Friday, June 29, 2012

‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’ shakes up the Marvel Universe

(Published June 30, PDI-Super)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It was bound to happen. Marvel Comics’ two most powerful—and now most popular—super teams are being pitted against each other in an earthshaking, moneymaking miniseries event. “Earth’s mightiest heroes” and “the children of the atom” fight over a cosmic entity in “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” a biweekly, 12-part series running until September.

The two teams are fighting to control an earth-bound Phoenix, an ancient being with power to eradicate planets. The Avengers go after the teen mutant “messiah” Hope Summers, the potential Phoenix host. But the X-Men are keeping the other team from taking her into protective custody, believing that Hope can use the Phoenix to restart the mutant race, most of which was magically depowered by the ex-Avenger Scarlet Witch.

Co-written by Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron, and Matt Fraction, “Avengers Vs. X-Men” is the comic book event of the year for Marvel devotees, an epic crossover that will have a definite winner (although at this point, the victor is clearly Marvel; the main book is a hit and related titles are doing really well).

So far, the miniseries impresses with its big, foreboding confrontations, although there are some disappointing continuity inconsistencies with the tie-ins. The Avengers’ Helicarrier was attacked by Magneto and Colossus (AVX # 2), but in another book (New Avengers # 24), there are no signs whatsoever of that attack, and shows an entirely different scenario.
Five issues into “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” something totally unexpected finally happens, which will undoubtedly lead to more brawls and escalated conflicts between the super-groups.

Art-wise, John Romita Jr. surprises with tighter-than-usual illustrations, but his work looks rushed by issue 4. Olivier Coipel will take over penciling duties by issue 6.

It’s far from perfect, and knowing the whole story requires reading several other connected comic books. But whether you’re an X-Men or Avengers fan, or both, “Avengers Vs. X-Men” is good old-fashioned comic book fun, accessible enough for newbies, but more rewarding for longtime fans of the Marvel Universe’s premier teams.

AVX Checklist:

Aside from “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” there are tie-in titles worth reading, although some are quite repetitive.

“X-Men Legacy” – The X-Men’s new school is visited by three Avengers, eventually leading to conflict with Rogue and the other teachers. This and Christos Gage’s other must-read title “Avengers Academy” give depth and unexpectedly enlightening sides to the conflict.

Avengers Academy” – The teen X-Men from the mutant base Utopia are brought by the Avengers to the Academy grounds after the escape of Cyclops’ team. The presence of the former villain Sebastian Shaw complicates matters for Tigra and the other teachers.

“Avengers” – The continuity with another title, “Secret Avengers,” is confusing, as both comic books feature the same lineup. A team of Avengers is sent to space to stop the Phoenix, while the alien Protector plans to betray his teammates during the mission.

“New Avengers” – The title’s first tie-in issue centers on Luke Cage’s decision to remain a member before the Avengers’ visit to the X-Men’s island. Subsequent issues reveal the intriguing hidden history of the Phoenix, which contacted a human host many centuries ago, a red-haired, female Iron Fist.

“Secret Avengers” – The same characters from “Avengers” track and confront the Phoenix entity; there aren’t fights with X-Men here, either. What’s interesting, however, is the appearance of a character claiming to be the deceased Avenger Captain Mar-Vell.

“Wolverine and the X-Men” – Wolverine, both an Avenger and an X-Man, is contacted by Captain America and Cyclops at different crucial points during the war. The title also elaborates on Wolverine and Hope’s battle with Phoenix host-hunting aliens, unmentioned in the main title.

“Uncanny X-Men” – The most powerful X-Men, the “Extinction” squad members, star in the book. Storm, Magneto, Namor, Colossus, and other mutants’ insightful thoughts on the hero conflict give perspectives that are otherwise unheard in the main miniseries.

AVX: VS” – Unapologetically plotless, the six-issue series focuses on the battles that “Avengers Vs. X-Men” couldn’t contain, giving fanboys and fangirls precious slam-bang moments and clear winners in one-on-one bouts. To date, the memorable battles include Black Widow versus Magik, Colossus versus Thing, and Iron Man versus Magneto.

Loving Life

Didi and Sexton
Characters from Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo’s “Death: The High Cost of Living.” Didi is Death’s human incarnation, and Sexton Furnival is a cynical teen.

Cool Random $#!+ Part Thirteen

Hulkling, Batwoman, Wiccan. DC Universe and Marvel Legends, please make more!
"Gay power!"

Haven't seen this in a while. Nice shoes, Battle Cat.

Bought these last May. Great stuff. The Walking Dead TPB, I got it because Michonne's really kickass in it. JLA: Earth 2, I read that almost a decade ago. Glad to finally own a copy. And the For Better or Worse compilation, I didn't know the long-running comic strip before I saw it, but I'm really digging it now.

Man-Thing and Poison Ivy.
"My word! You're not going out like that, young lady!"
"You're not my father!"

Mary Jane and J. Jonah Jameson.
“YOU are not in the new movie… and neither am I.”

Bright June Afternoons

Musings and updates, compiled.

June 11. Ang saya ng Madagascar 3. Hindi corny.
June 15. Finally catching up on sleep. Been having weird dreams though. The one I remember was about me having a twin brother, one I supposedly met during my teen years and forgot about for some reason.
June 23. Five AvX books this week. Plus Northstar's wedding and Walking Dead. Good reads.
June 23. I like posting about my hobbies. And I'm not the type who's comfy with sharing my private life with others, so there.
June 23. As I get older, I've been thinking more and more about perfect little moments, elusive hours or minutes of complete happiness. It's a messed-up and oft-disappointing world, but I try to appreciate the better snapshots and recordings in my head more often now.
June 23. "It says here that a former SHIELD black station in the Philippines was just occupied and converted into a school by the mutant Karma. We're talking about a three hundred million dollar facility..." --unnamed White House staff member, Avengers Vs. X-Men # 6.
A SHIELD base here. Awesome.

June Wedding

Congratulations, Jean-Paul Beaubier and Kyle Jinadu!

I remember the Alpha Flight issue where Northstar came out 20 years ago.  It’s good to finally witness the character enjoying his life and in love with his chosen mate, all these years later. This is one of several important, gay-friendly comics and events; Archie comics’ gay character Kevin Keller got married early this year, and DC Comics’ Alan Scott/original Green Lantern was recently rebooted as a gay guy. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unforgotten Era

Avengers, Circa 2001
Earth’s mightiest lineup, just before the Kang War. Years later: Warbird is Ms. Marvel again and is about to become Captain Marvel. Goliath is Giant-Man again, co-heading the Avengers Academy. Thor has died and resurrected twice in a span of a few years. Vision was destroyed by Scarlet Witch and was rebuilt by Tony Stark. Wasp is currently dead. Silverclaw is inactive. Iron Man headed SHIELD briefly. Quicksilver is one of the Academy teachers. Scarlet Witch, manipulated by Dr. Doom, killed some teammates and decimated mutantkind. Captain America heads the superhuman community. Wonder Man formed the Revengers. And Triathlon retrained under the Initiative program and became 3-D Man.

Snow White, armored and battle-ready

(From the June 16-30 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The second film this year to reinterpret the Brothers Grimm’s classic creation, Snow White and the Huntsman reinvents the fairy tale princess into an action heroine, grittier than the proactive version from the rom-com Mirror Mirror a few months back.

This is a dark, almost humorless adventure in the vein of epic fantasy flicks from the last decade. It also bears little resemblance to the classic Disney film; there are big climactic showdowns between thunderous armies, as prominently seen in its trailers. The familiar characters are still there, but it’s visually busier and effects-heavier than older translations.

Charlize Theron plays the elegant but duplicitous Queen Ravenna, the unflinching conqueror of kings and kingdoms. Twilight’s Kristen Stewart plays her stepdaughter Snow White, imprisoned for years since Ravenna’s rise to power.

The princess’ inevitable escape leads to the Queen’s hiring of the grieving huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth), who must retrieve the young woman from the mystical Dark Forest. When word of Snow White’s plight spreads, her childhood friend Prince William (Sam Claflin) sets off to rescue her, infiltrating the Queen’s forces as the newly hired archer.

This iteration of the vain Queen benefits a little from the brief backstory. She’s made extra-expressive by Theron, whose menacing facial contortions and more subtle gestures help create an intimidating presence.

Stewart, meanwhile, sometimes reverts to Twilight mode, becoming emotionally blank at certain points. But thankfully, she gets to properly emote and assert her character’s fury at the right moments.

And in-demand Hemsworth, who just starred in recently released films Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods, is credible as the weary but noble bounty hunter. The character gets repetitive, though, and his supposedly tragic history doesn’t really elicit sympathy.

Some interesting elements are woven in, like the magical creatures that aid and declare Snow White’s importance in the scheme of things. However, those and other seemingly crucial ideas are forgotten later. It’s hard not to be baffled by the squandered possibilities.

Still, the much-trumpeted battle sequences look good. The reimagining, despite its flaws, still works as a visually dazzling popcorn flick. And Snow White, armored and determined to kick usurper butt, gets to unleash her inner warrior-woman. 

Abe Saves

An American president with a secret vampire-hunting project? Hmm, my curiosity is officially piqued. That’s Benjamin Walker as Abe the axe-wielding monster-stalker. Let’s hope that it’s a good film; “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” has some really exciting trailers.

According to the actor, he found the historical figure “funny,” as mentioned in a recent Livestream chat: “What’s fascinating about Lincoln is that I think he was a funny guy. He certainly had a sense of humor… particularly when he was traveling on the circuit as a lawyer and entertaining people. A great storyteller, (always) telling stories and making people laugh in the taverns at night… what makes him fascinating and impressive is that he was a common man who pulled himself up, who was self-educated; he made himself into a hero.”

Since there’s been an absence of really badass TV and movie vampire hunters lately (Buffy and Blade are only appearing in comic books, for now; it’s been a while since the last version of Van Helsing; “True Blood” has yet to show a serious one; and Alaric Saltzman isn’t exactly very successful at the job), it looks like the monster-hunting void’s going to be filled by this athletic, axe-toting version of the US president.

Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” will be in Philippine cinemas starting July 4. 

Wedding jitters, wedded bliss

(From the June 16-30 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

To have and to hold! Tying the knot is considered a declaration of lifelong devotion by many couples. Whether getting hitched is the culmination of a loving relationship, or something that’s done for the wrong reasons, some films reflect the complex situations inherent in unusual, fabricated, and even accidental marriages.

Forever hold your peace: My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
Falling in love with your best friend can be painful when he loves someone else. The bittersweet rom-com stars Julia Roberts as Julianne, a restaurant critic who falls for her old college buddy Michael (Dermot Mulroney)--who’s about to marry a younger woman, Kimberly (Cameron Diaz). Julianne tries to sabotage the impending wedding, but sets the guy free after realizing that the feeling isn’t mutual. Not a traditional, happily-ever-after Hollywood romantic comedy, but it’s respectable for defying what’s become the norm.

Here comes the bride: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005)
The animated film’s seemingly kid-friendly, Nightmare Before Christmas-esque designs belie the mature themes and complicated story. Tim Burton’s typically odd but engrossing tale involves similarly strange characters, and a really bizarre love triangle. Shy Victor is betrothed to reclusive Victoria. While practicing his vows in the woods, he unintentionally marries and reanimates a corpse, Emily. The film’s romantic twists and turns intrigue, examining the complex nature of vows, apart from offering a unique macabre mystery.

Never the groom: The Wedding Singer (1998)
It’s a late ‘90s comedy set in the mid-‘80s, one of Adam Sandler’s genuinely funny films. His wedding singer character Robbie is heartbroken after his fiancée dumps him, but he finds love anew with Julia, a waitress played by Drew Barrymore. Robbie and Julia’s relationship has its obstacles, but they predictably end up together, thanks partly to that somewhat cheesy but undeniably romantic song “Grow Old With You.”

Something blue: The Wedding Banquet (1993)
A gay man, Wai-Tung, marries a straight woman, Wei-Wei, to please his parents and help his “spouse” get a green card. This takes place with the consent of Wai-Tung’s boyfriend Simon. But the trio’s bond immediately gets complicated after the wedding. Ang Lee’s first film on homosexuality is an endearing and witty comedy-drama; it questions traditions while realistically portraying romantic and familial rapports.

Till death do them part: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are assassins, but are keeping that secret from each other. The marriage has become dull after a few years, but marital fire is rekindled after the pair discovers their long-hidden similarities. The stylish action-comedy flick entertains with its energetic spin on rediscovery and reconnection. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Glory Daze

X-Men, Circa 1991
Blue and Gold teams! Two decades (our time) later: Wolverine is an Avenger and the headmaster of a new school. Gambit is one of the teachers. Storm is an Avenger and the Black Panther’s wife. Colossus is now the Juggernaut. Archangel has a new personality and a new power. Iceman has total control of his powers. Rogue can now control hers, and is now a teacher. Jean Grey has yet to resurrect. Cyclops is leader of the mutant island-nation Utopia. Psylocke is a member of both X-Men and X-Force. Beast is a Secret Avenger and vice principal of the new X-school. And Jubilee is a vampire.

Violent Femmes
Blade-brandishing badasses Elektra, Kabuki, Hit-Girl, and Ravager. 

Cool Random $#!+ Part Twelve

"Ooh, it's the g-ddamn Batman! I'm so scared!"
"You should be. My movie's going to own yours."
Dazzler! She and the Asgardian goddess Amora competed in a sing-off judged by Odin. Seriously. Love this compilation.

Avengers versus X-Men, fighting over the Phoenix, this time. They previously fought over the Scarlet Witch and Magneto (Avengers: Children's Crusade, Avengers Vs. X-Men 1987).

Okay, had to do it. Loki ownage.

‘New Girl’ quintessentially quirky

(Published June 14, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Capitalizing on actress-musician Zooey Deschanel’s oddball mystique, the sitcom “New Girl” centers on quirky but lovable Jess, an initially heartbroken teacher befriended by new male roommates.

Jess’ inimitable presence affects the other tenants profoundly, as expected. Sharing a platonic bond with the neat freak Schmidt (Max Greenfield), the secretly talented Winston (Lamorne Morris) and the broke bartender Nick (Jake Johnson), Jess bounces back from her heartaches and introduces her three new friends to her kooky ways.

Created by Elizabeth Meriwether, “New Girl” routinely highlights Jess’ effervescent personality, her geeky coolness an easy draw early on. Deschanel’s enthusiasm for the character is unmistakable; she even gets to sing from time to time, however briefly. Jess has a tendency to burst into song, vibrantly describing various situations she’s in.

Apart from getting into all sorts of silly and strange scenarios, the character gets to grow significantly through the first season. The episodes often tackle more mature topics, including sexuality and complicated romantic relationships.

She hits it off effortlessly with Paul (Justin Long), a teacher who’s similarly bubbly. Later in the season, she finds herself attracted to Russell (Dermot Mulroney), the rich and thoughtful father of her student.

Humor-wise, it’s pretty much a traditional sitcom that revels in its characters’ disparity. It gets to develop the other characters by poking fun at their flaws – Schmidt is too organized; Nick wallows; Winston gets bored with work easily. Structurally, each half-hour episode manages to hit the narrative beats while adequately developing a few arcs.

Accessible enough but predictable at times, “New Girl” nevertheless benefits from its solid and attractive cast. Perpetually bright-eyed Deschanel is also unceasingly endearing as the unapologetic titular character, and it doesn’t look like the shtick will get old any time soon.

(“New Girl” airs Mondays, 7 p.m. on ETC, and 9 p.m. on Star World.)

‘Poisoned’ dreams, transformative ‘Journey’

As ‘80s rock star Stacee Jaxx, Tom Cruise swaggers a la Iggy Pop-slash-Axl Rose onstage, an icon that dreamers aspire to be (or sleep with) in the cute, if unnecessarily lengthy movie musical “Rock of Ages.” 

Between videoke-ish interpretations of some of the era’s defining rock songs is a clichéd story about aspiring singers who dream of making it big, but are hindered by typical obstacles. Two Bourbon Room bar employees, Sherrie and Drew (Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta), quickly become lovers, but their relationship and dreams change forever upon meeting rock deity Stacee Jaxx. More intriguingly, it also delves into Jaxx’s mindset, sharing his unique perspective when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, Constance (Malin Akerman).

Based on Chris D'Arienzo's well-received musical of the same title and set in 1987, the so-called “jukebox musical” compresses a number of glam rock songs into its two-hour running time, aptly flavoring the movie’s emotionally driven moments. Songs by Pat Benatar, Journey, Def Leppard, Poison, and other acts from the period and beyond (Extreme’s “More Than Words” is from the early ‘90s) get mostly listenable versions by the cast. Performances by Catherine Zeta-Jones, (“Hit Me with Your Best Shot”), Cruise (“Pour Some Sugar on Me”), and Hough, Boneta and Mary J. Blige (“Every Rose Has Its Thorn”) make it hard not to toe-tap, or even sing along to the inevitably less edgy translations.

While the music video-esque numbers and montages speed things up, the story gets too stretched out. There are some awkward lulls between songs, the semi-problematic pacing keeping the film from becoming truly enjoyable. Still, its cast is praiseworthy; Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, and the aforementioned actors are collectively diverting enough as various characters working at or passing by the controversial, Sunset Strip-based bar.

The transformations of Sherrie and Drew are particularly sad and sometimes hilarious; Hough and newcomer Boneta (he looks like a hairier, edgier Jay Mohr) are charming as the underdog lovers whose dreams of career greatness are initially quashed. And the flawed but feelgood movie is likewise cute, and rocks safely at expected intervals. 

Marvel U, Fourteen

Something I drew when I was 14, back in the late '80s. This was a colored, 15" X 20" illustration. My older brother took the picture. I used letter transfer for the text. "The Marvel Universe. More powerful than ever." Heh.

Time Being

Status updates, compiled.

June 2. Morning Glories # 18. Wow, I always felt that one of the characters would be revealed as gay, but I didn't expect it to be THAT one. Sweet issue.
June 5. Hay, ansarap makatapos at maka-submit ng article.
June 5. Walking Dead # 98. Holy jeez. Really crazy stuff happening before the anniversary issue.
June 8. Was taught new and proper exercise techniques by a trainer. The guy was patient with me. He was actually surprised that I could lift a certain number of pounds easily already. He told me that it took 11 years for his body to get that buff.
June 10. Saw the first ep of Glee Project. I echo Zach Woodlee on the hyperactive, overeager new contestants. "Yikes," indeedy. Most of them need to dial it down.
June 10. Ran into my cousin at the gym's locker area. Last time I saw him was back in the '90s, I think. Anyway, I worked out, not as mercilessly as those other people there, but I lifted till I felt like I was about to pop a vein. I feel good.

Cyril's sleight-of-hand adventures now a TV show

(Published June 9, PDI-Super)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Acclaimed “cyber magician” Cyril Takayama thought that magic was “absolutely real” when he was around six.

The 38-year-old magic trickster recalls growing up in Los Angeles, where he was tutored by a real magician from Magic Castle, which counts many of the world’s greatest illusionists as members. The experience changed his life, making him pursue magic more seriously during his teen years. He eventually landed small gigs in Japan, which led to a tour, TV specials, and his popularity online.

At the launch of his weekly, six-episode AXN show, “Cyril’s Family Vacation: Hawaii Edition” (airing Sundays, 8:30 p.m., starting June 10), Cyril performed a few illusions (including gradually “refilling” an empty soda can, and emptying a cup placed on a volunteer’s head). He also talked about some secrets of his craft, as well as his penchant for “telling stories through magic.” Clips of Cyril playing his different characters—Grandma Magi, Uncle Richard, and Cousin Tiny—were also shown.

How would you describe the fellowship between popular street magicians?
I don’t feel rivalry against any other magicians; I think it’s great that there are more magicians are out there, especially at this day and age, creating more programs and doing more magic. Magic can be interpreted in different ways. There’s really no need to feel a sense of competition in any way. I think it’s great. We all need a little bit of magic in our life. I think, the more we have it, the better the world is.

Do you come up with your own tricks, or do you and fellow magicians learn from the same source?
I think I speak on behalf of a lot of magicians when I say that there are things that we create as artists, for ourselves. But then, we also work with a lot of other magicians and artists, helping to create and develop ideas and understand the structuring so that it’s more effective. The more strength that we put together as magicians, the better the routine becomes. For myself, I have a team of consultants and magicians that I work with, that often helps me develop each of the segments that we do.

What’s the trickiest trick to perform?
I think the trickiest ones involve performing for kids. Because kids always feel that they have the answers. So it’s quite tricky. But it’s also rewarding when you accomplish what you want to do.

How long does it take to master a trick?
As an artist, I feel that I’m never satisfied with the magic. Something that I might have worked out today might be improved a week or a year from now. So nothing’s ever perfect. But in general, the simple things could take hours. And sometimes, more complicated illusions or routines could take any time between months to years. You might be working on a project and then get stuck. Sometimes, you might find the answer to that a year or three years down the line.

Tell us more details about the show.
“Cyril’s Family Vacation” is a brand new show that we created where I basically take my “family members” out to Hawaii. We play crazy tricks on some unsuspecting tourists. We got some really great reactions while we were out there. I just want everybody to enjoy the show when they’re watching with the entire family.

What’s your favorite trick?
Personally, I like doing classic magic—manipulations, stage magic, magic that’s performed to music and choreographed on stage. But that’s not going to be seen on this show. This is completely different… it’s street magic, but I would classify it more as kind of like a hidden camera program. We’re not exposed so the people that we’re targeting had no idea that the magic was about to begin. Especially because it wasn’t me that was performing, it was my “family!”

Monday, June 04, 2012

Preboot Presence

Super Bads
Twisted, villainous versions of Superman: Bizarro, Cyborg, Superboy Prime, Ultraman.

Young Justice, Circa 2001
The roster during the Our Worlds at War event: Wonder Girl, Arrowette, Empress, Robin, Superboy, Secret, Impulse, Li’l Lobo.

Mythic rebirth

Moody, existential, suspenseful—the untold story of a doomed space-faring crew, hinted at in 1979’s “Alien,” is finally revealed, with original director Ridley Scott and designer HR Giger in tow. Scott is in his element, skillfully recapturing the dark, genuinely agitating tone of the seminal scifi-horror film.
Revisiting the familiar required rebooting and retooling; the richer, flashy palette and 3D effects makes certain parts of “Prometheus” more visually expressive than its predecessors (or successors, since this is supposed to be a prequel of sorts). But like the first four “Alien” movies, it manages to establish a strong man-versus-monster scenario while deeply developing its protagonist.

And the mission starts uneventfully enough. Piecing together clues from different cultures, archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) concludes that an advanced alien civilization is responsible for the creation of humans. Together with the crew of the Prometheus, which include their less-enthusiastic boss Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the inquisitive android David (Michael Fassbender), Elizabeth eventually discovers that contact with extraterrestrial life is far from what she imagined.

The crew members of the Prometheus, like the ship’s mythical namesake, hope to take what they can from vastly superior intellects. And like the Greek character, they pay dearly for their presumption, not surprisingly. The punishment for audacity comes in the shape of an altogether unexpected life form.

Characters go through the wringer in bombastic fashion. Written by “Lost’s” Damon Lindelof and “The Darkest Hour’s” John Spaihts, “Prometheus” clearly makes sense of some mysteries in the Alien universe, while presenting new ones that further expand its unique mythology. Yes, there are reasons to scream in space anew.

“Prometheus” opens June 6 in the Philippines.

Seasons Transition

May 22. National Bookstore Shangri-La has a nice selection of comic book compilations. Invincible hardcovers, Walking Dead TPBs, Alpha Flight by Byrne, Excalibur by Davis... good, good stuff.
May 23. Watched Avengers again. Still very enjoyable.
May 26. Can't get that damn catchy Carly Jepsen song outta my head.
May 30. ♫ "They look in their book and they read, but their cold hearts say, 'Follow me.'" ♫ --Billy Bragg and Natalie Merchant, 'Bread and Circuses.'
May 30. Been a while since I dropped by a toy shop. Was surprised to see a number of obscure Green Lantern characters with bonus parts that form a Parallax (the yellow creature, not caped Hal Jordan). Saw other interesting action figures too.
May 31. Book Sale's been getting good trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Got Courtney Crumrin: League of Ordinary Gentlemen for only P130. Good prequel story.
June 1. So Alan Scott, a.k.a. the Original Green Lantern, is now gay. James Robinson couldn't introduce Obsidian as gay, so he went with the character's father. Interesting.

A Class Act

(Published June 3, Sunday Inquirer Magazine)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Photo by Alannah Torralba

Diana Zubiri didn’t expect to make it big in show biz.

A little over a decade ago, she almost flew to Japan to work as an entertainer, but opted instead to take her chances as a sexy starlet with Seiko Films. As her family’s breadwinner, Zubiri initially became known for showing off skin. Eventually, she landed more wholesome roles and took on family-friendly gigs.

Fast-forward to ten years later: Zubiri, now 27, is preparing for her third year in college. The former FHM centerfold is currently studying Applied Arts-Theater in a Quezon City-based university, whose name she is unable to disclose because of an agreement with school officials.

She never saw herself studying in that school, which is near her family home. “I thought that they wouldn’t accept me because I was a sexy star,” Zubiri says in Filipino. “And it’s a Catholic school.”

Zubiri, a.k.a. Rosemarie Joy Garcia to relatives and schoolmates, appreciates the irony. After passing a few colleges’ entrance exams, she ultimately decided to enrol in the Catholic all-female university. She reveals that aside from its safe environment, it offered the course she’s really interested in.

“I was motivated by my friends’ suggestions,” she says. “Right now, I’m not very visible, but I’m busy. In the future, I know that I can use the knowledge (I’ve gained).”

Zubiri, the second of three children, recalls being tutored in singing and dancing at a talent agency before being discovered. “I was about to leave for Japan. I wanted to find a way to study. Then I was given the opportunity to enter showbiz. I was a Seiko ‘baby,’ one of Tito Robbie Tan’s talents.”

Going the sexy route was a no-brainer, she admits. “Tito Robbie was direct to the point. ’Which would you rather do, this or go to Japan?’ You can’t be with your family there. In Japan, you’ll have to work nightly; here it’s only ten shooting days. And you’ll even be famous.”

One of her more notable sexy shoots was for FHM Philippines, where she posed in a scanty swimsuit atop a flyover in late 2002. The shoot literally stopped traffic.

Later, after appearing in a couple of Seiko films, including “Itlog” and “Bakat,” the so-called “flyover queen” decided to try something different.  She is grateful to her manager, Jojo Gabinete, Zubiri says, because he continues to guide her career path after ten years.
“He got me ‘Eat Bulaga!’ I performed opening numbers twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. After that, I started appearing on  ‘Bubble Gang.’ GMA-7 also gave me a big break with the fantaserye ‘Encantadia.’ I played Danaya; it was a good role. My classmates now were still kids when it was shown. They tell me,  ‘Ate Joy, dati, nanonood kami ng  ‘Encantadia!’ Parang ’di ka tumatanda!’”

Zubiri revealed that being part of “Bubble Gang” was enjoyable, as most cast mates considered her “the baby, the younger sister” of the group. As for her role, she knew that she was there to attract viewers. “My sexiness was used to make people laugh,” she says. “The sexy part, it’s just acting. Projection lang iyon.”

Her real acting skills she has showcased in the indie film “Bahay Bata,” which won the Jury Prize in France’s Deauville Asian Film Festival last March. She was also recently nominated in the 35th Gawad Urian’s best actress category.

“My character Sarah is a nurse in a bad hospital,” she expounds. “She knows how bad the service is for mothers who give birth. And then she finds out that she’s pregnant.”
Zubiri devoted several Sundays to shooting the movie, and the hard work paid off. “I recently won a best actress award for ‘Bahay Bata,’ given by the Young Critics Circle. Kung kailan ako nawala, (dun ako) nagkaroon ng award. My teachers are proud of me. They ask me about my work. They’re all good to me.”

Adjusting to school life many years after graduating from high school took some time. But the actress easily became friends with her much younger classmates. “Sometimes, we eat at my house. In turn, I get invited to their debut parties! They’re very helpful, especially when I miss subjects because I have to work.”

Zubiri says she still accepts TV roles, but she has to ask permission from school authorities first. She had roles in “Nita Negrita” and “Amaya” during her second year. Friends from show biz are impressed that she’s still able to work while being a full-time student.

“They’re proud of me,” she enthuses. “Even if I rarely speak with Kuya Bitoy (Michael V), I get to talk with Kuya Ogie (Alcasid). He keeps saying, “Keep it up. Continue studying. That’s good. It will be helpful to you. Sandali na lang iyan.”

Zubiri has gotten used to the school routine as well. She finds the course and subjects easy, especially since she’s had previous experience with acting and performing. One of her favorite projects required the students to create a play. She describes it as the one time when she really felt that she belongs there, and that she had something significant to contribute to the endeavor.

“I was part of the production design team. I’m really proud of our work. We didn’t have any assistance from the teachers. It was a real team effort.”

Although used to the stress and pressure of shooting days, Zubiri discovered early on that college is demanding in its own way. Now that she’s about to start her third year in a four-year course, Zubiri finds academic life a bit daunting, though still exciting.

“This third year, I need to know if I should focus on directing, scriptwriting, or acting. I honestly don’t know my capacity yet. But the course is easy, and I’m really serious. I’m just not sure where I should concentrate. I was wondering, why not do make-up or wardrobe? Actually, I really want to do those behind-the-scenes jobs, just to do something different from acting.”

Zubiri is happy that she’s able to pursue her studies at last. After many successful years in show biz, she finds returning to school an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.

“It’s a real option,” she emphasizes. “Some people say that a career in entertainment isn’t forever. But for me, it can be different. I can focus on an acting career again after I finish my studies. I’m glad that my course is connected and related to entertainment. And I can improve my acting and do other things once I finish my course. That’s how I’ve been thinking lately.”

Cool Random $#!+ Part Eleven

The Scarlet Witch disappoints her family once again.
"I don't care what you think! I love him. I'm going to marry... Victor Von Doom!"

Cassette tapes! I have dozens of these relics. Some of the female artists and female-fronted bands that helped make my '90s bearable and sane: Heather Nova, Edie Brickell, Annie Lennox, Save Ferris, Luscious Jackson, K's Choice, Sinead O'Connor, Garbage, Indigo Girls, and The Sundays.

Man-Thing meets Daredevil.
"Dude, stop it. Why are you touching me?!"

Cyclops and Phoenix.
"Don't be such a baby, Scott. I'm not the real Jean. She's in a cocoon at the bottom of the Hudson River. You'll marry her clone Madelyne, dump her a few months after giving birth, then marry the real Jean. After a few years, you'll cheat on her with Emma Frost. So lighten up!"

Living, learning across screens and genres

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

School can be cool or cruel--maybe even both. Students get a glimpse of life’s complexities years before stepping into the “real world.” There are hundreds of inspiring films and shows from almost every genre that focus on education or enlightenment, so let’s narrow it down to a handful of deftly written ones:
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Stuck in detention, five archetypal high school kids learn about each other’s radically different labels and lives. They ultimately learn more about themselves and things they have in common.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Luke Skywalker painstakingly learns the ways of the Jedi through the exiled Yoda, a being he initially underestimated. Luke also learns the truth about his father the hard way.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Musician and composer Glenn Holland starts as an unsung, disrespected music teacher. A few decades of teaching later, he discovers just how valuable and inspiring he’s become to many of the school’s current and former students.
Mean Girls (2004)
Based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, the teen comedy wryly examines the unavoidable cliques of high school. New student Cady Hedron is quickly introduced to the viciousness and insecurities of the school’s popular girls.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Will Hunting is a genius who easily solves complex mathematical problems. A dedicated shrink, Sean Maguire, helps him get over his emotional baggage and realize his untapped potential.

Community (2009-)
Ex-lawyer Jeff Winger continuously learns from each of his disparate schoolmates, adult misfits who form a study group. They endure the various goings-on at their community college together, most of them approaching situations with knowledge from personal experience.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
The series brilliantly presented metaphors for the pains and anxieties of growing up, apart from creating a strong and attractive mythology. Buffy confronted her fears and triumphed over challenges, much wiser and more confident by the end of most episodes.
The Middle (2009-)
The sitcom focuses on the never-ending challenges of a working mother, Frankie Heck, but it also chronicles the growth of her kids. Sue is the daughter with no discernable talents, but her relentlessness and determination are admirable.
Glee (2009-)
Despite its legion of characters, Glee continues to sensibly tackle a variety of touchy topics, including sexuality, violence, and bullying. And amid the vocal acrobatics and flashy dance steps, there’s a story about a teacher who keeps inspiring his students to dream big and be better people.
Veronica Mars (2004-2007)      
The series’ protagonist is an outsider who helps out classmates who need her sleuthing skills. She routinely investigates potentially dangerous cases, so she knows the importance of doing her homework. But the inquisitive Veronica also has to deal with regular teen problems, which she isn’t always prepared for. 

‘Cabin in the Woods’ examines the unknown

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

Avengers director and screenwriter Joss Whedon’s smaller film this season is The Cabin in the Woods, a clever, genre-examining horror flick he produced and co-wrote with frequent collaborator and director Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel).

The film’s official trailer gives away really important story details, so try to avoid it. Those who’ve seen the spoilery trailer beforehand will still be treated to a bunch of surprises, though.

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth takes a break from playing the Marvel movies’ thunder god Thor, and portrays an all-American college jock, Curt. He and four other friends—the provocative Jules (Anna Hutchison), the virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly), the stoned Marty (Fran Kranz), and the scholarly Holden (Jesse Williams)—plan to spend the weekend at a place where they can freely unwind.

The titular cabin is an old, creepy house situated in the middle of nowhere. Ignoring a few strange and disturbing ornaments, the friends try to have fun, but they’re eerily interrupted by the sudden opening of a basement door.

The Cabin in the Woods also co-stars The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins. Fans of the Whedonverse will enjoy characters portrayed by Amy Acker and Tom Lenk (from Angel and Buffy, respectively), aside from Kranz’s perpetually high Marty.

Its dialogue is typically witty, but deliberately skips the use of more flippant Whedon-isms. Storywise, it looks somewhat inspired by a concept that was partly explored during the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But the similarities end there; Cabin elaborately and imaginatively explains the structure of several horror movies, and creates a unique, unifying bond between them in the process.

So no, it’s not a typical slasher flick, that’s for sure. There’s a favorable synergy between the actors as well, thankfully. Also enhancing the tenseness of the last few scenes is the surprise cameo of a sci-fi/horror icon.

Those expecting a traditionally structured horror movie will still be pleasantly surprised. Horror fans, or those already familiar with the genre and its tropes, will appreciate the fact that The Cabin in the Woods offers familiar scares, and more importantly, bigger and stranger enigmas to solve. 

Enchong acts, swims, floats

(Published June 4, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Shortly after spiels and a brief dance number, actor-swimming champ Enchong Dee gamely dished on his onscreen and off-screen activities at a recent product launch in Jollibee, Roosevelt.

“I keep saying that I wish I could star in a biopic of Andres Bonifacio,” Dee enthused when asked about his dream role. “Ang dami-daming pelikula tungkol kay Jose Rizal,” he elaborated. “Why not make one about Andres Bonifacio? He fought for the country as much as Rizal. I’d gladly do that, given the chance; [a biopic] will last for a very long time. You have to show it to the kids who study history.”

Dee discussed his ongoing Jollibee endorsement, which includes in-store appearances and the promotion of two new float flavors. He wouldn’t be endorsing cigarettes or products he doesn’t like any time soon, he said, and that his current fitness routine isn’t very strict.

“I’m so thankful that I have no food allergies,” he said. “I’m not obsessive about my fitness regimen; I just have to move more than I eat. I’m not the kind whose weight seesaws with dieting, tataba tapos papayat… I still swim when I get the chance.”

The 23-year-old admitted that shedding his “boyish image” can be difficult, as he had gotten used to roles for younger actors.

“At the moment, those kinds of characters are easier for me,” he said. “But yes, [I’m growing as an actor]. I have to constantly improve myself; I have to learn what my job is because if I don’t, I’ll get left behind.”

The ABS-CBN talent will be appearing with Kim Chiu and Xian Lim in the new teleserye “Ina, Anak, Kapatid.” He said he respects all the directors that he works with, like his old coach, and appreciates the “freedom” that acting allows him.
“In both swimming and acting, you have to be smart. Being an athlete, there’s a strategy for everything. You have to attack a certain role [differently] than the one you previously did.”

The self-proclaimed “lola’s boy” acknowledges the continuous support of his family. Dee’s parents constantly remind him to remain humble amid his success, and to respect other people in the business. “Because they’re the ones who’ll help you,” he said. “They’ll lift you up. Kung mayabang ka, they’ll laugh at you if you fall.”

As for courting 17-year-old actress Julia Montes, he revealed that his family is similarly respectful. “My mom never gets in the way even if she dislikes people who are special to me. She just gives advice. She knows how responsible Julia is, and she knows how much she loves her family. That’s the criteria of parents… it’s easy for us to appreciate.”