Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Going Clear: How to make tax-free billions in the religion business

September 04, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Money, Television

L. Ron Hubbard was a prolific science-fiction writer of the 1940s and 50s who wanted more than the dollar per word he was paid for his pulp novels. It occurred to him that the fastest way to gain fame, fortune and power was to start his own religion. This was well within the skill set of a man who’d published over a thousand novels about space aliens with superpowers (Anyone see Battlefield: Earth?). Hubbard wrote a book called Dianetics, which became the founding text of Scientology.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is the fascinating HBO documentary about the religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard. Writer-director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) looks into the personal history of the founding father, who styled himself “Commodore” because he had served in the navy during World War II (and was relieved of his command when he mistakenly shelled Mexico). Gibney traces the rise of the cult, talks to high-profile apostates such as filmmaker Paul Haggis (Crash) and high-ranking ex-members of the cult, and also answers the question, “Why did Tom Cruise suddenly divorce Nicole Kidman?” One of the documentary’s producers is Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. Wright mentions his fascination with religion, why people choose to believe what they believe, and their crushing certainty that eliminates all doubt.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Chris Evans’s directorial debut is That Thing Called Before Sunrise

September 04, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Re-lay-shun-ships

The reviews of Chris Evans’s directorial debut Before We Go have been respectful but not enthusiastic. This did not stop us from watching it. Chris Evans also stars in it, so we know that even if it turns out to be terrible, we still have Chris Evans to look at.

The good news is that Before We Go is not terrible, the bad news is that it has no reason to exist (other than the aforementioned excuse to look at its director). Chris Evans has said in the past that he wants to quit playing Captain America: Please don’t. Who else can play the squarest most strait-laced man alive and make him hot? In fact Before We Go, despite its general lack of vavavoom, actually makes Chris Evans even more adorable to us because he looks like that but he wants to be Woody Allen.

Darling, you’re not Woody Allen. We are 200 times more Woody Allen than you are, and we haven’t even married some adopted orphans. We’ll write you a Woody Allen movie and we won’t even charge you, although we know that you are too lovely not to pay for it.

Before We Go is essentially That Thing Called Before Sunrise. It will appeal to people who think they are hopeless romantics and like to talk about themselves a lot. Two super-attractive strangers meet in Grand Central Station and end up spending five or six hours together walking the streets of New York City, but they are such obviously superior beings that no one tries to mug them, flash them or sell them drugs. Fine, someone tries to sell Chris Evans a Prada bag in Chinatown, but it’s—gasp—a real Prada bag. They’re such magical creatures that they even find a working payphone.

Chris Evans plays an aspiring jazz trumpeter who busks in the train station, and you know it’s a movie because people are not running to the nearest ATM and emptying their bank accounts into his instrument case. The movie is so basic it makes us feel like Quentin Tarantino in comparison. Chris Evans, you are so wonderful that you have convinced us that we might have a future in directing, and you didn’t even have to take your shirt off once. We can’t wait to see Captain America: Civil War. You’re a superhero. Accept your destiny.

Before We Go is showing at Ayala Mall Cinemas.

The Movies of My Youth by Italo Calvino

September 03, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies


There were years when I went to the movies almost every day, sometimes even twice a day, and they were the years between 1936 and the war, around the time of my adolescence. Those were years in which cinema was my world. It’s been said many times before that cinema is a form of escape, it’s a stock phrase intended to be a condemnation, and cinema certainly served that purpose for me back then. It satisfied a need for disorientation, for shifting my attention to another place, and I believe it’s a need that corresponds to a primary function of integration in the world, an essential phase in any kind of development. Of course there are other more substantial and personal ways of creating a different space for yourself: cinema was the easiest method and it was within reach, but it was also the one that instantly carried me farthest away.

Read it at the New York Review of Books.

We still watch movies almost every day, but only once or twice a week at the cinema.

Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon: Define “Filipino”

September 02, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies


Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (This Is How We Were, How Are You Now) is a film that constantly asks, “What is a Filipino?” but is so vibrant and droll that it never feels like the essay section of a dreaded social studies exam. It does not have the grinding sense of seriousness and self-importance that makes the typical historical film a chore to watch. The average historical film tries to guilt us into liking it, as if it were our patriotic duty to suffer through the hero’s tribulations and stifle the urge to shout, “Patayin ninyo na yan para makauwi na kami!” (Kill him now so we can go home!) Writer-director Eddie Romero puts his case with such a light touch, keeps us so amused that before we know it, we have pondered the question.

Made in 1976 and now showing at Power Plant Cinema in a digital restoration by the ABS-CBN Archives and Central Digital Lab, Ganito Kami Noon reminds us of the time when the Metro Manila Film Festival actually tried to combine artistic ambition with box-office appeal. In its skilful fusion of comedy, drama, and operetta, its casual, almost throwaway social commentary, and its depiction of life as theatre (complete with a traveling troupe), it also reminds us of the influence of Fellini on Filipino cinema in the 70s. Romero, who cut his teeth on American B-movies, was particularly interested in Philippine history—he made the epic Aguila, in which history transpires through the eyes of Fernando Poe, Jr., and Kamakalawa, set in the mythical pre-colonial past.

Read our column at

Make your drafts look like illuminated books.

September 01, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Notebooks, Sponsored


We’ve started writing a book-length memoir of our feline companions.


We want it to be different from the two columns we write every week, so we’re not using our trusty Moleskines. For this project, we got these faux-antique notebooks by Paperblanks. The two above are reproductions of a 1688 binding adorned a la fanfare, a hand-tooled pattern edged in gilt.


There are metal clasps holding the books shut.



And look at the spines. They’re ready for the library.

This way if the book turns out blah, the manuscript will still be gorgeous.

Paperblanks are available at National Bookstores.

Oliver Sacks now investigating the afterlife if there is one.

August 31, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Science

Oliver Sacks. Photograph: Adam Scourfield/BBC/AP Photo/AP

Goodbye, Dr. Sacks. You were one of the best friends that nerds obsessed with thinking and consciousness ever had. Fortunately for us we can continue our conversation with you every time we read your books. (As many books as he wrote, there were other manuscripts that he never got around to publishing, as mentioned in his autobiography On The Move.)

Blast, too many obituaries this month.