Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sweetest Downfall

My post-Valentine drawings. Plus, former Secret Six and current Batgirl writer Gail Simone’s reaction to one of them!

Scandal’s Brides
Meet the Savages! Secret Six’s Scandal Savage proposed to her girlfriends Liana and Knockout before the universe rebooted. I miss this trio.

Worldbreaker’s Warrior Wives
The Jade Giant and blade-wielding lovers Jarella, Caiera, and Red She-Hulk. The Hulk is praying that this moment never ends, that the three women he (and Banner) dearly loved and mourned are really back for good.

Electricity Flows
Avengers assembling! I see this scene as either (a) Wiccan and Striker just defeated a powerful villain together, really thankful for surviving the fight, or (b) Striker just saved Hulkling’s life somehow, which earns him a kiss from a grateful Wiccan. Whichever it is, bottom line, there are sparks between them, but they’re painfully aware that they can’t be together. Yet.

Gail’s comment! Aaaahhh!!!

A girl’s best friend

“My Week With Marilyn” follows the fast friendship between aspiring filmmaker Colin Clark and iconic Marilyn Monroe while he assisted on the set of her 1950s romantic comedy “The Prince and the Showgirl.”  
Educated, determined but inexperienced, the young Clark (Eddie Redmayne) lands a job as a gofer for Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who was set to co-star and direct the film. The much-anticipated project with Monroe (Michelle Williams) immediately hits a snag, as the newly wed Hollywood actress has trouble acclimating to the role, among other challenges.

Based on Clark’s memoirs, “My Week With Marilyn” poignantly illustrates a portion of the tragic screen idol’s life, providing details on some of her unhappiest and most trying moments. Through that demanding and difficult period, she only trusted two people, motherly acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and reliable errand boy Colin Clark, who immediately gets smitten with the popular actress, practically forgetting that he just started dating a lovely wardrobe assistant (Emma Watson).

Branagh’s interpretation of Olivier amuses, especially when focusing on the actor-director’s exasperation with, and deep admiration for Monroe. Redmayne is a strong enough presence to keep the Colin character intriguing; the actor’s face is dramatically lit half the time, almost as often as Williams’, funnily enough.

Unquestionably, Michelle Williams’ performance is assured and quite stunning. Those only familiar with her “Dawson’s Creek” work will find no trace of that overly self-aware teen; she’s proven in recent years that she’s capable of so much more. Williams channels the heartbroken and heartbreaking Marilyn, whose contradictions both enchant and mystify.

Weekend Escape

I won an overnight stay at Manila Hotel last January, and was finally able to use the gift certificate last Saturday. I was able to catch the Fuerza Bruta show, too. Fun Saturday and Sunday.
View from my 12th floor window, 6 a.m. That blue part surrounded by trees is the swimming pool; swam for hours yesterday morning and the night before.

That’s the bed, yo.    
Fuerza’s treadmill guy!

Scantily clad tribal guys!

Breakfast is served!

Understanding, overcoming extreme fear of animals

(Published Feb. 24, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The outpouring we’ve received from the show is amazing,” enthused “My Extreme Animal Phobia” host Dr. Robin Zasio in a recent teleconference. “The show is the first of its kind, illustrating everyday people who are terrified of animals, insects, mammals, and so much so that it’s running their lives.”

Each hour-long episode of the Animal Planet show focuses on a variety of people suffering from very specific fears, which are subsequently addressed with a five-day, intensive “exposure therapy.” According to the clinical psychologist, it’s not always a successful process, but it has become helpful to many of the show’s viewers.

 “I think that a lot of people are living in silence because they’re embarrassed,” Zasio said. “Can phobias be cured? I think it’s a Catch-22, because somebody has to be very motivated to do the therapy, so I think it’s more dependent on two factors: One is you have to really be able to read your client and know how far to push them at any given moment. And two, if they’re motivated and they really want to overcome it, [and] as long as you have an expert therapist who knows how to do the treatment, they can be cured. But then again, there are individual differences that we always have to take into consideration.”

Among the serious cases featured on the show was a woman horrified by cats. “Just walking through a cat rescue was terrifying for her and then walking into another area that was similar to a cat shelter was very difficult,” Zasio recounted. “She ran out several times. I had to coax her back in. She’s had a lifelong fear.”

Years prior to exposure therapy, the host revealed that animal fears were dealt with differently. “Historically there was always this concept of talk therapy, that if you could talk yourself out of it or go into your childhood and resolve whatever is causing that fear, that you can overcome it,” she said. “But the bottom line is you can talk about your fear all day long. I could talk about skydiving all day long, but there’s no way I’m getting in that plane until I systematically confront it!”

Zasio, proud owner of two horses, a dog, six turtles, fish, two rats and a tarantula, added that reasons for fearing certain animals vary. “For some people, they can have trauma in their past; for some people they can be taught to be afraid. For instance, we worked with some people who had a family member who was afraid and so they learned to be afraid, so it’s kind of [like] nature versus nurture.”

The lack of information on some domesticated or wild beasts also contribute significantly to the development of animal phobias. “I think it’s a very big part,” she said. “That’s why I was so excited about this project, because it’s the first of its kind to air on national TV about specific animal phobias. You might be watching a newsreel and they might do a two-minute piece on people who are afraid of animals. But usually all they do is just show these people are afraid of animals and that’s it. This show is specifically targeting one group of people, and it’s really outlining the reality that there are many people out there suffering in silence and that there’s treatment.”

(“My Extreme Animal Phobia” airs Tuesdays, 11 p.m. and Saturdays, 4 p.m. on Animal Planet.)

Five innovative sci-fi flicks

(From the Feb. 15-29 issue of The Fortnightly)
Audacious adventures across space and time
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Some science fiction flicks introduce ideas that blow viewers’ minds, but are also archetypal enough to change people’s perception of films or filmmaking altogether. Here’s a short but sweet list enumerating some influential, groundbreaking or otherworldly sci-fi movie experiences:

Star Wars (1977)
Over three decades ago, George Lucas’ original science fiction-fantasy film won over its first devotees, packing theaters worldwide and thrilling to the action-packed adventures of some defiant underdogs. “Star Wars” started with “Episode IV: A New Hope,” centering on a handful of space-faring rebel characters such as scrappy farm boy Luke Skywalker, charming rogue Han Solo, and feisty damsel Princess Leia. The more complex sequel (and that Ewok-infested last part) revealed that it’s a saga about a fractured family, whose secrets were later revealed in the “missing” prequel episodes.
The visually dazzling film redefined summer spectacles and made merchandise an integral part of the equation. Fans excitedly gobbled up the action figure collections, books, shirts, and related memorabilia. Lucas kept tweaking his “Star Wars” movies to adapt to the times, creating new footage with updated technology and re-releasing the films every couple of years.

Alien (1979)
Crew members aboard the spaceship Nostromo discover an unwanted guest, a violent extraterrestrial creature that eventually decimates their group. Melding science fiction concepts with horror storytelling techniques, the Ridley Scott-directed “Alien” introduced Ellen Ripley, a vulnerable but resourceful warrant officer who survives the attack and evolves into an action heroine in subsequent films. Sigourney Weaver breathed life into the character through its various transformations and lengthy war with the titular creatures.

Its influence can still be felt decades later, primarily in deadly cat-and-mouse scenarios of hybrid-genre monster flicks such as “Predator,” “The Relic,” and “Pitch Black,” to name a few. Even some horror-slasher flicks learned tremendously from the film’s eerie atmosphere and effective narrative devices.

Tron (1982)
Certainly ahead of its time, “Tron” was an oddity with distinctly memorable visuals. Software engineer and video game designer Kevin Flynn finds himself exploring a virtual world where programs sporting human forms duel. Its luminously garbed denizens and outlandish environments were uniquely “modern,” but a more fleshed out and visually sophisticated realm would be presented in its 2010 sequel.

“Tron Legacy” gives the reimagined Grid dimension a more contemporary feel, enhanced immensely by current animation technology. Edgier than ever, the sci-fi-action flick sequel provided interesting man-god allegories and human-machine rivalries, aside from delivering snazzy glow-in-the-dark gladiator matches.

Terminator (1984)
The time-traveling, titular killer cyborg hunts down the mother of a future rebel leader to ensure victory for intelligent machines. James Cameron’s riveting action-science fiction melding retooled old time travel scenarios but exuded more immediacy. Its excellent sequel expounded on the never-ending conflict, as well as re-introduced a more war-equipped Sarah Connor.

Gun-toting man-machines versus hardened human warriors—the “Terminator” spawned some copycats and parodies. Its mythology eventually expanded to comic book tie-ins and a TV series spinoff.  

The Matrix (1999)
The prophesied savior Neo fights dangerous opponents in an artificial reality as part of the war against machine subjugators in the real world. Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, “The Matrix” meshed existential themes with fast-paced action scenarios. Capable of incredible feats in that virtual world, Neo repeatedly confronts the enslavers’ renegade-hunting Agents.

The film’s flashy action choreography and visual effects became widely imitated and spoofed by various films and TV shows during the previous decade. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Majestic machinery

“Hugo” is director Martin Scorsese’s foray into more family-friendly fare. The seasoned filmmaker adapts effortlessly to this more fantastical world’s narrative requirements; it's pleasantly surprising that he's quite comfortable with an altogether different genre. 

Based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the film centers on an orphan (Asa Butterfield) secretly living in a train station. Hugo is a gifted young mechanic who maintains and fixes the various clocks at his unusual home.

He also tinkers with a human-shaped machine found by his late father, unaware of its real purpose. He periodically steals parts from a toy shop owned by stern old Georges (Ben Kingsley), who recognizes Hugo’s skills and lets him work there as atonement. The boy is befriended by Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), joining him in figuring out the man-machine’s mystery. 

“Hugo,” while a mite longer than most family-oriented films, partly enchants because of its cast—Butterfield conveys impressively; Moretz’ accent takes some getting used to but she fits nicely; Kingsley expectedly gives his character radiance and depth; Sacha Baron Cohen’s stationmaster is appropriately pesky.

Apart from the cast, the film’s mild science fiction aspects mix quite well with its more reality-anchored components. Younger viewers will appreciate the more quest-structured scenarios, while grownups will be rewarded with a moving revelation concerning forgotten and rekindled dreams. 

‘War’ game, or the spies who snagged her

Admit it. The first time you saw “This Means War’s” trailer, you thought that two hot, younger-looking men fighting over a character played by Reese Witherspoon was preposterous.

Be that as it may, Witherspoon, while not as gorgeous or as sexy as most of the younger, current crop of rom-com leading ladies, still makes her irrepressible presence felt. Undeniably charismatic and talented, the actress animates the movie’s generic loser-everygirl, Lauren, whom the secret agent besties Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are fighting over.

The agents coincidentally get interested in, and covertly spy on Lauren using their agency’s resources.  She starts dating and gauging both men, clueless to the ongoing, escalating competition.

“This Means War’s” situational humor is pretty predictable; its dialogue is quite simplistic, although there are moments when some characters engage in spirited banter. The participation of comedienne-host Chelsea Handler, as Lauren’s friend Trish, adds considerably to the equation. She’s easily the funniest thing about it, also because most of her lines were supposedly ad-libbed.

Anyway, you don’t really root for one or the other, as both agents are likeable, so the rivalry’s resolution comes off as a bit iffy. Aside from that, it’s a pretty enjoyable, if ultimately contrived action-comedy.

“This Means War” opens Feb. 22 in Metro Manila. 

Catharsis Corner

Since this is still a blog--Happy 7th Birthday, bloggy!--I’m reposting some of my recent, more cathartic status updates from elsewhere. Pretty self-explanatory and pressure-inspired release of pent-up feelings, mostly:

Jan. 29, 2012
Tired of being exposed to stuff by inexplicably successful, overrated people.

Jan. 30, 2012
In many ways, my life now is like school—some people ignore me; I find the suck-ups, bullies and know-it-alls infuriating; too few people know my worth. But I’m much smarter now and I can make money. I know my place. I know myself. I know what I can do, and I know damn well what I still want to do.

Feb. 8, 2012
Stressing over deadlines. But I can do this. I can do this. I’m Oliver f*cking Pulumbarit.

Feb. 15, 2012
Was looking at my old blog entries and found something I wrote about my former editor Louie Camino, whose 7th death anniversary is tomorrow, Feb. 16. I’m forever grateful to the guy; he gave me the opportunity to write for the paper almost ten years ago. He gave valuable advice. He reminded me early on that I should be more observant, more precise, and not be a shill for anyone. He told me that he was proud of me, eventually. 

Back with no ‘Vengeance’

This sequel is unnecessary. The 2007 “Ghost Rider” film was one of Marvel Comics’ forgettable big-screen translations. It starred Nicolas Cage as stuntman-cyclist Johnny Blaze, who transforms into the supernatural vigilante. The actor returns, but the origin and character details have been changed, which still doesn’t make it easy to care for the skull-faced antihero.

So while there are some effects-enhanced butt-kicking sequences in “Spirit of Vengeance”--Ghost Rider must protect an important boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), from sinister forces—there’s not much of a plot to appreciate. It would’ve been cool if Danny had been revealed as inheritor of the Ghost Rider power, a.k.a. Danny Ketch from the comic books. But no, there’s no connection.

There are brief appearances by Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert, playing initially intriguing but expendable characters. As for Cage, his angst-ridden Johnny Blaze alienates; the actor’s facial contortions get quite silly and lampoon-worthy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heart Byrne

One of my favorite comic book luminaries is writer-artist John Byrne, whose runs on several ‘80s titles made me realize that not all creators were, well, “created” equal. His art was so distinct to my 10-year-old self; his strong and solid linework graced the pages of Marvel’s Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four, as well as the Marvel Universe covers. He drew his own stories, too, which made me realize that being a writer-artist is entirely possible. I’d look for his other stuff, like his Uncanny X-Men issues, eventually. Here’s a nice group shot of characters he drew during that time. I absolutely adore his massive group images, along with George Perez’ and Art Adams’.  

Her pop ‘Madgesty’ reigns at Super Bowl

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

Veteran pop star Madonna is notorious for incorporating controversial or suggestive imagery and choreography into her performances. But her recent Super Bowl Halftime Show appearance showcased a more mature Queen of Pop.

She performed less elaborate dance moves and didn’t show skin, prompting some to say that she’s finally acting her age. But the 53-year-old artist nonetheless brought the house down with her rousing, 12-minute mini-concert.

At Dillingers Greenbelt 3, SkyCable held an exclusive, live viewing of the event for sports and pop music fans. As early as 7 a.m. the bar-resto was packed, the crowd consisting of American and Filipino football aficionados and some Halftime-anticipating guests, who caught the airing via the SkyCable-exclusive channel All Sports Network (ASN).

About an hour and a half into the show, Madonna made her grand entrance at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Seated on a golden throne and looking very much like an amalgamation of a Viking goddess and cartoon heroine She-Ra, she kicked off her act with her 1990 hit “Vogue.”

She lip-synched, but dazzled viewers didn’t seem to mind, perhaps already used to the practice of prerecording vocals for complicated concert performances. A collective gasp was heard when the pop icon almost fell off a bleacher set during her rendition of “Music,” but she regained her footing quickly and continued as if nothing happened.

Accompanied by dancers dressed mostly in similarly outlandish costumes, Madonna soon segued into her guest LMFAO’s songs, getting somewhat wacky while performing “Sexy and I Know It” with the pop-dance duo.

Other guests included hip-hop artists Nicki Minaj and the controversial M.I.A., who made an obscene gesture while rapping. The pair and the backup dancers looked like ancient, Egypt-inspired cheerleaders during Madonna’s performance of “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” the first single off her latest album “MDNA.”

R&B singer Cee Lo Green, accompanied by a marching band, joined the aptly called Mother of Reinvention for a mashup of “Open Your Heart” and “Express Yourself.” Green, together with a gospel choir, also sang with Madonna in “Like a Prayer.” She soon “vanished” off the stage in a burst of smoke and into a trapdoor, leaving enthralled viewers wanting more.

An estimated 117.8 million viewers reportedly tuned in for the Halftime show, the largest number in Super Bowl history.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Listen and Understand

Wow. That’s… beautiful. This made me tear up and smile. Congrats, by the way, to those who fought against Prop 8. May that victory help enlighten other people from different places on gay equality as well.

Coma chameleon

George Clooney plays a frazzled dad and the cuckolded husband of a comatose wife in “The Descendants,” a pretty by-the-numbers family tearjerker directed by Alexander Payne.

Protagonist Matt King was mostly an absentee dad, busy with work while his Hawaii-based family went on with their lives. But his wife (Elizabeth Hastie) figures in an accident, forcing him to salvage some connection to his problematic daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), while going over the impending decision to sell inherited land.

Clooney’s portrayal of the humiliated husband is quite average; it is, however, a role that lets him project vulnerability and uncertainty, for a change. He’s funny when he’s required to be, but the actor doesn’t always coruscate with empathic energy. The most heart-wrenching scenes belong to Robert Forster, playing his constantly ticked off father-in-law, and the two young actresses portraying the sometimes-annoying siblings. Those three’s reactions to the dying relative are just powerful.

The wife’s medical situation belies her indiscretions, which haunt the affected parties in different ways. That angle is tackled intriguingly, if a tad unevenly. The film could’ve gone smoother had a brisker pace been adapted; some scenes just prolong and belabor the obvious. Still, despite some unnecessary elements, it’s effectively weepy at the right parts.

“The Descendants” opens February 15. 

Strange love: 14 odd TV couples

(From the Feb. 1-14 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The best pairings on TV develop organically over the course of just a few episodes, or when required, a few seasons. Some of the best couples seemingly have nothing in common, but are surprisingly perfect for each other, nonetheless. Here are some unlikely but beloved couples or pairings:

Homer and Marge (The Simpsons)
We’re often reminded of the spouses’ improbable but thriving relationship. Despite Homer’s insensitivity and monumentally idiotic antics, Marge loves him just the same. He feels incredibly lucky, and often attempts to become the better person she deserves.

Barney and Robin (How I Met Your Mother)
One of the show’s most affecting arcs was the exploration of the unique bond between Barney and Robin; the unapologetic lothario and the lovable Canadian news anchor made such a cute couple, both changing profoundly when they realized feelings for each other.

Michael and Holly (The Office)
Michael’s had strange relationships (he’s often the odd one in them), but he easily hit it off with HR rep Holly, who’s exhibited similarly weird behavior around him. She’s way smarter and more sensible than him, but they share a rare and undeniable rapport.

Ian and Mickey (Shameless)
Ian, a secretly gay teen, and Mickey, a notorious bully, hated each other. They came to blows, which led to a surprising discovery: Mickey’s secretly gay too, and has the hots for his enemy! They don’t label their relationship, and are immensely enjoying each other’s company.

Buffy and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
The monster-hunting Slayer and the noble vampire were initially allies, but they became more than that for a time. Champions on separate missions, Buffy and Angel inevitably parted ways, but will always consider each other special.

The Doctor and Rose (Doctor Who)
The immortal alien Doctor and his human friend Rose were time-traveling companions for many months. They realized feelings for each other, but major obstacles prevented them from pursuing a formal relationship. She eventually ended up with a more expressive mortal version of the Doctor.

Glenn and Maggie (The Walking Dead)
Like in the source comic book, zombie apocalypse survivors Glenn and Maggie came from different worlds, and found each other amidst less than ideal circumstances. Their pairing inspires optimism, one of the few good things that resulted from a series of tragedies.

Jenna and Matty (Awkward)
Jenna and Matty are secret lovers, only exchanging meaningful glances at school because they belong to different cliques. The friends-with-benefits situation gets complicated when she starts longing for him, and when he can’t seem to decide on what he really wants.

Brian and Justin (Queer as Folk)
Promiscuous Brian initially didn’t believe in love, but later realized that he was falling for Justin, a much younger man. The on-again, off-again relationship taught the pair various lessons, and they mostly remained close during difficult times.

Veronica and Logan (Veronica Mars)
It took time for the bad boy jock and the sprightly teen detective to really like each other, so it was pleasantly surprising when they finally recognized mutual attraction. The volatile relationship ended, but he’s still protective even after they moved on.

Ned and Chuck (Pushing Daisies)
Ned the pie-maker has the power to temporarily resurrect once-living things with his touch. He revives his childhood friend Charlotte, a.k.a. Chuck, but they must avoid skin contact; his lethal touch can abruptly end their new and promising relationship.

Dexter and Lumen (Dexter)
After the brutal vigilante discovers and frees a serial killer’s captive, they become unexpected partners, and eventually, lovers. Dexter and Lumen helped each other survive some of their most harrowing ordeals.

Chris and Jal (Skins)
He’s a loser druggie; she’s a competitive musician. Somehow, these two friends ended up together and loved each other dearly before Chris’ tragic death.

Khal Drogo and Daenerys (Game of Thrones)
He’s the leader of a nomadic warrior tribe; she’s the exiled princess who had no choice but to marry a powerful stranger. But she later found herself loving him wholeheartedly and embracing his culture, while he began respecting and appreciating her more.

Christina Ricci grown up and ‘normal’

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

“I studied the 1960s quite heavily when I was younger in school,” said “Pan Am” star Christina Ricci during a recent phone interview with the Inquirer. “I’ve always had a fascination for it; it’s a really interesting period.”

Ricci, 31, as a popular child star in the early ’90s, appeared in the film “Mermaids” and two “Addams Family” installments. She smoothly transitioned into teen roles, appearing in “Casper” and “That Darn Cat.” She later received acclaim for playing older characters in “The Ice Storm” and “The Opposite of Sex.”

Prior to the retro TV drama “Pan Am,” she landed a recurring role on “Ally McBeal” and, years later, guest appearances on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Saving Grace.”
“I’ve wanted to do TV for a very long time,” Ricci said. “I’ve never done a TV show from start to finish.”

She finds returning to the same character on a regular basis “easy” and not that different from her previous projects. “The ability to keep a continuity is comforting,” she revealed. “[In movies], you’re keeping continuity for three months at a time, so this is just extended.”

Set in the early ’60s, “Pan Am” focuses on a spirited group of flight attendants and crew members. “Our show is about women at a time when misogyny was rampant and perfectly acceptable,” Ricci said. “[They’re] playing the game and managing to live lives, see the world, and have freedom that a lot of men didn’t have at that time.”

As stewardess Maggie Ryan, Ricci now looks at the job differently. “I have a huge amount of empathy for them. Just hearing a lot of ex-stewardesses’ stories, the crises they faced … it has given me so much respect for them.”

“An antagonistic presence” is how the actress considers her character. “Maggie is fun to play, straight to the point and energetic,” she said, adding, “I’m more laid-back than Maggie. I’m not as ambitious as she is. She’s still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in life.”

Ricci admitted that the role is far from hassle-free. “I’m a big klutz; I injure myself about every other day, either during rehearsal or during a take! I usually trip over something, and I end up skinning my knees while I’m trying to serve coffee. I’ll make a terrible stewardess!”

But she enjoys getting into the uniform and developing rapport with her female cast mates. “I find that we depend on each other quite a bit, especially if you get into rhythm with the other actresses,” she said. “You learn to rely on each other … to work as a team and understand each other’s strengths.”

Ricci acknowledged being “normal,” and emphasized the importance of identifying priorities: “I think you need a personal life that’s fulfilling and to see this industry as just your job, not your life.”

(“Pan Am” starts airing on Saturday, Feb. 11, 9:50 p.m. on AXN Beyond.)

An evolving shaper of worlds

(Published Feb. 4, PDI-Super)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Visual artist James Jean projects his unique dreamscapes onto various boards and canvases, using ink, oil, water color, or acrylic paints to shape his fantasy-oriented imagery.

Well-known for his comic book covers for DC Comics’ “Fables,” Jean first visited the country in 2009. Fans knew him mostly for his Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cover work back then. The artist admits that he still knows very little about the industry even after illustrating pieces for the popular title.

“I don’t know that much about the comic book industry,” Jean said during a recent interview at Fully Booked in Taguig. “I stopped working for comics around 2007. I have many awards from the industry; it was nice of them to recognize my work in my short time there. I was kind of an outsider in that I never did any interior work. It’s just interesting how the body of work I did for comics became really well-known, even though it wasn’t my main focus.”

The Taiwanese-American artist returned for a three-day visit last month. His main activities included speaking at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and signing books at Fully Booked branches. Jean is thankful that his Filipino fans are open to his artistic evolution.

“I feel very fortunate and appreciative of the fans that I have here and how they continue to follow my work through all its changes over the years,” he said. “Now that I’ve transitioned into doing fine art, I’m glad to see that people still follow and enjoy my work here. And I wouldn’t be aware of my fan base here if not for Jaime Daez (managing director of Fully Booked). He invited me, showed me the country, and took me around to schools. I was surprised that I did have a following here. I’m glad to be back.”
Jean is currently promoting his personal art tomes. These include his latest, “Rebus,” the poster book “Kindling,” the postcard book “XOXO,” and the accordion book “Rift.”
Taiwan-born Jean and his family moved to the US when he was 3. He lived in New Jersey, where he later discovered his interest in the arts.

“My father got an opportunity to work in the US so the whole family moved there. My mom taught high school English and my dad was in industrial plastics. They both ended up working for the same plastics company. They’re very practical people. They wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. They weren’t particularly creative; I mean, they worked very hard and they’re very supportive of me. I didn’t grow up in an artistic environment. It just came naturally.”

As a kid, Jean found himself drawn to superhero comics. “I grew up reading comic books and that introduced me to the world of drawing. Even though I had always drawn on my own, I didn’t see any practical use for it. I just drew constantly because I enjoyed it. I delivered newspapers so I could make money to buy comic books. When I went to art school, I was exposed to a lot of art history and I got into indie comics, into painting and all sorts of other things.”

Jean originally wanted to be a jazz musician when he was a teenager; he played the trumpet and the piano. But he later chose visual artistry over music and eventually graduated from New York City’s School for Visual Arts in 2001. Aside from comic book covers, he also illustrated for magazines and advertisements. Apart from painting, Jean is currently developing a line of jewelry and accessories.

His advice for aspiring artists who wish to stand out in various fields: “Make the best work possible. The work is your passport into that world, especially with the Internet, and it’s easy to get recognized, so spread your work if it’s good and interesting! It’s a very democratic process now. I think maybe even 10 years ago, it was more difficult because it’s all about connections and who you knew. But now, you can reach a worldwide audience and let the audience decide if your work is worthy or valuable.”

As an artist who mostly has free rein over his creations, Jean is realizing a crucial lesson. “It’s trying to figure out what’s important to me,” he said. “Because once you’ve reached a certain level of recognition, there are many people who pull you in different directions and you have a lot of opportunities. I think learning to focus and to say no to certain things, and to concentrate on what’s important, is what I’m learning now.”

(Photo by Oliver Pulumbarit)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Mind games and megalomania

Derivative but entertaining, the science fiction flick “Chronicle” tells the story of ordinary high schoolers who develop immense telekinetic powers.

Yes, it’s “The Craft” meets “Akira” meets “Carrie,” focusing on similar themes but given a very contemporary spin. Three kids gain psionic abilities after discovering a buried, oddly shaped object in the woods. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the nerdy kid who chronicles his daily dealings with a camera; he and his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) soon find themselves wielding incredible powers after exposure to the object.

Using “found footage” storytelling, the film chronologically pieces together clips from different sources, so the trio’s gatherings are well-documented. Its shaky, deliberately amateurish cinematography in the beginning is eyestrain-inducing but mercifully brief.

Changed tremendously, the teens enjoy their powers, pranking strangers and schoolmates alike. Andrew, the bullied kid, easily masters his telekinesis; it’s only a matter of time before he snaps and declares himself Magneto to the “lesser” humans.

Andrew’s story has similarities with Marvel Comics’ character Vance Astrovik a.k.a. Justice, in that both are telekinetics with violent fathers, whom they later deal with using their TK. Over-exertion also causes the comic book character and the “Chronicle” teens’ nosebleeds.

Despite its unoriginality, the very human reactions of the characters to developing extra gifts are palpable; it’s exhilarating to see them discover flight, and find ways to make their lives easier. DeHaan is also a promising actor; he’s got a handle on his character’s vulnerable but creepy vibe, and keeps things from becoming cheesy.  

Creative ‘Community’

(Published Feb. 2, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Consistently well-written and with one of the most synergistic casts on television, “Community” is a smart sitcom about a group of lovable misfits attending a community college.

Seven students regularly gather as a Spanish study group, the unexpected result of a ploy hatched by Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), an ex-lawyer who returns to school after his fake degree was exposed. He tries to adapt to his new situation, and quickly finds himself attracted to the hot twenty-something blonde, Britta (Gillian Jacobs).

His plan to get acquainted with her by starting a fake study group backfires, attracting students who wish to understand the subject more. Aside from that, they barely have anything in common.

Forming Jeff’s study group are: Pierce (Chevy Chase), an insensitive senior citizen; Shirley (Yvette Nicole Bown), a caring single mother; Troy (Donald Glover), a dumb former jock; Abed (Danny Pudi), a quirky pop culture aficionado; Annie (Alison Brie), a finicky overachiever; and Britta, a cause-conscious health nut.

Jeff eventually becomes the group’s leader, the odd bunch deferring to his real-life wisdom despite his oft-abrasive personality. They get into familiar college scrapes and disagree on issues a lot, but often survive them together like a family.

Created by Dan Harmon, the show riotously tackles campus systems and shenanigans, giving this culturally and racially diverse clique plenty of opportunities to weigh in on matters, and learn from each other.

Ken Jeong and Jim Rash also regularly inspire giggles as the misbehaving Spanish teacher SeƱor Chang and the bizarre Dean Pelton, respectively. The first season also has brilliant parodies of “Die Hard” and “Good Will Hunting” integrated into some of its best episodes, as well as memorable guest appearances by Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Lisa Rinna.

Each member of the group is continuously and cleverly developed. McHale nicely epitomizes the flawed father figure, his Jeff Winger character repeatedly finding common ground with, and learning new things from, his eclectic new “family.”

(“Community” airs weeknights at 9:50 on Fox.)

Filipino kids’ voices in ‘Ben 10’

(Published  Feb. 3, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Two Filipino kids will be heard on the coming Cartoon Network (CN) animated special, “Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens.”

Elementary students Nina Teo and Xander Ching have been chosen to voice background characters for the CGI TV movie airing in the Philippines this year. The kids, winners of the “Ben 10: What’s Up With That Alien?” contest, recorded short lines in a Makati studio.

Hong Kong-based Angela Lau, CN Asia assistant PR manager, said the winners participated in the regional contest. “They were picked randomly by our generator,” Lau told the Inquirer. “Aside from the Philippines, we had a search in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The winners from Malaysia recorded the same thing. Filipino viewers will hear the Philippine winners; the rest of Southeast Asia will hear the Malaysian kids.”

The kids recorded lines for two of Ben Tennyson’s schoolmates. Teo, 10, found the recording experience “hard.” Ching, 11, thought it was “a little bit easy.” Both are fans of the show. “I’ll e-mail my friends and ask them to watch,” Teo said.

Hoover, damning

FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover’s biopic details his glory days, his personal life, and some controversies that hounded his career. “J. Edgar” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the famed crimefighter, an embittered old man recalling an illustrious, if sometimes inaccurate history of law enforcement.

Directed by Clint Eastwood from a screenplay by “Milk’s” Dustin Lance Black, it manages to squeeze in milestones and missteps of the celebrated FBI director, as well as his relationship with friend and partner Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), whom he recruits into his organization despite being unqualified.

“J. Edgar” is kept interesting by two separately unfolding stories; one takes place during his last days with the FBI, and the other centers on his younger, more enthusiastic years. The socially awkward young man is shown having a chaste, professional relationship with his secretary Helen (Naomi Watts) during the early years. It’s also revealed that he had a close bond with his mother (Judi Dench), who was very supportive but was severely homophobic.

The film moves when focusing on Edgar’s struggles or expressions involving his sexuality; DiCaprio naturally imbues the role with tangible and relatable layers, even when his prosthetic-enhanced face looks less than real and nothing like Hoover. It’s a bit long, but it’s a rewarding look into the historic figure’s obsessions, manipulations, and bouts with repression. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Messed-up Superhumanity

(L-R: Director Josh Trank, actors Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) The following are excerpts from a live chat with the filmmaker and cast of “Chronicle.” They read the questions sent to them via the livestream site and answered them as soon as they got them. My thanks to Mae Vecina of 20th Century Fox for sending them my question, and the cast for answering. I highlighted that part with a different color. The movie will be shown in the Philippines starting tomorrow, Feb. 2.

How did the concept of the film come to be?
Before we started CHRONICLE, I was shooting a lot of these kind of small, experimental films that took a documentary approach to fantasy style scenarios. I ended up with this very long list of ideas and in it I realized there was my first movie. So I put together this story; I was very excited about it. I ran into an old friend of mine Max Landis and we were catching up on all of the things that we were up to. He was writing all of these really very cool screenplays and I was directing all of these things. I told him about this idea I thought he would really be into and he stopped me in the middle of my story and said that he wanted to write it. And I thought that that was a really amazing idea. And he took it and very passionately wrote this amazing screenplay and then suddenly I realized that I had this great screenplay that I had to live up to. So that was pretty much it.
How does the film differ from other found footage movies?
I think, what makes it different is that the camera is always used to drive the story forward and it’s always used in a cinematic way. So we don’t go to great lengths to show people that this is a real person filming. We just kind of assume the person that’s filming has a steady hand and then Josh had a really unbelievable idea of using the camera with our telekinetic powers. Just like any of the three of us as teenagers that play videogames would be able to do with the left joystick of our controller. It’s second nature to us. So it allows the film to be cinematic and found footage all at the same time and it really allows the viewers to be a fourth character in the movie and to really go along for the ride with us.
In the movie you all have scenes that are great fun but look painful. The most striking are the baseball test and fork game. Could you tell us about how they were done?
Okay so the baseball scene. Yeah, slugger over here. I mean threw a baseball, but not a real baseball, but something that still had some solidarity to it, had some weight to it.
Had some weight to it.
And it did hit me in the face. Multiple times in the teens.
And it was really funny.
And it was very funny for everyone except me. No, I thought it was funny too.
The most incredible thing is that that first shot, like the very first part of the baseball scene is, it’s all meant to me, you know that’s like practicality where they use a real ball and M.B.J. hopefully he’ll have the right aim and it can hit me in the face and then every gag after that is done like miming it and we have a unanimous agreement about where we are looking at, where the ball is floating in mid-air, etc. And that first part, its like, “Okay well you know this is a little set piece and we may be able to use the practical ball or we may not.” M.B.J. hit me in the face every single time. This guy’s got aim like I can’t believe. It’s ridiculous and I swear he was messing with me to the extent, did it once when we went shooting. And the other part of the question was the fork, and that’s not, that’s Dane stabbing me with a fork that looked very real, but was again one of those great practical rigs.
Which comic book superhero would end up totally messed up if they existed in the real world?
You guys give me the hardest questions possible… you mean messed up if they’re having a…
Like it would be bad if they exist in society.
You know what, all these guys.
But we’re not superheroes.
Like the Hulk. He’s having a hard time.
I think the answer to that is any superhero that existed in the real world would be messed up.
And our movie, which is about real people that get superpowers, [they really end messed up]. Having superpowers in the real world…
…doesn’t really work out.