Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Year That Was, Apostrophe Fourteen

Man, where did the time go? The year zoomed by so fast. Lots of things to be grateful for, and a few things I’d rather forget. But there are lessons galore. It was a year that often reminded me of my mortality. But it was also a year for renewed creativity. Happy 2015, friends. May the new year be a more satisfying, beneficial and more prosperous one for all of us, in all the ways that matter. 

Comfort and Joy, 2014

This year's Christmas drawings:

X-Men Holiday. From the team's Christmas party in 1985.

Deadpool Saves Xmas. The Merc With a Mouth feels the holiday spirit.

Hulky Holidays. Hulk, his cousin She-Hulk, son Skaar, daughter Llyra, ex-wife Red She-Hulk, ex-dad-in-law Red Hulk, and sidekick A-Bomb.

Underneath the Mistletoe. Anole and Cullen Bloodstone, a match made in Marvel Limbo. (Both survived ordeals in dark dimensions.)

Star of Wonder. Donna Troy, a.k.a. the former Wonder Girl, amid stars and snow.

Christmas Lights. Dazzler and the Glow Girls (luminous heroines Aurora, Dagger and Captain Marvel) perform at a superhero party in 1987.

Xmas Miracle. Magneto and his kids Scarlet Witch, Polaris and Quicksilver ditch the dysfunction and hug it out.

Gotham Winter. Young Bruce and Selina Kyle. Free-falling.

Pop goes Taylor Swift's world

(Dec. 28, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Taylor Swift transitions to a full-fledged pop princess with “1989,” a taut and playful offering that bustles with creative energy, while still highlighting her inimitable talent for writing searing confessions.

It comes as no surprise that she’s fully exploring pop, given that her previous two albums had very few country-flavored songs—it was becoming clear she wanted to experiment with other sounds. She confirms this “need” in the album’s foreword.

The title is the year of the singer-songwriter’s birth; she also reveals in those notes that music from the decade interested her. About half of the resulting album does sound like it was inspired by synth-pop classics from the era, but the rest have either a 1990s vibe to them or a melding of throwback touches—but ultimately, Swift’s hooks are memorable, her songs audibly diverse and given a contemporary edge.

She opens with the strange but peppy tourism anthem “Welcome to New York,” an awestruck perspective. Not as odd, she makes fun of misconceptions and rumors with “Blank Space,” summing up how she feels about getting scrutinized, specifically on her failed romances.

Just as self-aware is the mega-hit “Shake It Off,” which tells off haters—she’s had tons of them, who judge her for her boy problems and her vocal range, among other things.

“1989” has important songwriting collaborations: Swift teams up with fun.’s Jack Antonoff on the ethereal pop-rock track “Out of the Woods”; she crafts with Imogen Heap the soft, gliding ballad “Clean”; there’s also OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder on the aforementioned “New York” and “I Know Places.”

As with her older material, the lyrics are primarily detailed accounts about exes; “Out of the Woods” presumably speaks about a vehicular mishap that she and an ex, One Direction member Harry Styles, figured in. While she pours her soul out about the incident, she also sings of the guy’s vulnerable side during the ordeal: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon?/20 stitches in the hospital room/when you started crying, baby, I did too.”

Meanwhile, “Bad Blood,” some listeners suggest, alludes to Swift’s alleged feud with fellow star Katy Perry.
Not that every song refers to someone she’s had pen-worthy encounters with. The upbeat “New Romantics” is similarly cathartic, an ode to singlehood that emphasizes, “The best people in life are free.”

Swift gets to be a little vain in the CD version, as it contains “Polaroids” of her (actually sheets of glossy paper made to look like them) posing rather playfully, with short, clever captions (her song lyrics ) scrawled on them.

If anything keeps “1989” from being perfect, it’s the set of behind-the-scenes tracks that details her songwriting process. It’s interesting to hear her talk about the origins of a few songs, but they could easily have been posted online—they do disrupt the otherwise energetic flow of the finished, polished music.

As an album, “1989” is an invaluable addition to her already impressive discography. Swift, now fully confident and showing a keen business acumen, establishes herself as a force to reckon with anew, coming up with universal things to say, no matter how specific she gets with her melodic tell-alls.

LNA: SGRR, a Decade Later

My first “child,” "Lexy, Nance & Argus: Sex, Gods, Rock & Roll," is now 10 years old. It was self-published; John Toledo helped me get the thing printed. It's a compilation of my old strips published by Pulp, and 50 pages of unseen material. Benedict Bartolome helped deliver the first batch on Dec. 23, 2004, to Comic Quest Megamall (and other branches, eventually). I’m thankful to all the people who talked about it and glowingly reviewed it, and sold it in their stores.

A decade later, I’m finally doing the spinoff, "Psychic Love," the Sabrina to Lexy’s Archie, if you will. I realized, long ago, that I can only do comics every few years, as it depends heavily on free time and other factors. So I hope to make ‘em count.

One Night in Bangkok

Was sent to Thailand to attend a Cinemax junket.

My hotel room in Bangkok last Dec. 17. I covered the other bed with my stuff so it wouldn't be creepy at night.

Rockin' around the Christmas tree. Not really. Just needed to have my pic taken near the dazzling tree at the Hyatt Erawan lobby. Preparing for the Strike Back set visit.

Thingamajiggery, One

Bought myself early Xmas gifts: New Teen Titans Omnibus Vols. 1 and 2. Thanks, Danry! Ambigat!
Walang kamatayang prutas. Feels great to fit into old clothes again, though.‪#‎surviving

Guyito wants to open the box of fruits that Stratworks sent me. (Thanks, Mark and company.)

"To me, my X-Men! We're leaving the 616 Universe!"
Blue and Gold teams. Just got a Jean Grey. Rogue is a decade old; her left leg broke and she's actually one-legged in this pic. And Gambit is wearing Thomas Jane-Punisher's coat because his brown coat's paint broke into tiny flakes.

Komiks! Finally bought these. National Bookstore.

Five seconds before Star-Lord's demise.
♪♪ "Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier..."♫

Veggie Chips! Yummy. Like Pringles, but less salty. And if it is to be believed, healthy. Nice package; it's laid out like a neswpaper, with articles all over. Thanks, Sis!

Cinemax series films in Bangkok

(Dec. 22, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Bangkok—The fourth and final season of the Cinemax action series “Strike Back” recently wrapped up filming for the last time in Bangkok, Thailand.

Southeast Asian publications, including the Inquirer, were invited to visit two sets on the last shooting day of the latest season, which will air in 2015.

The first set was at the Makkasan Station, also known as Bangkok’s City Air Terminal. The other location was within the red-light district Soi Cowboy.

Costars Sullivan Stapleton of “300: Rise of an Empire” and Philip Winchester of “Camelot” and “Fringe” spoke with reporters between takes.

Other actors who granted interviews were series regular Michelle Lukes and new cast members Christian Antidormi (“Spartacus: War of the Damned”) and Paul Swain, a former soldier injured in Afghanistan.

The new season will also feature actress-martial artist Michelle Yeoh and “Highlander” actor Adrian Paul.

The show previously filmed in Europe for the same season. Australian actor Stapleton plays a Delta Force operative, Damian Scott, while the British-American Winchester plays Sgt. Michael Stonebridge.

“Strike Back’s” final season will have 10 episodes. The airing dates will be announced in 2015.

No mess: Deliciously devilish ‘Murder’

(Dec. 14, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

A legal procedural, murder mystery and education drama series in one, “How to Get Away With Murder” cleverly interlocks these elements without resulting in a messy hodge-podge.

Starring Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, a lawyer and criminal law professor, the show starts with a bang—in the debut episode, some college students are arguing over a dead person, while each and every player in the drama is introduced via flashbacks.

Keating teaches her students how to defend their clients in the courtroom and win—hence, get away with murder.

It’s not a whodunit; it’s clear from the get-go that her top students are the ones arguing over the disposal of that aforementioned body. But the circumstances that lead to that incident months later unravel in each episode, connecting with the characters’ fleshed-out lives and/or shenanigans.

Viola Davis is, in a word, fantastic. Annalise brooks no overbearing or unnecessary posturing from others, at least most of the time. The show centers on truths, so there are mind games, duplicities and secrets galore.

The esteemed thespian, now Golden Globe-nominated for the role, is remarkable in layering the complex Annalise. She is at once a believable and an unflinching person who demands only the best from others, a fighter who is also vulnerable and deglamorized as a wife wanting to bear children.

While relatively not as complicated, her mentee-assistant characters are still rich, and are explored accordingly. There’s the wide-eyed idealist Wes (Alfred Enoch); the entitled rich girl Michaela (Aja Naomi King); the quiet but cunning Laurel (Karla Souza); the sneaky-smart gay guy Connor (Jack Falahee), and the frat boy jock, Asher (Matt McGorry).

Add to that mix a drug-dealing bartender, Wes’ neighbor Rebecca (Katie Findlay) who knows details about a missing student, and the dynamics are simply combustible.

There are no saints here; by the ninth episode, the big questions are finally answered, which reestablishes the characters in a major way—sort of in a “Desperate Housewives” manner, back when that old show was good, but somewhat crossed with “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” But it is definitely its own show; there is cohesion and a mindful consistency. Darkly humorous, deliciously devilish, racy and edgy—the show gets away with a lot of things, and it deserves to.

(“How to Get Away With Murder” airs 7:20 p.m., Saturdays on Sony Channel.)

Evolutionary Warp

First Year, Fine Arts-Advertising. Emo kid, before the term was coined.

Not sure if I.T. guy or Mormon preacher last Halloween. This has a bespectacled variant.
Unshaved for nearly a month, caused by something resembling a depression. (But I'm all better now, hey.)

Viral sensation Grumpy Cat costars with young actress

(Dec 19, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Young American-Canadian star Megan Charpentier is thrilled to star with viral sensation Grumpy Cat, the perennially “frowning” feline with over 7 million Facebook fans to date, in Lifetime’s live-action special, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.”

“I haven’t worked with a lot of animals before, but with Grumpy Cat and all the animals on the set, it was the coolest thing ever,” the 13-year-old said in a phone interview. “The trainers were great,” she added.

Aside from hanging out with Grumpy, Megan said, she enjoyed the company of a “cute” bird and puppy. “I definitely had a bond with all the animals,” she said.

Grumpy, a mixed-breed female cat whose photo became a meme and has been captioned countless times since 2012, is Tardar Sauce in real life. She is voiced in the movie by “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza.

Megan recounted, “They [recorded] Aubrey’s voice after filming the movie. The director’s wife read the lines, then they edited her voice out and put Aubrey’s in.”

Of filming “Grumpy Cat,” Megan said, “All the scenes were so much fun, even if I had to cry my eyes out. One of the most fun parts was getting to drive the Camaro; [that] was awesome. And there was this little buggy that I also got to drive for real!”

Megan previously appeared in such high-profile films as “Resident Evil: Retribution,” “Red Riding Hood” and “Mama.” She had roles in TV shows “Supernatural,” “Fringe” and “Psych,” among others.
Megan sees herself working as an actor for many years: “So far, I’m happy with what I’m doing. I hope to [do it for] a really long time.”

Her career goals: “I definitely want to work with some of my favorite actors and actresses and directors. I want to show young girls that, even though we’re younger and people think we’re not capable of doing anything, we can! As an actor, I’d really like to play more (varied) roles, meet new people and travel the world!”

(“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” airs Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. on Lifetime.)

US actor says he’ll miss ‘intellectually fun’ TV role

(Dec. 12, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“I’ll miss so much about Neal; it’s impossible to boil it down to one trait,” disclosed American actor Matt Bomer of his character from the TV series “White Collar,” which is down to its last few episodes.

In a recent e-mail interview, he acknowledged fans who have supported the show since 2009. “They are a steadfast, incredible group of people who have blown my mind with their kindness and generosity.”

The openly gay Bomer, 37, was in TV shows “Tru Calling,” “Chuck” and “Guiding Light” before landing the “White Collar” gig. He plays con artist Neal Caffrey, who helps the FBI in nabbing white collar criminals. The sixth/final season airs on Jack City, Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; the series finale airs Dec. 19.

The actor played a stripper in the Steven Soderbergh film “Magic Mike” in 2012 and was Emmy-nominated (outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or movie) for his closeted reporter character in the Ryan Murphy-directed “The Normal Heart.” He recently appeared in an episode of Murphy’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

How would you describe your character’s growth in “White Collar,” and how is this final season adding to that?
I feel in many ways that Neal’s story in Season 6 is the most true to his dual nature. He’s his most authentic self, and his most duplicitous self. You don’t know which cards he’s playing, and which ones he’s holding back. That’s what has always been so interesting to me about getting to play a con artist.

Since this is the longest you’ve played one character, what’s the most important thing that you will miss?
It was just a really fun role in so many ways—intellectually, emotionally, sartorially. I’ll definitely miss walks and talks with (actor) Tim Dekay in New York City, and laughing with (actor) Willi
e Garson between takes as well. In five years… I’ll probably have a better answer.

How has the show helped you in other acting projects?
This show has helped me in a multitude of ways. But mostly for me it was an education—I learned a lot about working in front of the camera, and from watching the actors around me. I owe a great deal to the creator, Jeff Eastin, who took a risk and gave me the job.

Who are your acting heroes?
Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Alain Delon, Robert Shaw, Tom Hanks, Peter Sellers, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Foster… the list goes on and on.

Anything scary about your “American Horror Story” experience?
I didn’t find it terribly scary. I actually had a great time there. I wasn’t on set for long, but I actually felt quite at home at the freak show. “American Horror Story” is a mix of so many things that fascinate me—it’s like Stephen King as interpreted by Tennessee Williams.

What other projects are you currently pursuing?
I’m currently trying to get a Montgomery Clift biopic off the ground—and that’s going really well so far. I never really know what interests me until I see it. I’d like to take a little time off to read something other than a script, see my family, visit some art galleries, that sort of thing, to refuel the tank. I know that I’d like to write and produce as well.


Status updates, compiled.

Nov. 19. Fighting fate, for real this time. ‪#‎dietchange
Nov. 25. Seventh day of skipping fried/fast food, alcohol, soft drinks, etc. Been subsisting on healthy stuff. The cravings, they're hard to ignore sometimes. But so far, I am prevailing. ‪#‎newdiet ‪#‎survivalmode
Dec. 20. One month of skipping KFC--but I still get their garden salad (I'm probably one of the few who buys that from the nearby branch)--and thankfully, I don't miss fried chicken that much. At the flights to and from Bangkok, I was given a cup of ice cream each, but both times, I only ate about a teaspoon, content with just tasting it a bit.
A month ago, I reeled from the doctor's diagnosis: I'm in danger of either a heart attack or stroke--I'd be a "dead man walking" if I didn't change. My bad cholesterol was off the charts; my liver and uric acid were similarly problematic. So it was goodbye, fast food, seafood, alcohol, coffee, nuts, etc. I dreaded losing chances to hang out with friends; we only seem to get together and converse over food and drinks--lots of 'em!--these days. And I have to take some meds to complement the new diet.
I do feel better now. The struggle continues. I need to be healthier, stronger. I will have my cheat days, eventually.
Dec. 27. Got my new blood chem results. Cholesterol is back to normal! Uric acid level's actually below normal by a few points. Will have to ask the doctor about which meds I can stop taking. But yeah, will continue this healthier diet. I fit into more clothes now. I do feel lighter and am more mobile. ‪#‎yay

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Natalie Merchant, ex-Maniac, back

(Dec. 4, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Natalie Merchant’s recently released self-titled album (under Nonesuch Records) shows that the ex-10,000 Maniacs vocalist-lyricist has lost none of her introspection or penchant for scathing commentary, over a decade since she wrote all-original material.

The US artist’s last album under Elektra, “Motherland,” was released in 2001, and had songs she penned. She went indie in 2003, interpreting old folk songs via the album “The House Carpenter’s Daughter.” Later, she put mostly obscure nursery rhymes to music for the double album “Leave Your Sleep” in 2010.

It’s a welcome return; this year, her ’90s pop-rock contemporaries Sarah McLachlan, Sinead O’Connor and Tori Amos also released new, worthwhile material. The mini-revival of the Lilith Fair-era’s empowered, expressive songstresses couldn’t have come at a better time for those who’ve been missing their distinct artistry in the current soundscape.

“Natalie Merchant,” an 11-track album showcasing the now 51-year-old singer-songwriter’s warm vocals and insightful, if often dour, lyrics, is worth the wait—it’s got surprises for old Merchant fans and just might give new listeners a moody, heady experience.

“Giving Up Everything” is a string-accompanied ballad that speaks of surrendering “the master plan, the scheming.”

The upbeat, Gospel-tinged “Go Down, Moses,” meanwhile, is about a lonely survivor of Hurricane “Katrina.”

Merchant’s peppy beats belie heavy imagery as well in “It’s A-Comin’,” which enumerates “wild fires, dying lakes … apocalypse in store” as things to come, like a more musically mellow “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

But she sheds her doom-prophetess persona in “Lulu,” a sweet, light recounting of silent film actress Louise Brooks’ life.

One of the more universal songs, “Ladybird,” is about failing relationships. She croons: “You know the sweetest wine/it’s a witches’ brew/pours like honey down and burns a hole in you.”

Her way with words is intact, yes, and even pointedly demonizes a certain ex-US president in the thinly veiled “Texas”: “Papa says I’m a golden child/and the whole world’s gonna fall at my feet.”

“Natalie Merchant” is mature and melodic, if oft-morose. But that’s to be expected; Merchant was similarly serious—mostly!—in her 1995 debut “Tigerlily,” but became extra-playful in 1998’s “Ophelia.” Musically, this album feels and sounds a bit like the latter and “Leave Your Sleep,” but with heavier, more uncompromising lyrics.

Now unabashedly sporting gray hair, the ex-Maniac sings with renewed vigor and enchants with gimmick-free, brave and heartfelt music.

Blind weddings in new reality series

(Dec. 1, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“The initial challenge was arranging blind marriages,” said Dr. Logan Levkoff, one of the behavior experts in the reality series “Married at First Sight,” in a phone interview. “These people had never met, so [we took] on this huge intellectual and emotional challenge.”

Each episode shows two strangers, who were screened and analyzed by four experts—a therapist, anthropologist, clinical psychologist and spiritual adviser. The participants were then fashioned into a perfect match. They got married and were followed around to see if they truly are compatible.

Levkoff, a sexuality and relationship expert, said she and her team had difficulty creating ideal couples.
She noted, “It was certainly an overwhelming process. What I loved about this experiment was that there were four of us looking at individuals through different lenses.”

Levkoff, also one of the show’s narrators, met up with the couples and newlyweds throughout the series: “I was responsible for interviewing them, and giving them lots of paperwork, scales and questionnaires. I got to be in other people’s lives, but I also got to speak to the audience as an expert,” she said.

Levkoff, who has written about sex and sexuality for the Huffington Post website, revealed problems that she encountered both on and off the show.

“I get a sense of who people are as sexual beings and what their values are, and whether I think they’ll be intellectually compatible with respect to sex, but can I know for certain… when they meet, if they’ll have instant sexual chemistry? No, I can’t,” she said.

“But [on the show] I got to ask the right questions, to see if our couples were willing to give a relationship like that a shot. Did they believe attraction could grow over time? Did anyone just expect there to be a physical connection and that’s it? In life, what I find most… frustrating is that we get so much misinformation about sex and sexuality and what it means to be a man or a woman, that none of us really feel comfortable speaking up for ourselves and being who we are!”However, she added, viewers can find relatable situations from this experiment.

“Everyone [will] see something of themselves in the stories that unfold. The commentary from viewers, the way they discuss what’s going on with a couple, and how they take that information and work it into their own relationships have been the most wonderful, surprising benefits of this show. There is a lot of take-home values.”

(“Married at First Sight” airs Wednesday to Friday, 10 p.m. on Lifetime.)

'Hunger' becomes war--and all bets are off

(Nov. 28, PDI Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

After the harrowing events of last year’s “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the latest sequel “Mockingjay–Part 1” depicts the serious escalation of hostilities between the rebel forces of Panem and the fascist government led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

A full-fledged war movie, “Mockingjay” is the penultimate installment in the series of films about a despotic rule that forces Tributes—young representatives of various “districts”—to slug it out to the death.

An unexpected heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the symbol of hope to the masses, which are subjugated by Snow’s forces and distracted with annual “Hunger Games,” a violent bread-and-circuses contest that Katniss wins in the first film.

Snatched by rebel forces in the last cliffhanger, the teen archer adjusts to the role of the Mockingjay, a freedom-fighting symbol that rallies the oppressed, struggling in the remaining districts.
From the get-go, “Mockingjay” is slightly darker than the first two films. Instead of children and teens pitted against each other in a forest arena, there are open executions of rebellious prisoners by government forces—among other atrocities—that are similarly televised.

Lawrence is nothing short of fantastic in this one; Katniss is the epitome of strength, empathy and desperation, not necessarily in that order. Not that she wasn’t before; she’s just doubly so now. Her desire to rescue her fighting companion Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from the clutches of the enemy is nigh-tangible.

“Mockingjay” is made aptly textured by acting from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, remarkably witty as Plutarch, whose publicity-honed mind contributes immensely to the rebels’ propaganda videos.

The film also stars Sam Claflin (as the considerably less-cocky Finnick this time), Elizabeth Banks (the considerably less-glamorous Effie), Julianne Moore (the astute rebel leader President Coin), Natalie Dormer (the shrewd Cressida) and Liam Hemsworth (Katniss’ dear friend and fellow rebel Gale).

Not surprisingly, the series has become an inspiration for real-life protests; “Mockingjay,” like “V for Vendetta,” strikes a chord with the disenfranchised and persecuted.

Depictions of political and personal struggles neatly intersperse, evoking all possible emotions—there’s even well-placed, well-timed humor, although briefly.

One can’t help but look forward to similarly heavy, intense conflicts in the climactic installment, to be released next year.

“Hunger” has inexorably turned to war, after all, and all bets are off.