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Archive for September, 2015

NASA discovers water on Mars, then The Martian opens in cinemas

September 30, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

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The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as Mr. Spock declared, but not where Matt Damon is concerned. Matt Damon must be saved at all cost, because one of the few things that unite the human race at this time is our fondness for Matt Damon. He’s good-looking, but not so handsome that he makes you feel like crap; he’s famous, but he’s not smug about it; he does good things but doesn’t have them publicized constantly, and unlike his friend he’s never starred in Gigli, been thrown out of casinos or accused of banging the nanny. (He’s actually due for a backlash.)

Nearly 20 years ago, the US had to send a squad into Nazi-occupied Europe to bring him back home in Saving Private Ryan. They sacrificed Vin Diesel. They sacrificed Tom Hanks! Damon joins Hanks and Sandra Bullock in that very special place in the current cinema: they’re the people the audience likes without question. In The Martian, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who is presumed dead and left on Mars by his fellow astronauts. In the ensuing discussion about how to save him, no one even mentions that the rescue mission would cost bajillions. It’s Matt Damon!

Like the novel it is based upon, The Martian is a straightforward problem-solving thriller. As written by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, Marvel’s Daredevil), it does not wax philosophical about man’s place in the universe. It does not wonder whether there is life out there, though the announcement of the NASA discovery of water on Mars days before the movie’s theatrical opening means that it will always be associated with the search for extraterrestrial life. And though the situation is beyond dire, it does not indulge in sentimentality. When things get overwhelming, there’s disco music to kill the self-pity (Though we do not believe that there was no other kind of music in the astronauts’ laptops). When Watney finally allows himself to cry, it’s a well-earned release.

After he staples himself together (reminding us of a scene from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus), Watney does not give in to rage or despair, but gets down to the problem of survival. Fortunately the Hermes mission (Bad choice of name, it made us think of a handbag flying through space) left a lot of equipment, including cameras so he can address us directly and explain what he’s doing. He figures out how to manufacture water, grow potatoes, and let mission control back on earth know that he’s alive. The movie works because we want Watney to live, and because we believe he can MacGyver his way until NASA figures out a plan.

Ridley Scott has taken us to outer space before, most notably in Alien, but The Martian bears little resemblance to his previous work. There is no dread or existential anguish. There are no villains—not the mission leader Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) or the crew (Michael Peña, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara who is way more believable as a scientist here than in Fantastic 4) who do not hesitate to risk their lives to get Watney back; not the NASA officials Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean—nice Lord of the Rings reference, but they passed on the obvious “Winter is coming” joke); not the NASA PR lady (Kristen Wiig) who has to break the news to the public; certainly not the NASA engineers and physicists including Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong) and Rich Purnell (Donald Glover); and not even the competing space programs of other countries. The closest The Martian has to a villain is the NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), who has to make tough decisions to ensure not just Watney’s survival but that of the entire space program. And he’s just doing his job.

The Martian, a most un-Ridley Scott Ridley Scott movie, is an efficient entertainment, a popcorn movie in which astrophysics and engineering are not the exclusive domain of nerds but matters that concern everyone. A movie that assumes the audience is smart. That’s thrilling.

Basic Questions for the Presidential Candidates

September 30, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Election News Junkies Support Group No Comments →

1. Traffic is the most visceral issue in Metro Manila. Number coding and changing the agency in charge of managing the traffic have not worked and are not going to work. The MRT and LRT should’ve made a big difference, but they are so badly, ineptly run that they aggravate the problem. Even if the bus operators are somehow made to cooperate, the Bus Rapid Transport system that has been proposed since the 1980s is not going to make a dent because hundreds of new cars further clog the streets every month. What are you going to do about the traffic? What are you going to do about the road infrastructure? (And if the head of the Department of Transportation and Communications, who has not only failed dismally at addressing traffic congestion but has callously dismissed the daily distress of motorists and commuters as “non-fatal”, also happens to be the head of your political party, are you going to keep him in that position?)

Read our column at InterAksyon.

The C-word (Craft) at the Handmade exhibit, CCP

September 29, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Art No Comments →

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Unwearables by Steph Palallos

Made by Hand
By Leo Abaya

Craft is the “C” word that used to be shunned when sleekness and conceptualism in art and design were at their most persuasive and pervasive. That was a time when discourse and theorizing was at the forefront and the skill that was most worthy of the artist was not that of the hand, but that of the mind; a distinction perpetuating the separation of the verbal and the manual, even insinuating the lack, if not, absence of one in the other.
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Drowning and screaming: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

September 29, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

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Before her Neapolitan Quartet made her an international literary star, Elena Ferrante published The Days of Abandonment. Ferrante has never bee photographed or interviewed and goes by a pseudonym, but on the basis of this novel we believe she is a woman.

The Days of Abandonment, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is the story of Olga, a writer who lives in Turin with her husband Mario, their small children Ilaria and Gianni, and their dog Otto. Suddenly Mario announces that he is leaving her for another woman, and Olga falls apart.

She is furious at Mario, whom she thought was happy in their marriage, and furious at the other woman whose existence she didn’t suspect. She is so depressed she can’t get out of bed and can’t look after her children and especially the dog. She neglects to bathe, forgets to pay the bills, rails at the phone company for disconnecting the service. She plots to get Mario back, then heaps curses on him. She drives around his neighborhood hoping to spot him and the woman who replaced her. She is shocked at how vulgar and uncouth she becomes. She is so broken up she can’t even trust herself to get the door open.

We have read novels and seen movies about women dealing with the dissolution of their marriage. None of them pulls us into the chaos the way this novel does, or shreds us in the emotional turbulence. Often we had to shut the book and take great gulps of air because we felt like we were drowning. There is nothing pretty or picturesque about Olga’s disintegration, and Ferrante’s novel is unsparing. The visceral ugliness is rendered in the most compelling prose.

We cannot claim to know what Olga is going through. We do not sympathize; we don’t even like her. At times we find her repulsive and we hear ourselves saying, “Get a grip, woman. Pull yourself together.” But there is something impressive in the way she lets herself go, sinking deeper and deeper in this whirlpool of untidy feeling. We recommend The Days of Abandonment highly, but cannot be responsible for the consequences.

What TV shows do CEOs watch? Deutschland 83, Narcos and others

September 28, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 1 Comment →

Based on these recommendations, I looked up Deutschland 83, a German mini-series by Anna and Joerg Winger that aired on the Sundance channel. I started watching the first episode late at night, which was a terrible mistake because it makes a compelling argument for abandoning sleep.

Deutschland 83 invites comparison with The Americans: both shows are set in the early 1980s and their protagonists are Communist moles working in the West. They also feature a lot of pop music from the ’80s, though Deutschland 83 leans towards the cheerful Eurotrashy synth-pop that was presumably popular behind the Iron Curtain. The opening theme is “Major Tom,” Peter Schilling’s tinny rejoinder to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and if you guessed that Nena’s “99 Luftballons” would be in there, how clever you are. On the other hand, the show also uses New Order and The Cure, and you can guess what happens next based on the musical cues. (They’re playing “Our love’s in jeopardy”… could it be that their love is in jeopardy?)

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

9 years, 9 stories: Travel, music, and world domination

September 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Music, Travel Diary: Turkey, Traveling, World Domination Update No Comments →

Travel
From 2013: Turkey Travel Diary, featuring some of the handsomest cats we’ve ever seen

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Music
From 2008: Sad, Sadder, Saddest, in which we wound up at a “Lost 80s” concert.

Either all the ticket-holders had already gone inside, or they were all late, because there were no queues of any sort. Ernie went up to some people standing by the flower beds and asked them if they needed tickets.

Sad: They all said, “Hindi kami manonood niyan (We’re not watching that),” with matching expressions of loathing.
Sadder: A woman glared at Ernie and said, “I already have tickets.” What she meant was, “Extra tickets to an 80s concert is a problem I don’t need.”
Saddest: Later, Grungella realized that they probably mistook Ernie for a scalper.
Positively funereal: Being mistaken for a scalper to A Flock Of Seagulls show.
Lugubrious: They literally could not give the tickets away!

World Domination
From 2012: Let’s Buy Spain. We can afford it, it would be our revenge for three centuries of colonial oppression, and we can call them our muchachos and muchachas.