Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for July, 2007


July 26, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 9 Comments →

From the Fortean Times, a piece on nightmare death syndrome, locally known as bangungut.

“A man who goes to bed fit and healthy is heard to cry out in his sleep, and the next morning is found dead. The same scene is repeated again and again. The doctors cannot find any physical cause for the mysterious deaths, but people mutter darkly about dæmonic beings and deadly dreams. The 11 victims were all Filipino sailors. . .”

A friend of mine swears that twenty years ago he experienced something very similar to bangungut, except that he was awake at the time. He was on vacation in his hometown, and after a heavy lunch of rice, tuyo, and chorizo bilbao, he felt a terrible pain in his midsection. Now this is what generally happens when you eat an entire kaldero of rice with salty fish and lardy sausage, but this pain so extreme he couldn’t breathe. He had all the symptoms of bangungut, only he was conscious.

He was was rushed to the town hospital, where the doctors were ready to open him up to see what was wrong with him. Fortunately, his friend happened to be visiting the hospital at the time. This friend, a veterinarian, had a look at him and declared that he’d seen the same thing happen to horses. His advice was to get a test for serum amylase.

My friend the patient suggested this to his doctor, who said, “Hmm, where’d you hear that?” The patient was too embarrassed to say the advice had come from a vet, so he feebly claimed to have read it somewhere. The test for amylase was done, and my friend was found to be suffering from “reverse peristalsis of the pancreatic duct”. Something about his stomach being so full of rice swollen with salt that it was putting pressure on his pancreas. So they pumped out his stomach as if he’d OD’d, and he survived his waking bangungut.

Hoedown at the hoosegow

July 25, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 6 Comments →

How prisoners at the Cebu provincial jail pass the time.

My sister did her university “immersion” thing at the Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa. She was assigned to teach inmates at the medium-security facility. I said, “What do you teach them, their legal rights?” She said, “No, reading and writing.” After one session, she asked an inmate to write an example of a sentence. “Sentence ko?” he asked. She said, “Alright.” So he wrote: “Ang sentensya ko ay murder.” (I was sentenced to jail for murder.)

On the last day of the program, the inmates prepared a variety show for the volunteers. Many prison dance groups performed, including one called “Dangerous Moves”. Philippine prisons: like West Side Story, but overpopulated.

Fade-in. Viewer running amok.

July 24, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 3 Comments →

1. Almost every time I go to a Cinemalaya screening, I have this conversation with the CCP ushers.

Usher: (Checking my media pass) I have to inform you that holders of media passes are on standby.

Me: But those rows are empty.

Usher: Alright, you may come in now.

After a few repetitions of this routine, I decided on a silent movie approach.

Usher: I have to inform you that holders of media passes are on standby.

Me: (Gesturing dramatically at rows of empty seats, while eyebrows collide with scalp.)

Usher: Alright, you may come in now.

2. Ray Gibraltar’s When Timawa Meets Delgado is enjoyably bizarre and inventive (but not in competition). It explains why so many Pinoys are taking up nursing as a second course, but has a lot more on its mind. The hilarious rendition of a trilingual poem (Ilonggo, English, and Baklese) by J.I.E. Teodoro had the audience crawling on the aisles. Timawa asks, If overseas Filipino workers are the new heroes, what do you call the people who stay and work here? Martyrs?

3. There should be a legal limit to the number of fade-ins and fade-outs in a single movie. You don’t just use them because you can’t figure out a proper transition. That means you, Ligaw-Liham (ligaw as in lost, not courtship), an interminable movie based on the premise that in the early 1970s, the age of snail mail, a village post office can shut down for months and no one will notice. Karylle’s character is reduced to staring anxiously into the distance, waiting for the postman all day. Apparently there is nothing else to do in the village. When a letter does arrive, she reads it while lolling in a field, strolling in a meadow, standing on a moving freight train with the wind in her hair. As my friend noted: “Ganyan din ako kung magbasa ng sulat.” (Yes, that’s exactly how I read letters.)


July 23, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 1 Comment →

Today I am a happy moviegoer. I saw Endo, a story of modern love set in the world of temp labor. (Endo is not the Japanese author. It is short for “end of contract”. Temporary staff at fast-food restaurants, department stores, and supermarkets are employed for only three or four-month periods; this way their employers avoid giving them benefits such as social security and medical care.) Leo (Jason Abalos) is a good-looking, rather aimless young man who shuttles from one McJob to another; he doesn’t have the time or inclination to think about what he wants out of life. He just lets things happen to him—in his relationships, it’s the girls who take the lead. Then he meets Tanya (Ina Feleo), a fellow temp who has plans and dreams, and is not afraid to pursue them. Essentially it’s the story of a boy who realizes that he’s been a passive minor character in his own life, and must step up to be the lead actor.

Sure it doesn’t sound like a very ambitious premise for a movie, but it’s what filmmakers do with their premise that makes a movie fly. Endo flies because everything about it feels real. Its characters are the “invisible” people—the waiter who brings your coffee, the hotel staff who changes the towels, the salesgirl who gets the shoes in your size. The tables are turned; you eavesdrop on them. Writer-director Jade Castro nails his characters and their milieu. He has an ear for the nuances of everyday speech, and his cast tosses off the dialogue with excellent timing. The leads are delightful: you can identify each emotion as it flits across Jason Abalos’ face, and Ina Feleo manages to be tough and vulnerable, plain and beautiful at the same time. She can take a hackneyed line and make it sound fresh. There’s a scene that would normally make me run screaming out of the theatre, but these two make it work. Great work by the supporting cast, particularly the opportunistic ex-girlfriend and the younger brother. Jade Castro directs with intelligence and restraint: there are many things left unsaid, but we get them loud and clear.

Screenings of Endo at Cinemalaya at CCP: 24 July at 6.15pm, 25 July at 9pm, 26 July at 12.45pm, 27 July at 12.45pm, and 28 July at 9pm. (There are no screenings today, Monday.) For full screening schedules, visit the Cinemalaya site.

Crests, not troughs

July 22, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 3 Comments →

Auraeus Solito has three strengths as a filmmaker. One, he draws fine performances from his actors, even those who had no previous acting experience. Two, he can tell a story visually, unlike many Pinoy filmmakers whose movies look like radio drama serials. Three, he knows his strong points, so his confidence is evident even in scenes that might seem problematic. These strengths are on display in his third feature film, Pisay, the intertwined stories of six scholars at the Philippine Science High School in the ’80s. The screenplay is unwieldy—there must be a way to Robert Altman this structure so characters don’t just fall off the margins, the student body seems to consist of 20 kids, and an important character suddenly appears in the last 10 minutes, but Pisay has enough warmth and charm to float over these open manholes. Sure it’s schmaltzy, but high school IS schmaltzy: it’s the time when everything seems to be a matter of life and death, and you act accordingly.

True, I went to Pisay, so the movie had me when the physics teacher opened her mouth (Aiiieee, it’s Miss Basas!). Just to be sure, I polled some viewers who had not gone to PSHS, and they liked it too. Still, there is a moment in the movie that you have to be from Pisay to really get: when Matteo (my favorite actor in a terrific bunch) hears terrible news, his reaction is not horror or sadness, but relief.

Pisay screenings at Cinemalaya at CCP: 22 July at 9pm, 24 July at 9pm, 25 July at 9pm, 26 July at 6.15pm, 27 July at 10am, and 28 July at 3.30pm. For complete screening schedules, venues, and other information, visit the Cinemalaya website. Today, Sunday, I’m watching Endo by Jade Castro, When Timawa Meets Delgado by Ray Gibraltar, and Tukso by Dennis Marasigan.

She who cannot be stopped by an embargo

July 20, 2007 By: jessicazafra Category: twisted by jessica zafra 3 Comments →

You know that part in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep orders her assistant to get a copy of the next, as-yet unpublished Harry Potter book? It’s considered an impossible task, but the assistant manages to snag a copy through a journalist who knows the book designer. Well the new Potter won’t be out until tomorrow, the 21st, but despite the famed embargo the New York Times managed to acquire a copy from a bookstore, and Michiko Kakutani’s review appeared—gasp!—three days before the release date. It’s a positive review, and according to someone who’s actually read the books, contains no spoilers, but the book’s publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, are miffed. If you want a career in publishing, do you side with America’s most powerful book critic, or the billionaire British author? “Wait for Oprah’s opinion” is not an answer.