Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Uncivilized goodness

Surprisingly fresh despite its recycling of old themes, “The Croods” is a wild and wacky cartoon adventure about a family of cavemen that fears change. But the naturally curious teen, Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), meets the intrepid explorer Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who shows them different ways of surviving the world outside their cave.

Colorful and vividly realized, “The Croods” is bustling with energetic designs and kinetic imagery. Co-directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco, it has a sturdy focus on its tight multi-character dynamic, substantially developing the three central ones—Eep, Guy and Crug (the dad voiced by Nic Cage)—while giving the rest ample exposure and perfunctory duties that still complement the main transformations.

Interestingly, it’s similar to the “Ice Age” movies in the sense that a prehistoric period is used as a backdrop and the characters are affected by massive changes in their surroundings. “The Croods” also has its own take on the creatures that inhabit their largely unexplored world, home to beautifully rendered beasts and imaginatively designed flora. The Croods and their fun realm deserve to expand into a series of films, perhaps replicate its attention to its core themes, while improving the less-developed characters and ideas next time.


Superman’s teen clone, back when he was fun.

Rules of protraction

Smart and emotionally inveigling, “Admission” is a romantic comedy-drama that stars Tina Fey as a predictable Princeton admissions officer, Portia Nathan, tasked with choosing potential students for the university. Contacted by an unconventional teacher, John (Paul Rudd), Portia meets his most promising student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who doesn’t fit Princeton’s mold, but shows signs of being more than worthy to study there.

“Admission” is sophisticated, much like its many seemingly typical characters, but it does fall into similar formula-traps as more “regular” rom-coms and dramas on occasion. However, Fey is just brilliant in this; she’s practically the go-to actress for smart female characters that are initially unloved and periodically awkward, so Portia is a snug fit. She and John make a fine sort-of couple; chemistry with Rudd is obvious, and the onscreen tandem’s a match that could work beyond this project.

The film has its share of giggle-worthy moments, primarily provided by Fey, but enhanced tremendously by Lily Tomlin, who plays Portia’s fiercely independent mother. As for “Admission’s” more dramatic side, the film manages to slip in and out of its more serious tone without compromising its deeper parenting and nepotism themes. It’s much heavier and considerably less feelgood than the usual Tina Fey project, but her impassioned portrayal and inherent likability are definitely worth the price of admission.

“Admission” is an Ayala Cinemas exclusive. 

Summer Son, Summer Reign

Status updates amid the heat.

March 17. Remembering how the old high school dances played seamless remixes; loved how Head Over Heels transitioned to Sometimes a Fantasy, then Tenderness, Sahara Night, Tarzan Boy, and eventually, You To Me Are Everything. Late '80s memories.
March 18. Watched the first episode of The Americans. Really good. Nice to see Keri Russell kicking butt again after that short role in Mission Impossible years ago.
March 20. Repressed memory. I suddenly remembered being part of the Atheneum, or the library club, when I was in second year high school. Can't remember if I helped arrange books using the card catalog.
March 21. Tropical Hut's Double Double Burger. Yum.
March 21. Still loving Shameless. "She's good for me. And you're not. And, uh... Yeah. That's all."
March 21. I always wonder about the might-have-beens, how things might've ended if I did stuff differently when I was a kid. I sometimes wish that I could just travel back, give that lonely 11-year-old me a hug, and promise him that things will be different in the future. Although I'd probably tell him that some things get worse before they get so much better.
March 22. Enjoyed The Croods last night.
March 22. Jim Carrey was hilarious as a David Blaine-ish character in Burt Wonderstone.
March 23. Downing a bottle of Tanduay Cocktails, a freebie from last year, all by my lonesome. Not a good sign. Spiked my soda with it, too. Spinning like a record. It's probably my alcohol intake for the year. Last year, I just drank one glass.
March 23. A bowl of liquored-up chocolate ice cream. Mmm.
March 25. Ambagal ng oras ngayon. Hmm.
March 25. Doing sinful stuff, as usual, this Holy Week.

‘Banshee’ star likes playing thief-turned-mom

(Published March 22 PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“Banshee” actress Ivana Milicevic feels “maternal to everyone,” which makes playing a mother and working with actors playing her children on the new show comfortable.
In a phone interview with Asian periodicals, Milicevic emphasized that her role Carrie is attractive, not only because of her motherly traits, but also because she’s hiding her past as a jewel thief from her loved ones.

She expounded: “I felt that this character has so many layers to her. She’s playing a mother, a villain, a fighter, somebody who’s very much in love, who’s torn between two men. She has to play this whole range of emotions… You’ll see as the season progresses why it’s such an interesting part. [She’s] really emotional and very torn.”

Now living in Banshee, Pennsylvania, Carrie unexpectedly meets her former flame and thieving partner Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con posing as the town’s new sheriff. The actress offered an analogy that best describes their relationship.

“Lucas coming back into her life, it’s as if she was an alcoholic when she was with him, then for 15 years, she was sober,” she said. “And now, when he’s back in town it’s like the first drop of alcohol to the alcoholic! She’s trying to do the right thing, but it’s pretty difficult… it’s really a lucky part to play!”

Born in Sarajevo, Milicevic and her family moved to the United States when she was a child, and eventually had a modeling career prior to acting. She previously played Russian spies and models, as well as “light and funny” younger women. She appeared on TV shows “Felicity,” “Seinfeld,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” as well as in films “Vanilla Sky” and “Casino Royale.”

Now 38, Milicevic is thankful for the “Banshee” role, despite the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with the action-heavy part. “I love Kali so much; it’s a Philippine martial art. I was also trained in Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s method. The physical part is very hard… I got a lot of bruises. I even had a black eye that was real in an episode that’s coming up. [But] the hardest part was the emotional cycle that the character had to go through, and trying to walk the balance, playing these two parts, walking the line between a dutiful mother, and the past.”

North Carolina nicely doubles for Banshee, she revealed: “North Carolina gets very hot in the summer, but I kind of enjoy that. It’s a very beautiful state. It has fireflies at night; the nights are as warm as the days. Those little towns are really fun to work in. We have three towns that make up Banshee—Morrisville, Gastonia and Monroe. It’s great because they felt like old American towns.”

A fan of Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis, among others, Milicevic feels drawn to “pulp, noir, dark and funny stuff.”

“There’s really nothing like this on television. There’s so much action and drama. It’s sexy; it’s fast-paced… There’s a lot of violence in ‘Banshee,’ for sure. For me, the only place for violence is entertainment, when you’re telling a story. It’s all pretend and make-believe. I think it’s no different when I was little; I would play cops and robbers!”

“Banshee” airs Fridays, 10 p.m. on Cinemax.  

Polaris and Malice

One of Magneto’s messed-up but heroic children, Polaris, when she was possessed by the Marauder Malice.

Irregular illusions

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” stars Steve Carell as the titular illusionist, a character partnered with his loyal childhood friend and fellow prestidigitator Anton Lovecraft (Steve Buscemi). Their decade-old magic act suddenly becomes stale with the emergence of street magician Steve Haines (Jim Carrey), whose feats of endurance—and masochistic tendencies—consistently shock and awe jaded spectators.

Carrey’s scene-stealing moments are consistent in their irreverence and hilarity. Carell elicits laughs, sure, but they’re not as hearty; his scenes tend to drag sometimes. The characters are okay, if predictable; forced to update their tricks, Burt and Anton attempt a new stunt, but they fail spectacularly and separate. The once-proud magician unexpectedly connects with a childhood hero, Rance Henson (Alan Arkin), when the former lands a gig in a retirement home.

It goes through the motions with its romance angle—Olivia Wilde as the ambitious assistant-turned-love interest is gorgeous and a welcome presence, sure, but the pairing is contrived. Jay Mohr is wasted on a baffling character, as well. Again, while it’s a nice, even timely parody, “Burt Wonderstone” doesn’t fully mine the “magic world” for lasting guffaws. The David Blaine-ish Steve is wonderfully creepy, though, and is easily the funniest thing about the movie. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fun, humor key to universality

(Published March 19, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Cartoon Network’s programming has always been premised on fun, entertainment and surprises—and it won’t change any time soon, according to Turner International Asia Pacific Limited’s content officer Mark Eyers.

In the Inquirer’s recent e-mail interview with Eyers, he stressed that the best-known kid-geared cable channel in the region, is adapting to viewers’ changing behaviors.

“We are constantly looking for ways to ramp up the fun,” said Eyers. “With the recent launch of Turner’s two new channels, Cartoonito and Toonami, Pinoy kids of all ages now have more content available to them on three dedicated platforms.”

Toonami, Eyers stressed, is dedicated to programming for action-oriented older boys, while Cartoonito’s shows are ideal for much younger viewers and their families.
Eyers is in charge of overseeing programming and acquisitions for CN, among other Turner channels. He considers humor an essential and consistent component in the network’s projects. He explained: “Whether on-air  or online, ‘funny’ is at the heart of the Cartoon Network experience. Viewers see this through promotions, games, apps, campaigns … even in more adventure-oriented shows like ‘Ben 10: Omniverse,’ there’s always a laugh.”

Eyers is thankful that the channel’s mostly American animated shows are well-received in the country. “Right now in the Philippines, Cartoon Network is the number one cable channel for kids aged 2-12, in terms of rating and reach,” he said. “This strong position is bolstered by our top comedy series: ‘Adventure Time,’ ‘Oggy and the Cockroaches’ and ‘Regular Show.’”

Complementing the humor is the universality of content, Eyers stressed: “We’re more alike than we are different. Kids, wherever they’re from and whatever their upbringing, love to laugh! Just like CNN, Cartoon Network goes beyond borders, just bringing humor instead of news.”

 The different shows are also respectful of cultures in the territory, he added. “All of our shows have to adhere to a certain criteria. The humor is never mean-spirited and has relatable scenarios with layered comedy and character-driven storylines. That’s why series like ‘Adventure Time,’ ‘Ben 10: Omniverse’ and ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ are so popular, from Seoul to Singapore and Mumbai to Manila.”

The Asia-Pacific region can look forward to the new series “Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk,” based on the hit film “How to Train Your Dragon,” as well as new episodes of familiar shows, including “Oggy and the Cockroaches.”

As for the channel’s evolution content-wise, Eyers cited the enduring quality of certain humor-centric programs: “The Cartoon Network DNA hasn’t changed much since we launched over 20 years ago. Many of our shows are as popular now as they were then, and there is a huge affinity with series older than 10 years such as ‘Tom and Jerry,’ ‘Scooby-Doo’ and ‘The Powerpuff Girls.’”

(“Oggy and the Cockroaches” airs Fridays, 8 p.m.; “Ben 10: Omniverse,” Sundays, 10 a.m.; “Adventure Time,” Fridays, 7 p.m.; “The Amazing World of Gumball,” Saturdays, 11 a.m.; “Regular Show,” Fridays, 7:30 p.m.)  

Council of Abstract Concepts

Pencil drawing on 22" X 17" vellum, 1999.

Love Machinery, Eleven

"I was attacked by mutant-phobes in this issue. Worst Christmas ever! Good thing a Morlock dragged my nearly lifeless body to the tunnels. Also in this issue: Rogue kisses Warlock's father, Magus!"

The Marvel Universe followed one continuity in the '80s; the Marvel Saga title chronologically spliced together its heroes' origins. Got this from a Binondo Media stall in the mid-'00s.

Re-read John's Promethea TPB. The Weeping Gorilla is hilarious.

Fantasy trading cards from over two decades ago.

Sweet dreams are made of these.

Quenching, Quelling

Status updates compiled, as usual.
March 10. Buco Salad ice cream! Hot Sunday afternoon, begone.
March 12. Semi-frozen Gatorade. Thirst-quenching, but will probably make my throat hurt like hell later.
March 13. Latest Community episode. That's more like it.
March 13. Summer heat. Augh.
March 14. Hope that new Pope isn't another hate-mongering creep.
March 15. Scripting a comic book. Fun and head-splitting. Glad I'm doing it again.
March 15. Trying real hard not to go the Taylor Swift/revenge as art route.
March 17. So, the 15 influential artists thing. Here's mine. Not tagging anyone, just do it if you wanna: 1. John Byrne 2. Albrecht Durer 3. Nick Manabat 4. Bill Sienkiewicz 5. John Toledo 6. Jim Lee 7. Whilce Portacio 8. Carlos Pacheco 9. Simon Bisley 10. Frank Frazetta 11. George Perez 12. Walt Simonson 13. Art Adams 14. John Romita, Jr. 15. Jim Mahfood

Navigators, Adventurers

Last week’s controversy, but still post-worthy. It’s great that intelligent people have spoken up on the issue. Here’s what LGBT ally Lea Salonga said: “The only people that can claim to be experts on gay people are gay people. In their diversity, humanity, and general awesomeness. Shame on anyone that dares to think that gayness is a disease, something to be ashamed of, or is something to abhor in the name of Christianity. Can't we all just be human beings, men and women navigating this earth in search of the goodness in this world, and adventurers out for enlightenment and understanding?”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Preaching to the Quire

Kid Omega, a.k.a. Quentin Quire, self-styled subversive student from the Jean Grey School

Sacred Sanctuary

Gym thoughts:
1. This workout is making me hungry.
2. This song means nothing to me now. Must delete later.
3. Hey, there’s my cousin.
4. Hey, there’s my high school classmate.
5. Nice. Nobody’s using that machine.
6. Wow, they actually tied up the soap and shampoo containers so nobody steals them.
7. Good lord. How do you get a super-fit bod like that?
8. Hmm. There you go. That’s what I’m talking about.
9. I gotta work. Wish I could stay longer.
10. Hey, that guy looks like Bolin.
11. Add more pounds. You can lift it.
12. I like it here.

‘Innovators’ preem this week

(Published March 10, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Historic business clashes are vividly recalled in History’s eight-hour series “The Innovators: The Men Who Built America,” centering on the industry pioneers who influenced the country’s growth, from the end of the Civil War to the start of the first World War.

The intrigue and the drama were inspired by historical records, according to American historian HW Brands and the series’ executive producer Russ McCarroll, who expounded on the ambitious project during a phone interview.

“From 1865 to 1914, the American economy, society, and politics changed probably more than at any other period in comparable length,” Brands said. “So if you had visited America in a time machine in 1865, it would’ve looked like an entirely different place. People did things very differently! If you could then return to 1914, the country would look recognizably modern, and the changes that occurred were in very large part the work of the men who were featured in the series, and the other individuals whom they worked with.”

Between dramatizations of pivotal moments, “Innovators” features present-day industry luminaries such as Donald Trump and Steve Wozniak, who offer insightful commentaries on the strategies of the pioneers.

McCarroll elaborated: “We wanted to give a contemporary feel to it. We wanted to illustrate how much of what happened also informed what was going on in the current economic situation here in the United States. So we decided that the people who could communicate that best would be some of the CEOs and the drivers of the current economy. What we found out was that Mr. Trump and a lot of the other CEOs had done a lot of reading about John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and those kinds of people.”

McCarroll revealed that casting actors for the roles of historic innovators Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie was a long process. “We’ve spent a long time casting and looking for fresh new faces, people who haven’t really been seen on television here in the United States,” he said. “We were really looking for actors who looked different from each other, [but] also looked like the guys that we were featuring. These guys really impressed us with their poise and their ability to feel very natural with the roles they were playing!”

The cutthroat practices and tensions between the innovators and their competitors during the era were a natural part of that reality, Brands said: “These were very competitive business leaders, and they perceived competition as the way the business world worked. If it meant that sometimes they would align their interests and collaborate, they would do that. If it meant that they would then change course and compete with each other, they would do that as well. Each one identified very closely and personally with his own enterprise.”

McCarroll added: “One of the things we were really intrigued by when we started really peeling back the layers of the story was the idea that a lot of the laws that governed business practices in this country grew out of that era—an era of these guys’ ingenuity and their ability to do things that at that time were perfectly legal, but have since come to be thought of as maybe a little bit less than honorable!”

Fascinated by the irrevocable transformation of America during that period, McCarroll said that the show’s title appropriately credits the industry leaders for their contributions. He revealed the heavy involvement of History’s Filipino-American executive producer Paul Cabana, who was very specific with his vision for the project.

“Paul played a huge part in building this project,” he said. “He and I are a hundred percent, 50-50 partners in everything that we do. He was really adamant in the inclusion of people like HW, and really using those guys to contextualize the story. He was a really big drive on that.”

(“The Innovators: The Men Who Built America” will air Wednesdays, 9 p.m. starting March 13 on History.)

Darkseid Is!

Apokolips’ dark lord readies his Omega Beams.

Seasons Change

Status updates, et cetera

March 5. Surprisingly cool tonight, like we didn't have a preview of summer a few afternoons ago.
March 5. Hay, Community season four. Sana gumanda ka naman.
March 6. Must find time to watch the second seasons of Suits and Warehouse 13. Glad I got to finish the first season of Suits prior to Patrick Adams' arrival. Must finish season two of Game of Thrones, too. Stopped at episode four, I think. And it's been ages since I watched Supernatural; I stopped a couple of eps into season five.
March 6. Bus I rode this afternoon was showing an FPJ movie. Man, the violence and machismo. Anyway, I just had to smile when it showed a bar girl in a two-piece swimsuit, dancing to Culture Club's "The War Song." Not as funny as Leonardo Litton macho-dancing to Peabo Bryson's "A Whole New World," but it's pretty close.
March 6. Triceps developing nicely. Yay!
March 8. Been hearing Jeremiah Junior's voice during commercial breaks.
March 8. Still not digging Cyclops' Racer X look.
March 8. Happy International Women's Day. But... just one day?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Jim Sees the Future

Part of the cast of my next comic book, “Psychic Love.”

Chain reliever

“Django Unchained” brutally cuts a swath through pre-Civil War villainy, courtesy of the bounty-hunting, titular antihero played by Jamie Foxx. Another darkly funny film by Quentin Tarantino, “Django” is a gritty saga enlivened by a bunch of respectable actors and the filmmaker’s inimitable wit.
Freed by the silver-tongued bounty hunter King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz), the slave Django partners up with his rescuer, becoming a bounty hunter himself. Schultz and Django eventually go on a mission to free the latter’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave owned by the plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

“Django” is a simple, straightforward adventure for more mature audiences. It’s violent and disconcerting from the outset, its bloody confrontations and profanity-laced dialogue characterizing the era’s sordid and discomfiting realities. Django’s unlikely uprising and uncommon quest create an escapist and very cathartic fantasy for its viewers. The African-American underdog champion, riding free in a time of slavery, is an interesting contradiction, and the irony is milked creatively.

Foxx is “real” and accessible as Django, but Waltz is especially entertaining as the master of strategy and smooth talk, a character that manages to be endearing because of its favorable growth. And in contrast, there’s the hilarious manservant character played by Samuel Jackson, a seemingly harmless character that gradually becomes someone you love hating.

It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s an enjoyable ride, albeit a periodically gruesome one. It amusingly paints a picture of basic and universal desires, an audacious revenge-rescue tale made engaging by Tarantino’s unmistakable sense of humor.

“Django Unchained” will be in Philippine cinemas starting March 13.

Mind Over Mind

Status updatery.

Feb. 24. Saw a desk calendar of uber-fit actors at the gym. Jeez, Matteo, you're making it look impossible for the rest of us.
Feb. 27. Kulit ni Samuel Jackson sa Django Unchained.
Feb. 27. Pagod pagkagaling sa press con, pero tumapos ng article. Next time ka na, Jack the Giant Slayer.
Feb. 27. Second tape recorder almost dead. Time to switch to digital, I guess.
March 2. Silver Linings Playbook. Okey naman. Galing ng performances. I could relate a bit to De Niro's character; he has OCD issues.
March 2. After just letting my new (or kinda new) comic book story simmer in the background for a long time, inspiration suddenly hit and--BAM!--the missing details just manifested. I want to do this. It will happen. I moved heaven and earth before with that old project. This will happen.

Animated FAP-ing

1994. Our class won in the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) Awards’ animation/short film category. It was paper animation; we made a music video, “Saksi,” about animals that were witnesses to different social ills in the city. I was one of the animators, and I wrote the Tagalog lyrics, which were set to music and sung by my classmate Third Gonzales. 

Muted magic

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a color-drenched, effects-busy origin story, a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s original “Wizard of Oz” tale. The Sam Raimi-directed film is a campy, cartoony romp that gets silly and laughable from time to time, but it gives the beloved classic an acceptable backstory.
Oz (James Franco) is actually an unappreciated but smarmy circus magician, Oscar Diggs, who finds himself swept to another world, inhabited by both magical and familiar beings.

Believed to be the wizard prophesied to help its troubled inhabitants, Oscar meets friends and foes alike shortly after his arrival. He actually sees opportunity in pretending to be the destined savior and considers scamming his way to riches and other benefits. But a change of heart is inevitable, and he just might save the realm from the clutches of the sinister witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

“Oz” is, as previously mentioned, heavily enhanced by special effects. It’s meant to be seen in the 3D format, as the various debris, creatures, and energy bolts flying off the screen repeatedly remind you. The artificiality can get tiring, however, and the periodic overacting can take you out of it. Still, it may delight much younger audiences, although even they might have a difficult time liking the collection of digitally rendered and human sidekicks.

Scumming of age

“Stoker” isn’t a biopic about writer Bram Stoker, as one might think upon hearing the title. It’s a psychological thriller centering on teen outcast India Stoker, memorably played by “Alice in Wonderland’s” Mia Wasikowska.
Directed by Park Chan-wook and written by “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller, “Stoker” is dark and moody, a disturbing and visually appealing film empowered by amazing portrayals. It’s far from a comfortable sojourn, which is apt, as the tone consistently pervades into anticipated and unsettling moments.

Distant but oddly sensitive, India is coping with the sudden loss of her father (Dermot Mulroney), who perished in a mysterious accident. Appearing at the funeral is an uncle she’s never heard of, Charlie (Matthew Goode), who’s welcomed by her mother (Nicole Kidman) into their home. Suspicious of the stranger’s timing, India nevertheless continues with her life like nothing’s amiss.

“Stoker’s” focus on imagery is striking, although it doesn’t get it right immediately (the transition of scenes from the egg to India’s eye is iffy, mainly because of the angle). But there’s a painterly mindset that keeps things attractive, even when things get bloody.

And it’s a violent film. India’s coming-of-age story is both distressing and creepy, especially when the truth about Uncle Charlie’s presence is revealed. The film is somewhat reminiscent of the thriller “Joshua,” and is quite possibly the twisted reflection of “Hanna.” It’s chilling at times, numbing at certain points, and it leaves you queasy, and not surprisingly, a little stoked.