Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for May, 2009

Come back, James Cameron, come baaaaack

May 26, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 3 Comments →

Terminator Salvation might be an almost adequate action movie…if Terminator and T2 never existed. But if the first two never existed, Terminator Salvation would have no reason to exist.

Like 80 percent of all Hollywood products.

For Terminator Salvation to have a whiff of a chance, the hack McG would have to go back to the 1940s and 50s to kill the parents of James Cameron, Linda Hamilton and the Governator and prevent the classics being made.

Terminator is a series that turns on the difference between men and machines. The main irony of this installment is that it looks and feels like it was made by machines.

Instead of narrative tension it offers constant explosions to prevent the viewer from composing a coherent thought. Instead of cinematography it gives you two hours of desaturated blues and grays. Instead of a soul it sells selling.

Christian Bale looks grumpy and disillusioned from saving the world. I guess if you’re told from early childhood that you are the messiah, you will grow up to be insufferable. (All things considered, Jesus was very well-adjusted.)

What I miss the most, even more than Ahnold’s catchphrases, is Linda Hamilton’s one-handed pump action shotgun.

Visit from the Cleaning Demon

May 26, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest, Projects 103 Comments →

Once a year the Cleaning Demon appears in my apartment and tempts me with the idea that I can transform my hovel into a neat, well-organized, color-coordinated space. My weekend passed in a seizure of house cleaning.

First I organized my cables, wires, chargers and adaptors drawer. I envy my gay friends whose gadgets are kept out of sight in drawers. Problem: I don’t have a drawer for my cables, etc. (Why do gay people have so much more closet and drawer space than the rest of us?) So I went to the P88 Japan home store and got a plastic box to store my cables in. (Fortunately the Cleaning Demon was not accompanied by the Free-Spending Demon.)


It’s clear plastic so I can see what’s in it. This should foil my cat Saffy’s attempts to chew up USB cables, etc, at least until she figures out how to open the box.

Then came the real challenge: I decided to catalogue all my books and cut my library down to 1,000 volumes. That’s the subject of my next column. 48 hours later I am exhausted but smug. The culled volumes will go to public libraries; my friend the BLB kindly offered to transport them. I kept some books to give away to readers.

Free books

Want a free book from this basket? You have to be able to claim it in Makati in the next two weeks, or have someone who can claim the book for you. Post a Comment under this entry, name three books you’ve enjoyed recently, and we’ll use our psychic powers to figure out which book in this basket you might like. No, you can’t choose for yourself, and if you do you’re not getting one. Stay tuned for the matches.

Update: At this point there are more entries than books to give away, so some of you (a dozen or so) will get email later this week telling you how to claim your book. If you don’t get a book this time around, it means there’s no book that matches your reading list or there are not enough books, but you’ll still be on file for the next round.

P.S. If your pet won a prize in our Pets Make Us Human contest and you have not claimed it yet, could you drop us a line in Comments below to let us know you’re still interested?


May 25, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Current Events 4 Comments →

Malacañang has ordered a review of the tax on imported books after various groups—including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco)—expressed concern over the directive’s implications on education standards and access to knowledge in the country.

Palace revisits ‘book blockade’ after drawing flak from UN, in the Business Mirror today.

The Brownest Bunny

May 25, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 4 Comments →

Brillante Mendoza has won the Best Director prize for his excoriated film Kinatay at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Michael Haneke, excoriated for Funny Games, took the Palme d’Or for The White Ribbon.

Big question: Will there be a Malacanang reception for the director of a ‘distasteful’ movie about police corruption, brutality, and torture?

Ha! I can hear the gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair and rending of garments as people line up to baiser Dante’s derriere. This is too much fun.

Emotional Weather Report
by Jessica Zafra
in the Philippine Star 22 May 2009

Or, How to write about Cannes without actually setting foot in Cannes.

Brown Bunny by the French actor/director Vincent Gallo was probably the most loathed and excoriated movie in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Since it screened in 2003 it has become the, um, standard for awfulness at the world’s most famous filmfest. Every year, critics and moviegoers pore over the official selection and ask, ‘What will be this year’s Brown Bunny?’

Last year the movie with the strongest claim to the Brown Bunny prize was Serbis by the Filipino director Brillante Mendoza. Critics retched and threw up all over its technicals and its graphic gross-out scenes (overflowing toilets, purulent boils, etc). This year the American critic Roger Ebert has declared that a movie has surpassed Brown Bunny as the worst ever in Cannes—and it’s only Day 4 of the festival. The movie is Kinatay by the same Brillante Mendoza.

Ebert pronounced it unwatchable, which is about the most negative opinion one can have of a movie. A movie can be terrible but still watchable, either as a train wreck or as evidence that in matters of taste, one is a true independent. Ebert says that Kinatay (the English title should be ‘Butchered’) is so distasteful and alienating, audiences should stay away. (It should be noted that when Serbis opened in selected venues in the US, he sort of liked it.)

The review is online at Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times blog. Even more interesting than the review itself is the comments section, where some Filipinos have been fighting amongst themselves. We Pinoys do have a knack for squabbling in the most public venues.

I have not had the pleasure of seeing Kinatay, but having seen and admired Serbis, I gather ‘pleasure’ has little to do with it. Disclosure: Mendoza shared a house with three close friends of mine back when they were all production designers, but we’ve never had a conversation. When we finally have our chat, I’d like to ask him whether this is his career strategy: to make alienating, unpleasant movies set amidst the poverty and squalor of Manila. If it is then it is canny, and it’s working.

Fact: Mendoza is one of the few Filipino filmmakers whose movies have international distribution. This facilitates funding for his movies.

Fact: The Filipino movies that attract the most attention internationally are movies about macho dancers, or slums, or both (Raya Martin’s movies seem to be the exception). These are often decried as ‘poverty porn’ or ‘poorism’ (like a form of tourism in which the ‘exotic’ sights include people living in garbage dumps). They are the descendants of the social realist movies of Lino Brocka which really introduced Filipino cinema to the festival circuit.

In the current climate, filmmakers who aspire to make movies of ideas have little hope of commercial success. Today’s indies—the filmmakers who do not work for Star, Regal, the major studios—are essentially making movies for the international festival circuit. The average Pinoy viewer is not likely to see these movies.

Hence the strange situation of the newer Filipino filmmakers: they make movies about the Philippines for foreign cinephiles (the people who attend festivals). They don’t earn money from their movies, but they get to go everywhere. As Lav Diaz once put it, they are poor but well-traveled.

Fact: Most film festival programmers are interested in movies about the poor. They are less likely to invite comedies about middle-class Filipinos mulling over the meaning of life than dramas about the proletariat struggling to survive.

So when your aunt in Tarzana, California or Slough, England complains, ‘Palagi na lang yan ang ipinapakita abroad! Puro mahirap, marumi, mabaho, wala man lang mall o Boracay. Baka akala nila lahat ng Pilipino ganyan (All the Filipino movies shown abroad show poverty, filth and squalor; foreigners will think we all live like that),’ explain the situation.

Film festivals like Cannes may be showcases for cinematic achievement and movie star glamor, but they are essentially markets. The participants are there not to hobnob with George Clooney and Brangelina (assuming they can get within 50 meters of them), but to work: to find distributors, make deals, seal funding, and whip up as much publicity as they can for their projects. If you are in Cannes alone, on a free ticket, with no budget or marketing support, you will probably not be swarmed by the foreign media. They are too busy chasing George and Brangelina. There are dozens of filmmakers yelling in everyone’s faces. Your only hope of being noticed is to make a movie everyone will take about. You can be remembered for winning the Palme d’Or, or for making the year’s Brown Bunny.

I’ve been to a few film festivals, as a media observer or in the entourage of filmmaker friends (which means I pay my own way, indie budgets being nonexistent). The most painful thing that can happen to a movie is for it to be ignored. Sure, you get a decent attendance at the screenings—a lot of them Pinoys living in the area—and they applaud enthusiastically and have their pictures taken with you. The reviewers shake your hand and say, ‘Good work’, but That’s It. You won’t make the headlines. Distributors, agents, producers, Harvey Weinstein won’t be banging on your doors.

Well Brillante Mendoza has found a way not to be ignored. This may not be the route ‘idealistic’ artists choose to take, but it’s worked for him. That he is also a talented filmmakers makes it less easy to denounce him as a cynical purveyor of gimmicks.

By the way, I’m not sure what movie won the Palme d’Or the year Brown Bunny came out, but I remember Brown Bunny.


May 24, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Music 3 Comments →


Photo taken this afternoon along Arnaiz (Pasay Road) in Makati, near the church.

a. Someone’s a little behind on the pop news, or else the underground denizens who periodically express themselves on walls haven’t bought an album since 1984.

b. Do they mean the 80s pop duo who sang Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, or is there another famous entity called Wham? Did you know that post-Wham, Andrew Ridgeley a.k.a. the other guy released a solo album? I remember that the Rolling Stone reviewer said it sounded like an evil back-up singer had erased all the lead vocals. Ever see that Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore comedy Music and Lyrics? Hugh’s washed-up pop star character was probably inspired by Ridgeley. The love song from the movie is still played on local radio. I wonder if it was a hit anywhere else on this planet.

c. I’m watching a Terminator Salvation preview tomorrow, so I’m thinking some guy from the future wanted to prevent George Michael from taking over the world, so he sent someone back in time to out George, but their machine malfunctioned and he landed after everyone already knew. But by appearing in 2009 the time traveler sets in motion a chain of events which leads to George Michael taking over the world. Oy.

d. No one in Manila went to the cinema this week because they were all downloading and watching those videos, and the live singing on the first one reminded them of Wham.


May 23, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Language 1 Comment →

Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin, Jr issued a press statement the other day on the Chance to Retract and Right to Reply bill. This ‘makes the voluntary publication of a reply to an allegedly libelous article or broadcast, an indefeasible ground for extinguishing any and all liability for libel. So too would a spontaneous and unsolicited retraction by the publication.’

Stunning to read a literary statement from a member of congress. Usually they just challenge Alec Baldwin to fistfights. (I worked for him, I’m certain he writes his own material.) I learned a new word: ‘indefeasible’ meaning ‘not able to be lost, annulled, or overturned’.

At our old paper TODAY, Teddyboy would walk around the newsroom with a red pencil, checking out reporters’ drafts and making everything nastier. They were hilarious to us and the readers, but their targets could only gnash their teeth, rend their garments, and scream libel.

Rep. Locsin on press freedom:

“. . .press freedom is not a sacred right because, as everyone knows, journalism is not a priestly calling. None of its practitioners practice celibacy except when they have no choice. Indeed, there is nothing sacral about journalism—not by a long shot—even if its practice involves excessive intakes of heady beverages, frequent complaints about the shortness of “bread”, repeated grousing about the failure of media owners to multiply their wages combined with the overcompensation of former colleagues who are unaccountably transubstantiated into editors and publishers. All this followed and preceded yet more frequently by blasphemous takings of the Lord’s name in vain—or, worse yet, someone’s mother. (The PI invective made famous by a presidential candidate uttered when copy is read.) Any journalist who takes himself too seriously is not a serious journalist and is probably an academician or a media watchdog. As Samuel Johnson may have said, ‘Why do writers write? It’s a job.'”