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Archive for October, 2015

Sicario: Notes on a voyage to hell

October 31, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

1. Sicario is by Denis Villeneuve, whose previous movies include Prisoners and Enemy. He specializes in tension. He wants to make you jump. When you hear that bass rumble, prepare yourself.

2. Sicario, the opening titles inform us, were the zealots in Jerusalem who hunted and killed the Roman oppressors. In Mexico the word means “hitman”. Later you realize that Emily Blunt is supposed to be the star, but someone else is in the title role.

3. Roger Deakins wields the camera, and the movie looks spectacular. It’s Juarez as hell, bleached to the bone by the desert sun. Dozens of corpses with plastic bags on their heads, sealed into the wall like casks of amontillado. Edgar Allan Poe could’ve written this.

4. We love Emily Blunt, but she looks uncomfortable and overwhelmed. In her defense, she’s supposed to be uncomfortable and overwhelmed as an FBI agent who is volunteered for a narcotics task force headed by a mysterious consultant who shows up at meetings wearing flip-flops. She is kept completely in the dark. When she asks them what is going on, she is told to listen and absorb the details. We know that she’s tough, but ‘tough’ is not the same as ‘grim’. And then the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan goes out of its way to undermine her. She is reduced to saying, “I’m going to tell.” (We remembered how in Zero Dark Thirty, Maya got to tell the CIA chief, “I’m the motherfucker who found (Bin Laden’s) house.”)

5. As the aforementioned consultant in flip-flops, Josh Brolin perfects the shit-eating grin. He’s been brought in to “dramatically overreact”, and he loves the chaos. Look at him, the tunnel raid is like the Fourth of July to him.

6. Benicio Del Toro, our friend pointed out, looks like he hasn’t slept in 20 years. He’s scary when he’s neatly folding his jacket, and terrifying when he speaks softly to the Mexicans at the border. He’s so badass that Villeneuve just let him take over the third act, and Sicario splits into an altogether different movie.

7. Sicario reminds us that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back at you. The first part is a criticism of the drug war, and the second part embraces it.

Rating: Highly recommended.

Why is Downton Abbey just like The Walking Dead?

October 30, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television No Comments →

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L-R: Married to each other, gay, gone, gone, gone, widow, widow, married to each other, widow, widow, married to each other, widow, widow (common-law), widower, gone.

This column goes out to our friend Kevin, who will institute divorce proceedings if his husband doesn’t watch the next episode with him on Monday night.

It seems that Downton Abbey, like the zombie apocalypse, will never end. And yet the series created and written by Julian Fellowes will close this sixth season. Of all the shows on TV, the one Downton Abbey reminds me of is The Walking Dead. Both are global hits that keep going strong despite the repetition of plots (They might lose their money, they don’t, they might get eaten, they don’t) and the departure of major characters, through slaughter or real-life career ambitions. (I point you to the enjoyably nutty action thriller The Guest, in which ex-Downton star Dan Stevens displays abs you could grate cheese on. Cousin Matthew! Who knew.)

More importantly, both series are about extermination and survival. True, the probability that Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) will come out of the kitchen—gasp!—and devour the Dowager Countess Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) is slim, although Bates the valet (Brendan Coyle) is always getting accused of murder (Twice is not “only”, it’s a lot). However, Robert Crawley the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his family are also trying to get by in an increasingly democratic society where people earn their keep. “What is a weekend?” Lady Violet asked in the first season. As the tetchy matriarch, Maggie Smith can invest a line with so much meaning, she makes any writer seem brilliant.

My editor tells me that The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey air on the same night, which is very considerate of the cable channels. After intense pursuit and carnage, one can decompress by gawking at the place settings and pretty clothes. (For extra posh, pronounce close as in, “The close are awl-wiz marvlous, rarely.”)

Read our TV column The Binge.

There’s a hole in Black Mass and it’s in the shape of Goodfellas

October 28, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 2 Comments →

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Black Mass is the new film about the Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, played by Johnny Depp. Bulger, who went on the lam in 2003 and was finally arrested in 2011, consolidated his crime empire by becoming an informant for the FBI. Depp, whose recent film output consists of flops and stinkers, has declared that he doesn’t want to win an Oscar. We are pleased to inform him that there is little danger of that happening because of this movie.

It’s not that Depp isn’t a good actor. In the right project, he could blow us away. But the filmmakers have squandered their material. Whitey Bulger was the most powerful criminal in Boston while his brother the Senator (Benedict Cumberbatch) was the most powerful politician in Boston, but we don’t see much of their relationship other than their mutual devotion to their ma. Apart from looking menacing with his bald head and blackened teeth, Depp has little to do. Joel Edgerton as his childhood friend the ambitious FBI agent has more to work with. Sure, Depp’s Jimmy goes from smiling bonhomie to murderous fury in zero seconds, but after two or three instances of this, the violence becomes predictable. Director Scott Cooper is following the tracks made by better directors so obediently, Black Mass feels like homework by a diligent, not particularly adventurous student.

When making a mob movie, a director needs to repeat these words three times when he gets up and three times when he goes to bed:

I am not Martin Scorsese.
I am not Martin Scorsese.
I am not Martin Scorsese.

(Repeat)

There’s a giant hole in the heart of Black Mass, and it’s in the shape of Goodfellas. While watching Black Mass (We don’t get the title, which makes it sound like a satanic horror movie or a cancer scare movie. This just in: a reader says Mass is probably short for Massachusetts. Oh.), we could not stop thinking of Goodfellas. This is unfair, we know. The reputation of Scorsese’s movie has only grown since it premiered 25 years ago. Every time it was on TV we found ourselves watching it again because it’s so vivid, so alive that there seemed a possibility that the story would veer off in a completely different direction (or go Purple Rose of Cairo on us).

Goodfellas is a dangerous movie, not because of the violence, but because it made us understand the lure of crime. Because it’s fun!

Maybe Johnny Depp shouldn’t work with Scorsese because he might get an Oscar, get an Oscar.

Rating: Missable. Even second-tier Scorsese (The Departed) is more compelling.

We’ll review Sicario when our synapses stop sparking from the sight of Benicio del Toro.

Tomorrow we’re doing a QCinemarathon.

For the serious fan of A Song of Ice and Fire: The leather-bound box set is coming.

October 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Sponsored 2 Comments →

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But I already have all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, you say. Not to mention the maps, sigil tapestries, mugs, replica swords and hoodies.

These leather-bound volumes are not only beautiful, but unlike the hardcover editions which are heavy and difficult to read in transit, they are light and easy to hold. And at Php2,999 the set at National Bookstores, that’s just Php600 for each book. That’s less than we had to shell out under duress for Ever After High Book 3 (Good description for what it is: drugs for little girls) for our niece’s birthday.

Yes, it’s the words that matter and not the package they come in, but these would look great on your shelves. Give your current set to a friend or young relative, and buy these for yourself or for someone who’s been waiting for The Winds of Winter for the last few years (but not to us, obviously, so we’ll take the hoodie).

Drogon’s hoard: Taste of the Wild

October 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats 2 Comments →

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Drogon thanks Taste of the Wild Philippines for the two big bags of cat food they sent over. Taste of the Wild is a grain-free, all-life stages (from kittens to adult cats) food with natural antioxidants. The Rocky Mountain Feline Formula contains roasted venison and smoked salmon so Drogon can make like he’s been huntin’ and fishin’. Each 6.8 bag will last him at least three months, even with his tremendous appetite. As you can see, he’s tucking into his new kibble. Apparently it’s so yummy that Saffy, who eats soft food because she’s had teeth taken out, likes to snack on it.

If you’re looking for good, healthy vittles for your feline housemates, let them try Taste of the Wild. Here are the ingredients:

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Taste of the Wild is available at Bow & Wow stores. Even better: they deliver to your house. For information and inquiries, visit their Facebook page or email evan@showdogs.com.ph. They also carry canine food.

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Drogon wants to know why we’re watching a movie when we could be watching him.

Read Are Cats Domesticated? (Yes and no, a fence-sitting answer. Like a cat.)

The Classics of Social Climbing

October 26, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

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We are all social climbers, though not all of us adopt it as a career. The most blatant social climbers engage in ascent by association, i.e. being seen (preferably photographed) with prominent personalities in order to be mistaken for members of their tribe. There’s no point in distinguishing between old money and new money—this is the Philippines, everything is new. If we must make distinctions, they should be between the people who inherited their money and the people who made their own money. Even then, the inheritors can be divided into three categories:

– the heirs who live off the work of their ancestors,
– the heirs who parlayed their inheritance into even greater riches,
– and the dolts who just sat around waiting for their parents to drop dead, and never bothered to learn a negotiable skill or get a job.

Read our column at InterAksyon.

Forgot to mention that Nancy Mitford codified that “U” and “non-U” stuff.