Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Awe-inspiring assemblage

No stranger to Marvel comic books and epic storytelling, director-writer Joss Whedon unleashes a grand yet still very accessible film that brings together a number of iconic superheroes and antiheroes. The much-anticipated comic book movie “The Avengers” can finally be seen in Philippine cinemas today (starting with midnight screenings at select cineplexes), over a week before the US release.

Running at two hours and a little over 20 minutes, “The Avengers” creatively elaborates on the shared universe introduced in key and extra post-credits scenes from previous Marvel offerings “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” "Hulk,” and “Thor.” 

Whedon cleverly connects those characters (played by Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth, respectively), and previously established SHIELD operatives Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Gathered into a formidable fighting force, the Avengers set out to foil a scheme co-organized by fallen Asgradian prince Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and some mysterious figures.

It’s characteristically witty. Whedon certainly knows how to play with an assortment of personalities, giving the hesitant teammates precious dynamics and enjoyable banter. Like the huge casts of his previous TV and comic book projects, the Avengers are still given ample space to breathe, each of them given moments to shine and to relate to other characters.

While it doesn’t have the pathos or poignancy of last year’s “X-Men: First Class,” it still has profundity; every character’s heroism or purpose is questioned and examined. It’s a simple adventure with complex characters, and they become a spirited team quite organically. “The Avengers” is a big action flick, too, impressing with its thunderous barrage of explosions and fisticuffs without losing its sense of humor. 

Cool Random $#!+ Part Six

Old X-Men: Asgardian Wars TPB. I only had the 1985 X-Men Annual when I was a kid, and borrowed the rest from neighbors and friends eventually. Bought this compilation in 1995. Still very enjoyable.

"We're watching 'Avengers'! In our first movie, Joss Whedon gave me the line, 'What happens to a toad when it's struck by lightning?' Remember that, Professor?"
"Storm, he was unhappy with that. You delivered it wrong."

Thanos meets Batman. That is all.

"Namor, I read Uncanny X-Men # 8. Great Neptune, you 'Imperius Sexed' that creature!"
"Silence! I shall brook no insult!"
"Aquaman's right. I read it. That was gross!"

DC-Marvel crossovers! I miss them. It's been a while since JLA-Avengers. By the way, that JLA-X-Men battle in All Access was kinda silly. Jean Grey vs. Superman? Yugh.

And There Came Days

Updates assembled!

April 21. AvX continuity problem. The first tie-in (New Avengers) clearly shows the Avengers jumping off the Helicarrier. But in AvX #2, the Helicarrier is attacked by Magneto and Colossus while the Avengers are still in it. Eh, confusing.

April 22. Avengers on Wednesday. Don't fail me, Joss Whedon.

April 22. Playing fave summer and summer-ish songs. Summer Rain (Belinda Carlisle), Stockton Gala Days (10,000 Maniacs), Hot in the City (Billy Idol), I Will Remember (Hard Rain), Suddenly Last Summer (The Motels), Mystery (Indigo Girls), and Endless Summer Nights (Richard Marx!), among others.

April 23. It's frightening that some people still keep using their gods to justify their homophobia. I feel sad for their gay brothers or sisters, relatives and friends.

April 25. Went to the nearby Imax and attended the midnight-ish screening of The Avengers. Big, grand, fun comic book movie. Funny, too!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Updated heroine, vanity thrills

From the April 15-30 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The first of two film interpretations of the classic fairy tale Snow White this year, the comedy-family flick Mirror Mirror campily but amusingly reimagines the hapless victim character into a feisty and more proactive heroine.

It doesn’t follow the long-recognized version of the young woman from the classic Disney animated movie and various media, although it reintroduces familiar elements from the earlier reinventions.

Director Tarsem Singh, known for his visually imaginative films such as The Cell and The Immortals, similarly gives a refreshing, if less striking iteration of the Brothers Grimm tale.

Gorgeous Lilly Collins as Snow White fits; yes, you’ll get past her thick eyebrows quickly, and she’ll even give off an Audrey Hepburn-esque vibe eventually. The vain Queen is played by pretty Julia Roberts, who takes some getting used to in outlandish garb, but radiates elegance, nonetheless.

Interestingly, the backstory is told in a stylized animated sequence. Snow White is menaced by the new Queen, the stepmother taking over the kingdom after the King’s mysterious disappearance. Confined to the castle for years, Snow White has no idea that the once-happy denizens are now agonizing over the usurper’s greedy governance.

Visiting Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) finds himself accosted in the territory by seven recognizable characters, and reports the mugging incident to the Queen. Seeing the rewarding possibilities of partnering with the rich and handsome young man, she attempts to entice Alcott with the idea.

But Snow White, as expected, becomes a major obstacle, showing an interest in him during a costume party at the palace. Ordering her right-hand man Brighton (Nathan Lane) to get rid of her step-daughter permanently, the Queen proceeds with her cougar-ish scheme.

Mirror Mirror  has an artificiality to it that neutralizes any sense of immediacy. It’s approached in a very grandiose but cartoony manner; it’s no surprise that the less serious tone has its corresponding silly moments. The comedy treatment is quite accessible, but for those who might want their Snow White darker and more epic, there’s the new Snow White and the Huntsman action film in a few months.

But this more mirthful movie also favorably updates the story and characters, ditching the baggage that earlier interpretations have given the story. Here, Snow White’s not a perpetually naïve girl waiting for her hero; she actually rescues him the first time they meet. The seven dwarfs here aren’t hardworking miners; they’re bandits. And the Queen has some depth and humanity, despite her obvious inhumanity.

Also adding immensely to this film are the excellent and creative costumes by the late designer Eiko Ishioka. They’re not as exotic and fantastical as those seen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Immortals, but they’re still distinctly and remarkably dreamlike, and enhance scenarios appropriately.

The movie’s pacing can be challenging, however. Yes, it’s very artificial, but there are still unnecessary and repetitive parts. Still, it refreshes with its bold yet light take, delighting with its sillier moments, including a sequence devoted to the Queen’s very odd beauty treatment, and even a Bollywood-inspired song-and-dance number. 

Cool Random $#!+ Part Five

Some of my fave titles from 1991.

Chris Carrabba: "Thanks for the chat!"

X-Men Extinction team. The only one missing is Hope Summers.

Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe! Got some issues of the classic and deluxe runs when I was a kid. I followed its revival in 2004; I have nearly all the themed Handbooks and Sagas, and the Essentials. Wish DC would collect their old Who's Who series and release a new one.

Ned Stark! Kind of. That's the only Sean Bean figure I own, so it'll do. Got that sweet G.O.T. paperweight last Monday. Thanks, HBO Asia!

Wonderful Now

Ancient comic book, recent review. Thank you, Wina Puangco! Here’s what she said:

Trizh was very, very excited about this graphic novel and after being stranded at the Starbucks in Town Center for two hours waiting for my ride home, I can see why. It's a brilliant graphic novel, really. It's able to talk about taboo in a way that is casual and that you are able to relate to because it's said so simply--no big, sweeping declarations of "awesomeness". The characters are marvelously written: even the side characters have claimed my affections and those affections are not easy to claim, let me tell you. Another thing that I admire Oliver Pulumbarit for is being able to talk about these big issues (sexuality, religion) without turning it into an impersonal discussion about these gigantic, vague ideas. He was able to translate the big picture into something personal, something that you can take home with you and mull over in the shower or while painting your nails. I am, for all that I have said, speechless.This graphic novel hit the spot. <33

Please, please pick it up if you can. :) 

Hawt in the City

With a squeeze and a sigh and that twinkle in your eye…

April 14. Working out again. Missed those exercise machines. Body's gonna hurt in the morning, but it'll hurt so good.

April 16. It's cool that 'Skins' co-stars Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray are now on 'Game of Thrones.' They played two of my favorite characters on the older show (he played a tragic, lovable druggie; she played a bisexual girl with an eating disorder).

April 18. Loving the old-looking but still very functional exercise machines at the gym. Felt a bit better after over an hour of using mostly arm and torso machines.

April 20. I wanna swim. Swim. Swim. Swim.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

War rages in new ‘Game of Thrones’ season

(Published Apr. 20, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Season one of HBO’s fantasy epic series “Game of Thrones” culminates in a full-scale war between the cruel usurpers to the throne and forces loyal to the martyred Ned Stark (Sean Bean), among other powerful factions.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, the series has several characters and houses established in the first season. Around the time of King Robert’s (Mark Addy) demise, his right-hand man Ned Stark discovers the incestuous affair between Robert’s wife Cersei (Lena Heady) and her twin brother Jaime Lannister (Nokolaj Coster-Landau).

Cersei and Jaime’s young child Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) usurp the throne and have Ned Stark killed, prompting the enraged Stark family to marshal loyal forces and declare war on the boy-king and his ilk.

Season two is now airing in Asia, a few episodes behind the United States. Still grim and foreboding, the first new episode of “Game of Thrones” was recently unveiled at 7th High in Taguig.

The episode wastes no time in showing different sides to the ongoing war. Ned’s son Robb Stark (Richard Madden) has become a capable strategist and continues to win big battles. He hopes to liberate his sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) from Joffrey’s clutches, and find their missing sibling Arya (Maisie Williams).

Arya, disguised as a boy, is befriended by an apprentice blacksmith named Gendry (Joe Dempsie), who happens to be King Robert’s biological son and the rightful heir to the throne.

Those tuning in for the first time will be lost; much has been established before and new characters are constantly introduced. But the familiar underdogs have enduring appeal: The dwarf Tyrion (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage) is a misfit who asserts himself in his nephew Joffrey’s new regime. Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) fights to prove himself. And young widow Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) now leads her fallen husband’s warrior tribe, uncertain of the future.

The supernatural aspects are used sparingly but effectively—Daenerys’ small dragons appear briefly, but the undead who threaten the woodlands have yet to make their presence felt again.

The many characters in the series keep the various connected conflicts interesting, and most of them are clearly defined by their noble or sinister agendas. It’s hard to predict which camp will claim victory, but this dark and massive “game” of cunning and strategy certainly continues to intrigue and perplex.

“Game of Thrones” season 2 will air Saturdays, 9 p.m., starting tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Undercover, under pressure

Those familiar with the ‘80s teen drama series “21 Jump Street” may have scoffed when Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were cast in the movie version. But surprisingly, this big-screen iteration is a riotous comedy that pretty much keeps fans’ memories of the original show intact.

Hill and Tatum play Officers Schmidt and Jenko, respectively, former schoolmates who later become buddies and fellow cops. Reassigned to a different h.q.--an old church situated at a familiar address--Schmidt, Jenko, and a few other cops are sent to infiltrate different high schools by Captain Dickson (rapper Ice Cube). They’re there mainly because they’re “Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus-looking mother-f—kers!”

Schmidt and Jenko pose as brothers, specifically assigned to track pushers and suppliers of a new and deadly drug. Formerly unpopular, Schmidt worries about fitting in. But to the partners’ surprise, school’s totally different this time. Jenko doesn’t fit with the popular kids anymore; they’re rich, artistic, environmentally conscious kids led by the charismatic drug-dealer Eric (Dave Franco).

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“How I Met Your Mother”) and written by Michael Bacall (“Scott Pilgrim”), “21 Jump Street” smartly parodies worn-out but enduring school-centric scenarios, effortlessly subduing with caustic and crude humor. The odd couple rapport is inspired and the good cop-bad cop dynamic is reversed, giving both characters plenty of situations to bumble in. And while it’s not exactly the “Jump Street” that viewers may remember, there are unforgettable cameos that should make them happy. 

Also, Tatum, who sometimes comes off as iffy in more serious roles, fits well. Hill is effective, as expected, the role and some situations nicely reminiscent of his “Superbad” character and some of its more poignant parts.

This re-imagining is crammed with inanities and is obsessed with penis and drug jokes, but they’re consistently hilarious, and ultimately, the TV concept is properly and memorably reinvented.

21 Jump Street” will have sneak previews on April 23 and 24 in Metro Manila, and will open on May 9. 

The Blob Squad!

New drawing. Ectoplasmic sidekick Slimer, energy construct Glomulus, and dimension-hopping Doop team up and get blobby!

Vaunted vessels

A movie based on a classic board game! Interestingly enough, the action-scifi flick “Battleship” is an “adaptation” that partly works. You’ll have to bear with the ultra-formulaic transformation of the main character--from unfocused loser to quick-thinking leader--but the action does get quite riveting, once attention to the annoying factory-issue protagonist’s foibles shifts to other details.

Much time is squandered on developing the generic potential hero, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a previously directionless and laughable character that eventually becomes a Navy recruit. He inherits the responsibility of leadership, of course, after his older brother Stone (played by Alexander Skarsgard—how’s that for underwear model-looking siblings?) is killed during an alien invasion.

Now in command of a mighty vessel and its similarly tough crew, Lt. Hopper and company must figure out the invading forces’ weaknesses. And because their extraterrestrial enemies’ ships are extra-stealthy, the humans must find a way to locate them and literally blow them out of the water.

So there’s the boardgame connection. The alien’s missiles also “inject” themselves on their targets, looking like shinier variations of the plastic projectiles from the game.

“Battleship” is very simple; aside from the battles of the vessels, the hostile encounters between the humanoid aliens and the earthlings aren’t anything new. Despite that, it’s not so bad; it’s unabashedly a popcorn movie where America saves the day yet again.

By the way, prepare to experience a really bizarre déjà vu when pop star Rihanna, as crew member Officer Raikes, is shown getting hit in the face by one of the aliens. That’s just… weird. Still, she’s shown kicking butt; at least one of the two female characters gets to do that. Brooklyn Decker’s therapist character is the token pretty and feminine damsel, daughter to Liam Neeson’s intimidating and no-nonsense Vice Admiral Shane.

As for Kitsch, he’s actually pretty likeable here, especially if you ignore the first 30 or so minutes of his character bumbling and attempting to be a relatable everyguy who needs some validation. Other characters actually needed some backstory, because they’re practically switchable. Still, "Battleship" is unapologetically big and testosteroney, and amuses mostly with its massive, effects-aided battles.

Friday, April 13, 2012

After a century, Titanic’s truths are revealed

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

A hundred years after Titanic went down, History Channel’s two-hour special, “Titanic Mystery Solved,” answers long-held questions about the sinking of the historic vessel.

In an exclusive phone interview with the Inquirer, Carl Lindahl, the cable network’s executive producer of historical programs, and writer-producer Rushmore Denooyer (right) said that this massive undertaking took nearly three years to finish.

“Previous expeditions only photographed the bow and the stern of the ship,” Lindahl said. “What was photographed and investigated was only 60 percent of what’s down there.  The remaining 40 percent that you’ll see here are segments of Titanic that no one even knew existed. You’ll see all the pieces and a map of the entire field of debris, which will forever be used by anybody who wants to study the Titanic.”

AUVs, or Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, scanned the wreck site. Gathered data were patched and “composited” onto a large image, Denooyer said. Crew members from different technical fields lent their expertise in the effort.

“The expedition was unique in a number of ways—in technology certainly, but also in the team’s makeup,” Denooyer added. “There was tremendous diversity [in the] groups and institutes that were involved… I don’t think any previous expedition has had such a broad and deep range of scientific and engineering [experts] and historians.”

Lindahl and Denooyer agreed that this collaboration was crucial to the painstaking task of studying thousands of pieces discovered over several square miles.

“The expedition took place at the beginning of fall in 2010, but planning started about a year before that,” Lindahl revealed. “After the expedition was over, it took a year and a half to analyze the findings. Literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of materials had to be viewed, screened, analyzed and compared by all the different agencies that were involved in the expedition.”

The Titanic disaster is a unique enigma that has baffled and intrigued generations, noted both Lindahl and Denooyer. “I think the story of Titanic has an enduring appeal on human imagination for a number of reasons,” Denooyer said. “It’s symbolic in a way; man creates technology—we convince ourselves that it is so good that it’s more powerful than nature. And of course, when we think that we are eventually proven wrong.  It also has the human side of it where you can’t think about that night without imagining, ‘What would I have done if I had been there?’ I think that for all these reasons, it retains a hold on our imagination, and in a way, is timeless.”
“It fascinates people because it hits them on many different levels,” Lindahl added. “It’s human drama with a great loss of life, but it’s also a story of the failure of technology, of science that people thought then they had mastered.”

(“Titanic Mystery Solved” airs April 15, 8 p.m., on History Channel.)

From Dusty Clearbooks

Pantheon Heroes
Horuses, Baal, and other David Hontiveros characters from his old Alamat titles Pantheon and Avatar. Mixed media on water color paper, 2000.

Marvel Universe, 2001
Huge pencil drawing, 22" X 17" vellum. The X-Men, Avengers, X-Statix, Thunderbolts, Slingers, Clan Destine and other heroes are in there.

DC Universe, 2001
 Humongous pencil drawing, 22" X 17" vellum. JLA, JSA, Titans, Scare Tactics, Young Justice, Legion, and other teams. Man, I had so much free time back then.

Seasoning the Sun

Compiling status updates, as usual.

April 5. Summer, you're so not cool.

April 9. Habang naghihintay ng jeep, may lumapit na batang pulubi. "Pahingi pong pera." Sabi ko, "Wala, wala." Umiling ako. Pamasahe lang naman talaga pera ko, di pa ko nakaka-withdraw. Nangulit pa, kaya inilingan ko uli. Sabi ba naman, "Ang arte naman nito." Kaya sabi ko sa kanya, "Huwag kang ganyan. Ikaw na nga ang nanghihingi eh. Ang arte mo!" Tumigil siya pero maya-maya, bumalik at nag-make-faces ang loko. Sa loob-loob ko, sarap batukan ng mga magulang nito.

April 11. Just read AvX # 1. Win this already, mutants.

April 11. Avengers movie in two weeks. Please, please be awesome.

April 12. Naiyak sa kakatawa sa 21 Jump Street movie kanina.

April 12. While I'm not currently pursuing an art-related career, I'm glad that I can still draw between my writing jobs. My DeviantArt gallery now has 8,040 faves and 151 watchers.

Moments in Stasis

1989, Art Club members and friends

I was a teenage Jim Lee clone! Well, not entirely. My old style was influenced by him, Simon Bisley, and Jae Lee, so it looked weird. This was in 1991. Good thing the pages can't be seen clearly, haha.

With comic book artist and former teacher Whilce Portacio. This was during his signing at Filbar's Galleria, December 1991. 

Eight years later, I became one of his trainees. It was a big deal because he tutored me on penciling techniques for free. I learned a lot from those weekly sessions.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Fanboy Flashback

Old drawings, good memories.

Bat-foes, 1998.
I sent a copy of this via snail mail to Previews, a comic catalog, and it appeared in their "Previews Gallery" fan art section in 1999.

"Villains. You gotta love 'em. Aspiring artist Oliver Pulumbarit of the Philippines certainly does, and it shows. Check out this wicked blend of Batman foes. Menacing yet devilishly delightful. Pulumbarit's meticulous details on Gotham City's most fiendish outlaws convey just that, brilliantly capturing the reasons why we love the bad guys of comics just as much as their justice-driven counterparts."

Avengers Forever and Ever
Ancient Avengers drawing, April 2001. Pencil on 11" X 17" vellum. I included Agatha Harkness (who should've been given honorary status a long time ago), and Killraven and Thundra (who were also Avengers but from another reality).

Avengers Return
Old Avengers group shot, March 2000. Pencil on 11" X 17" vellum.

Rob Schneider, ‘liberated’ from the critics

(Published April 8, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Actor-comedian Rob Schneider is 48, and his age and height are sometimes the butt of jokes in the new sitcom “Rob,” where his character has to deal with his new in-laws’ incessant scrutiny.

His real-life wife, Mexican TV producer Patricia Arce, suggested the premise for the new show. The real Rob relates to his fictional namesake’s cultural immersion, thanks to his nearly year-old marriage and growing up in a racially diverse family.

“I got the Filipinos on my mom’s side and the Jews on my dad’s side,” Schneider said during a recent phone interview. “So the jokes are really good on my dad’s side of the family; the food is fantastic on my mom’s side. And it was nice because they loved each other and didn’t care about their religions as much as they did for each other. That’s very charming. I grew up in a terrific family.”

He’s done eight episodes of the show and sees it appealing to families, regardless of nationality. “There’s always some relative who’s not getting enough attention or who’s got a drinking problem,” he said.

“There’s a lot of potential there. Also, being on CBS, I think we can eventually get this show to be like a Mexican ‘All in the Family’ and talk about what’s happening in America. Hopefully, next season, that’s where we’re going.”

Schneider plays a landscape architect who marries a much younger woman, Maggie, played by Spanish actress Claudia Bassols. Playing his father-in-law is legendary comic Cheech Marin, Schneider’s “hero.”

The show, Schneider admits, is far from perfect and has received its share of criticism, but he ignores that. “If you’re too politically correct, you run the risk of being boring,” he said. “I’ve never been a darling of the critics… I look at that as liberating. I don’t have to worry about pleasing any of them!”

Schneider is discovering different approaches to humor as part of “Rob.” “There’s a Mexican comedian on the show, Eugenio Derbez [who plays Maggie’s uncle Hector], and he’s really funny, physically funny.”

Behind the scenes, he’s learning about cultural humor. “My wife has an incredible sense of humor,” said Schneider. “Talk  about politically incorrect, the jokes she tells me are horribly incorrect! It’s just about everything, but she says, ‘We can make fun of ourselves—but you better not!’”

The actor starred in “Deuce Bigalow” and “The Hot Chick,” among other comedies, and is adapting to the demands of his current TV project. “Honestly, TV shows are tougher,” he revealed. “I’m a perfectionist [but with TV], you don’t have the luxury. You’re taping a show and you’re done that night, that’s it. And not being in control of the whole process, that’s tough! I’m used to calling all the shots about everything. It’s a different animal here.”

Schneider admires Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Steve Martin, but his biggest comedic influence?

“The all-out funniest person I’ve ever seen is John Cleese from ‘Monty Python.’ There are many great comedians but nobody has made me laugh harder than John. He was like 6’6” and all funny! Just the way his body moved, how loud, narcissistic, and crazy he was! ‘Fawlty Towers’ is the best sitcom, the best show on television that I’ve ever seen. You were crying so much you couldn’t breathe!”

Schneider says he writes down his ideas as soon as he wakes up, and gives advice to aspiring comedians: “You have to be sneaky about it. That’s why they call creativity ‘the merciless mistress of innovation.’ It doesn’t always come to you; you have to coax it sometimes.  At the end of the day, do what you love. Do what makes you laugh!”

“Rob” will air Sundays starting tonight at 8:10 on BeTV (formerly AXN Beyond).

Jake '04

Just a page from my ancient comic book. Alien holy family, "drawn" by one of my characters, Jake Ylagan.

Loving, leaving ‘Mother’

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

It certainly reflects many real and saddening OFW tales, but the relentless tearjerker A Mother’s Story manages to illustrate some triumphs amid some disheartening truths. The titular mother is played by Pokwang, who’s mostly associated with comedic roles, but is nevertheless effective in her portrayal of an unsung and unappreciated breadwinner.

Pokwang’s Medy is a makeup artist, part of a local celebrity’s small entourage to the United States. She accepted the offer for extra cash, as she’s the sole working parent--her husband (Nonie Buencamino) is unemployed and a gambler, and her younger child has health problems. A chance meeting with an old classmate, Helen (Beth Tamayo), presents a turning point; Medy is persuaded into staying and working illegally, convinced that her sacrifice will ultimately benefit her family.

The money does pay for all their incurred debts and then some, although her husband and older child were initially baffled that she hasn’t elaborated on her change of plans. Medy’s US stay stretched to several years; she worked as a maid for lawyer spouses aware of her situation. She’s eventually discouraged from leaving the house, threatened with the possibility of arrest. But forming a bond with her employers’ young daughter keeps Medy from losing it.

 Medy’s story is mostly told through flashbacks, and it isn’t until she returns to her “abandoned” family years later that the movie transforms into a familiarly melodramatic sojourn. It’s totally unsurprising that her husband and teen son (Rayver Cruz) have become ungrateful wretches, and that she’ll be discovering painful secrets that will lead to mutual blaming and regrets.

Pokwang is inspired; it’s actually quite easy to believe her during the more depressing parts of her American “adventure.” Daria Ramirez competently portrays her once-demanding mother, as well--no, there’s no resemblance, so let’s assume that Medy probably looks a lot like her absent, unmentioned father character. It’s also a bit distracting that the actors portraying Pokwang and Buencamino’s children are Rayver Cruz and Xyriel Manabat, because none of them really look alike.

But the stifled relationships are nicely represented. Medy is spurned by her own son immediately after her return from her ordeal. Interestingly, the younger child is somewhat fascinated by the stranger she’s supposed to call mother, and is excited that she finally has one she can show to teasing classmates.
The film by John-D Lazatin deftly illustrates the reality of the sadder OFW and TNT stories, but it also reminds that while there are opportunistic characters everywhere, there are also those who are genuinely generous and understanding, whether they’re Filipinos or not.

A Mother’s Story also focuses on the reality of hardworking parents who must sacrifice time with their children to provide for their future, bearing with tough jobs, or even various indignities abroad.

While it’s quite redundant when dealing with the aftermath of Medy’s “abandonment,” and it resolves some problems too cleanly and almost unrealistically, A Mother’s Story gets the pained but exceedingly selfless working parent right, thanks mostly to the lead actress’ surprisingly powerful performance. 

Summer Droning

Some status updates, compiled. I impulse-posted a couple of times because I was really bored, but I deleted most of those updates. Still, I  kept that second one below. 

March 27, 2012
Only a few of my contacts still post to Multiply. Feels like a ghost town now.

March 27, 2012
If I had kids, they'd be awesome.

March 28, 2012
Cool, cloudy morning. Reminds me of school days when I'd just tune out and think of, er, stuff.

April 1, 2012
Body aches all over and I'm fricking craving pizza. But I'm more sleepy than hungry. So I'll just lie down and dream. My bed, you're not much, but you're soft and you're mine.

April 5, 2012
Was at the escalator. Some guy, a 30-something father, was taunting his son. "Bading ka ba?," he asked the boy. The kid responded, "Hindi po." The kid was shy and sounded embarrassed. The father got scolded by someone who's probably the lola. What a horrible idiot, that dad. Some people really don't deserve their kids.

Cool Random $#!+ Part Four

Picture books from my childhood. "The Wolf and the Seven Kids" is still pretty freaky--he swallowed six of the seven goats, but the mother goat rescued her children and got her revenge. She's one savage motha!

Brash, bearded bruisers! Hercules vs. Fisto.

"Power, dizzy with it, stumble!"
Old 2-disc set, 10,000 Maniacs' "Campfire Songs" from 2004, collecting the band's hits and obscure songs. The booklet has Natalie and the surviving Maniacs' thoughts on the band's early days.

Acts of Vengeance! Magneto's looking at you, Red Skull.

Green Lantern Honor Guard! Guy Gardner, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner (my fave!), and Jon Stewart.

Country stardom: 5 foreign films shot in the Philippines

(From the April 1-15 issue of The Fortnightly)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Its many natural and man-made wonders inspiring countless filming possibilities, the Philippines has distinct cityscapes and lush forests already immortalized in over two dozen Hollywood movies. Here’s a short list of the more notable ones:

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Directed by Peter Weir, the acclaimed film about Indonesia’s tumultuous uprising in 1965 starred Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver as an Australian reporter and a British Embassy officer, respectively. It also had appearances by local talents Bembol Roco and Kuh Ledesma as Indonesian characters. The Philippines doubled for Indonesia after the crew was denied permission to shoot in the country. The Banaue Rice Terraces were shown in establishing and background shots, as well.

I Come With the Rain (2009)
Shot in 2007 and released two years later, the thriller that starred Josh Hartnett as a detective investigating the disappearance of a billionaire’s son required the actor to shoot scenes at Mt.Diwalwal in Davao. According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer article, Hartnett described the mining community location as “a gorgeous part of the world.” He also described his security detail on Jimmy Kimmel’s show after shooting: “We had to have the Filipino army with us the whole time… so I had like a little militia around me.”

Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Philippines was chosen to sub for Saigon in 1977. Francis Ford Coppola’s classic war film “Apocalypse Now” was shot in Zambales and Aurora. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Duvall, among other respected actors, starred in the gritty film, which was troubled by a typhoon and Sheen’s heart attack during production. Sheen’s son Charlie has fond memories of bonding with his recovering dad; they played baseball on the set. Coppola said in a 1994 People interview that his Belize resort and a nearby tropical forest are “a lot like the Philippines.”

Platoon (1986)
Charlie Sheen played the lead role in Oliver Stone’s semi-autobiographical film, back in the country just a few years after dad Martin finished acting duties for that other celebrated Vietnam War project. The actors portraying soldiers were trained intensively in military field operations upon their arrival in the Philippines. “Platoon” was shot in Pagsanjan and Cavite, and eventually won four Academy awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Filming started in January, requiring traffic rerouting schemes at different Manila locations. Scenes were also shot in Makati, Marikina, and Palawan. Some distinguished local theater actors were also tapped for small roles. Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz sightings across Metro Manila became quite common during the shooting period. The country is “playing itself” in the fourth installment of the hit series of action films, and is scheduled for an August theatrical release. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Gellar and Gruffudd star in new TV series

(Published April 1, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The script I read was fantastic,” said Welsh actor Ioan (yo-wan) Gruffudd, who appears as businessman Andrew Martin on “Ringer.” Andrew is the clueless husband to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s enigmatic character Siobhan.

“It’s not the lead part, but something on the page got me excited,” he told Inquirer in a phone interview. “I had a meeting with Sarah Michelle and the creators (Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder), and they told me the idea they had for Andrew and the entire series. It was a very attractive proposition.”

Gruffudd, 38, played the iconic stretchable hero Mr. Fantastic in two “Fantastic Four” films, and had a small role in the comedy “Horrible Bosses.” He savors portraying an entirely different character and staying put in Los Angeles so he can see his 2-and-a-half year old daughter on a regular basis.

“I’ve played very earnest, heroic kind of characters; it’s a chance to play somebody ambiguous in a very contemporary context as well,” he said.

Gruffudd’s character Andrew is unaware that his wife Siobhan was replaced by her twin Bridget, a former alcoholic and stripper who relates to his substance-abusing teen daughter Juliet (Zoey Deutch).

“Certainly, I’m putting a lot into playing Andrew,” Gruffudd said. “It’s a lot of fun. He’s a character that deserves all my love and care.”

The actor initially thought the series would appeal predominantly to women, but he is surprised at the number of male fans who approach him to discuss the show. Gruffudd appreciates the various benefits of his current work environment.

“It’s a great family atmosphere that we’ve created—Sarah Michelle has a daughter as well,” he said, adding, “Working with her is just a dream. She’s incredibly experienced, talented, and world-renowned. We have great mutual respect for one another and a lot of intimate scenes together. I’m very proud of our relationship and what we do together on the show.”

Gruffudd acknowledges the difference between working on films and on TV. “We paint bigger tableaus on film, whereas with television you literally shoot a mini-movie every week, which is an incredible feat. It’s very fast. You have to trust your instincts and enjoy the ride!”

“Ringer” airs Thursdays, 10:55 p.m. on AXN Beyond.


You just know the world’s terribly messed up when its supposedly mighty gods can’t get their act together. And the Greek gods are seriously perplexing in “Wrath of the Titans,” sequel to the 2010 fantasy epic remake “Clash of the Titans.”

The cosmic beings aren’t all-knowing, and not very sensible: Zeus (Liam Neeson) attempts to reconnect with Hades (Ralph Fiennes), whom he banished to the underworld some time ago. Zeus soon discovers the folly of this plan, and requires the aid of his demigod son Perseus (Sam Worthington), slayer of legendary monsters, and now a widower and father to young Helius (John Bell).

So there’s Perseus’ mission of gathering allies and weapons, which actually doesn’t take very long. There’s Zeus’ gruelling ordeal, which also involves the release of the long-imprisoned Titan, the gigantic Kronos (that messy-looking rock-creature in the trailers). There’s also that cool-looking and shape-shifting labyrinth, which also houses a freaky Minotaur. There are deafening rampages and never-ending shimmery and glowy effects, too.

But the story’s too simple. It’s a visual showcase, but even then, the conflicts and the designs aren’t that impressive (save for the two-torsoed beings and giant cyclops). The hero’s fight scenes lack appeal, as well. Also, one god’s epiphany just isn’t convincing; the subsequent team-up lacks energy and crucial impact. Say what you will about “The Immortals,” but at least that had a climactic battle sequence that looked and felt mythic. 

Favorable odds, destructive appetite

Savagery and media manipulation take center stage in the hit dystopian drama-actioner “The Hunger Games,” the title referring to an annual competition where young “tributes” fight each other to the death.

Benefiting immensely from a capable cast, the film is based on the successful series of books by Suzanne Collins. Brave and unassuming Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and longtime admirer Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) represent District 12, pitted against other young rivals who have no compunctions with killing their fellow competitors.

New film heroine Katniss has a timeless appeal; it’s assured that you’ll root for her early on. She proves her selflessness by replacing her younger sister and “sacrificing” herself during the selection process. Faced with imminent death and hesitant at playing along to satiate the masses’ (and the organizers’) thirst for blood, she nevertheless manages to display her humanity and defiance during the televised survival match.

It’s a safe bet that “Hunger Games” sequels will just be as well-received. Some violent situations may be too disturbing for much younger viewers, and even some adults. It’s a mite long, but it mostly does a good job of introducing a world where questionable “entertainment” is being used to distract and subjugate its denizens. It also introduces some appealing new heroes, rare figures in such a horribly twisted system. 

Cool Random $#!+ Part Three

The Maxx! Fan of his short-lived, trippy Liquid Television cartoon.

"Hey Skrully, how ya been?"
"Ben Grimm! What's up? High five!"

Inspired by George Perez's JLA-Avengers # 4 cover. 
"I wanna be in the Avengers movie!"

My old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Can't find "Underground Kingdom" and "Gorga the Space Monster."

X-Men covers trading cards. Uncanny X-Men 177 to 215. Bought the set at Filbar’s Galleria in 1996.

Can OPM be saved?

(Published April 1, Sunday Inquirer Magazine)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Photo by Alanah Torralba

“I wouldn’t suggest my career path to anyone, because you have to have a certain kind of patience to do what I do,” says singer-songwriter-comedian Ogie Alcasid. “To be honest, the only ingredient is fun. I love what I do. Because I’m a naturally crazy person, I see the humor in many things. It worked for me; I don’t know if it’ll work for anyone else.”

“Alcasid, now 44, started out as a pop singer in 1988. His ballad “Nandito Ako,” from his self-titled debut album, became a chart-topping single the following year. Eventually, he jumped at opportunities to expose his wackier side.”

“Comedy is more fun because there aren’t many rules,” he says. “I’m also very blessed because I work with people who genuinely share the same gift, like Bitoy (Michael V), Janno (Gibbs) and Uge (Domingo).”

Alcasid regularly appears on the enduring, 16-year-old GMA 7 gag show “Bubble Gang.” He continues to observe the changing tastes of Pinoy viewers, humor-wise. “We’re doing ‘Boy Pick-Up’ now, my hip-hop parody character, because for some reason it clicked among the young.” Alcasid adds that he will be appearing in “Boy Pick-Up the Movie,” from GMA and Regal Films.

Now a father to new baby Nathaniel James, Alcasid says that he and wife Regine Velasquez are really “in a happy place” at the moment. “Regine is a doting mother; she’s very excited about her new role, and I’ve never seen her happier,” Alcasid reveals, giggling.

While his other kids with Australian beauty queen Michelle van Eimeren—Leila and Sarah—have yet to meet Nathaniel, Alcasid says that they’ll have a reunion within the year. Alcasid is thankful that he’s able to converse with his older kids “all the time.”

Alcasid and Velasquez became friends back in the late ’80s, and even went on a date once, but didn’t foresee themselves ending up with each other decades later. Now that they’re spouses, Alcasid appreciates her unconditional support. “I think she’s amazing. She seems to be proud of everything I do, which I think is important for a husband, because many times, I doubt myself.”

Grateful for his continued TV presence and accomplishments, Alcasid says he’s all about “giving back” at this point: “That’s why I have so many advocacies,” he enthuses. “I’m the commissioner for the Edsa People Power Commission, and spokesperson for Sagip, which helps patients from Philippine General Hospital.  I’m also helping Childhope Asia, a foundation that helps street children and street educators. Regine and I have Ogie and Regine Ukay-Ukay, which raises funds for the building and rehabilitation of public schools, in cooperation with the Kapuso Foundation. We collect items from celebrities, and every quarter we sell them at the bazaars. And of course there’s OPM.”
Alcasid is president of OPM, the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit. The acronym also refers to Original Pilipino Music, which Alcasid believes is currently experiencing a tough period due to piracy and other factors.

“Can OPM be saved?—I will always say yes,” he says, adding, “Because it’s worth saving. Piracy is an old problem. I think most music societies around the world have learned to live with it. The only thing that you can do, really, is to ask your own government to have better laws that will protect the artists and prevent piracy, and perhaps impose a stiffer penalty (on violators). Having said that, the real problem right now is that we are in a transition period from CDs to MP3s; the CD market is slowly dying. Fewer people buy CDs and so the move to MP3 downloading has to be established.”

One concrete way of addressing the issue, according to Alcasid, is by establishing an online store, OPM2go (www.opm2go.com). It was launched last December as part of OPM’s relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Sendong. Alcasid composed “Kaya Natin Ito,” sung by Sharon Cuneta, Jose Mari Chan, Charice Pempengco, Lea Salonga and Martin Nievera, among many others. The song’s proceeds went to the Philippine Red Cross.

“We feature strictly OPM member musicians,” says Alcasid. “We’re on soft beta launch. We showcase independent musicians, because they don’t have labels, or the means to produce an entire album. So what we’re trying to espouse here is a culture of releasing single songs.”

The site is selling music at P10 per song by indie artists, and P15 each for label artists. Songs are downloadable through various payment options. “When I became president of OPM, I started talking to our members about getting a health card, and about members being able to fix their own taxes. I wasn’t able to relate when the musicians started asking different questions.  ‘We want our music to be heard-can you give us gigs?’ or ’Can we be seen on TV?’ At that moment, I felt that those were the issues that needed to be addressed.

But the organization is also spearheading efforts for its members’ long-term benefits. “We’re teaching them about the importance of having health insurance. And we’re trying to talk to the established bars to (establish) some standardization of rates. If the musicians are OPM members, the bars can be assured of professionalism. Another thing that we offer our members is legal help, because some have been having problems with managers; they haven’t been paid, and so on.”

Alcasid considers the music industry “very different” from the one he joined over two decades ago, but is proud that artists always have new things to sing about. “That’s one thing that I’m very confident about. The industry is bustling with creativity, especially now, because it’s the ‘hunger’ years. The musicians are hungry for recognition and that’s when music is really alive. The independent music scene is thriving. So what we need is to make more people know about it. OPM isn’t just the mainstream!”

He dispels some people’s notion that visiting foreign acts are a threat to local artists. “They’re a big act for a reason; they’re accepted worldwide. The multitude appreciates their music. But there is a section of our society that likes to listen to local bands, local jazz, local ballads. I believe that if we bring back the glory days of OPM, when everybody starts to appreciate our local acts, then there’s going to be an implosion. Our country just might be the next Korea in terms of how we appreciate our music.”

Despite his hectic schedule this year, Alcasid is also helping out with the PhilPop Music Festival, another project meant to support the resuscitation of OPM. His movie, “I Do Bidoo Bidoo,” tentatively slated for a July release, will contribute a lot as well to the awareness of OPM, he says. “That’s our generation’s music, so we might as well immortalize it further in film. I hope it gets younger people to listen to the music of the APO.”

For all the challenges posed by piracy and other ills, Alcasid is elated at some positive developments in the local music scene. “What I like is the fact that we’re already starting to follow international standards, most especially when it comes to publishing and royalty payments. Gone are the days when musicians are paid a pittance!”

With a new baby, civic involvement and OPM projects, Alcasid sees himself going full speed ahead. “I see myself doing more movies in the near future. I will still be creating music but I want to help more musicians. I’m toying around with new ideas for TV, too. So TV, movies, and music—that’s a lot!”