular mutant, Wolverine, in three “X-Men” movies.

In separate exclusive phone interviews, Jackman and Bale spoke about a few smoke-and-mirrors secrets behind the new film, as well as some of their future projects, including their eventual return to playing fierce, archetypal superheroes.

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How different is playing this magician role for you?
Chris Nolan is a phenomenal director, and it was an engaging, smart story. The character is different for me; it was very challenging for me because, as you’ve seen, he became quite dark.

Having done a series of action movies, how refreshing was it to do “The Prestige”?
It’s really a surprise for me, to be honest, having a career in action films. I thought I’d do more roles like the one I played in this movie. I find myself pretty much attracted to things that are more challenging. It’s a great opportunity.

Please describe Christopher Nolan’s directing style, and the shooting atmosphere.
Chris Nolan is one of the directors I respect the most. There’s a lot of freedom working with him. Working with him is easy because of the relaxed, low-key set conditions. It’s not complicated; there was no ego, no screaming involved.

Your character and Christian Bale’s had an ongoing bitter rivalry. How was it off-screen?
I love Christian Bale. I’ve always been a big fan. He’s very brave, very truthful. He’s really fantastic. We’ve got a rivalry in the movie, but we’re actually good friends. My kids play with his kid.

Do you have plans to appear in movies for children, stuff that you can easily show to your kids?
They’re very young and can’t watch my movies yet but I got to do two movies, “Flushed Away” and “Happy Feet,” that they might enjoy. It’s wonderful, the freedom to switch for four hours (as a voice actor). It’s very different; there’s no makeup!

How tough is doing theater, compared to acting in films?
With theater, the hardest thing to actually do is make them believe while you’re vocalizing, but it’s easy if you get past that hurdle. I enjoy doing both. It’s greedy, but I’d like to open as many doors as I can.

How is the “Wolverine” spinoff doing, and how do you feel about being associated most with the character?
We now have the script. We’re looking for a director. I’m very privileged to play Wolverine. I love it. It’s quite different from real life, because I don’t look like him at all. People don’t always recognize me.

How involved are you with your characters’ stunts?
A lot. They’re very physically challenging. I love them.

How do you unwind?
I love watching movies. I watch DVDs. I watch DVDS of TV shows; sometimes I can’t really watch TV because I have kids. It’s been two months since I watched TV. I have a very, very eclectic range of music in my iPod: heavy metal, R & B, some jazz… I also like listening to soundtracks of movies.

Name some of your old and current acting heroes.
Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson… oh, and Harrison Ford!

Who do you think would win in a fight between Wolverine and Batman?
That’s not a serious question (laughs)! Wolverine, dude!

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How comfortable was it to work with Christopher Nolan again?
I would’ve wanted to work with whoever wrote the superb script regardless if it was Chris or not. We have a special working relationship. Chris is a shape-shifter as a director; he did that very well from “Batman Begins” to “The Prestige.” I’m very confident with the way he works. He’s one of the finest.

Speaking of shape-shifters, where do you draw inspiration from to play your obsessive magician character?
It’s easy when you have such a good script and story. It kind of flows; it just happens. It certainly just goes right.

How was Hugh Jackman as a co-star, and an actor?
It was perfect casting. Hugh immediately wanted to play Robert Angier. That really appealed to him. I read the Alfred Borden part and that’s what I wanted to do. You have two opposing philosophies with these two rival magicians. And Hugh’s a good actor, dancer, he’s very comfortable on stage. He was kind of the new boy on the team; most of us worked together before. He’s an easygoing boy. It’s very, very difficult not to get along with Hugh.

What can people expect from the upcoming “Batman” sequel?
We’ve gone over the introduction of our new characterization. People embraced it. People liked it. Chris is such a good filmmaker! I enjoy creating an intimacy about the project. Chris also enjoys that secrecy. You know the feeling about knowing something that others don’t know yet? In due time, he’ll bring me in and start talking about where we’ll be taking the Dark Knight next.

When you’re not acting, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m a father now and I truly like nothing better than that. But I’ve one hobby. I like the dirt bike a great deal. I like the elements and the heat and going where the path takes me. I have phases when I kind of need music, when I’m listening 24/7. But I realize I haven’t picked up my iPod in a while. Same thing with reading, there are times when I soak it in. There’s nothing I have consistently as one interest.

Who are your acting influences?
It’s just people, documentaries… the ones I really love. I look up to people in life. I’m no film buff.

As someone who started out young, did it become easier for you to grow as an actor and to respond to the demands of the business?
I kind of dived into it and dived right out. I lived in an old town in England that didn’t have an entertainment scene. Some children enjoyed that naturally. I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more like I couldn’t shake it rather than I pursued it. But it’s a different kind of addiction.

Who do you think would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine?
Give it 15 years. My career and Hugh’s career will be dead; we’ll have beer bellies and we’ll decide to make a direct-to-video Batman and Wolverine movie. When we have that complete decline in our careers, we’ll decide who wins!