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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Scorsese’s 1993 defense of Fellini explains why Trump’s immigration ban destroys the future

February 03, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Movies


La Dolce Vita photo from the Criterion Collection.

The issue here is not “film theory,” but cultural diversity and openness. Diversity guarantees our cultural survival. When the world is fragmenting into groups of intolerance, ignorance and hatred, film is a powerful tool to knowledge and understanding. To our shame, your article was cited at length by the European press.

The attitude that I’ve been describing celebrates ignorance. It also unfortunately confirms the worst fears of European filmmakers.

Is this closed-mindedness something we want to pass along to future generations?

If you accept the answer in the commercial, why not take it to its natural progression:

Why don’t they make movies like ours?
Why don’t they tell stories as we do?
Why don’t they dress as we do?
Why don’t they eat as we do?
Why don’t they talk as we do?
Why don’t they think as we do?
Why don’t they worship as we do?
Why don’t they look like us?

Ultimately, who will decide who “we” are?

Read the letter in full at Letters of Note.

Weekly Report Card 4: Best American Science-Fiction, The Finkler Question, and A Street Cat Named Bob

February 01, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Cats, Movies

Books. The Best American Science-Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler. A fine selection which I enjoyed while I was reading it, but now all I can remember is the final story, The Great Silence by Ted Chiang. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, the Booker winner from some years ago, about three friends pondering Jewishness comically and seriously, often at the same time.


The real Bob and Bowen

Movie. A Street Cat Named Bob is the true story of a homeless junkie in London whose life gets radically better after he is adopted by the ginger tomcat of the title. I’m the target market for this movie, and I expected it to be sappy, wringing tears out of every other scene, and putting the audience through all sorts of emotional blackmail. To my surprise it’s a solid, fairly realistic tale of a man close to rock bottom who finds the strength to climb out. Not because the cat gives him magical powers—although Bob the cat is so calm he has to be a Zen master—but because having to take care of another creature forces him to get out of his own head and think of somebody else for a change. If he can’t get his act together, how can he look after the cat?

The movie directed by Roger Spottiswoode from the books by James Bowen gets a vital fact about cats right: the cat chooses you. Cats are genetically the same as their alpha predator cousins the lions and tigers, but they now use their formidable hunting skills to zero in on the humans who can feed and shelter them.


The movie Bob, played mostly by the real Bob

A movie about a cat is by nature cute, but this one refrains from piling on the cuteness. When we first meet Bowen, played with empathy and charm by Luke Treadaway (not Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful but his twin), his life is genuinely horrible. He’s filthy, hungry, sleeping on the street, competing with rats for food from the dumpster. You can feel his shame at the indignities he must endure. He could disappear any minute, and no one would care. (Fortunately the junkie does not live in the Philippines.)

A social worker (Joanne Froggatt from Downton Abbey) puts him in supported housing, which is where he encounters Bob. He also meets an attractive neighbor (Ruta Gedmintas from The Strain) who is, conveniently, a volunteer at an animal welfare clinic. But they are all minor characters next to Bob, played mostly by the actual Bob. Bowen’s life doesn’t improve instantly, he still has a lot of crap to deal with, but we watch him gain a sense of purpose and then the strength to meet that purpose. A Street Cat Named Bob works because it makes us believe that a man and a cat can save each other.

18!

January 30, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Tennis

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

I didn’t watch it. Longish story, tell you later. Going to sleep.

Happy New Year to us all! One day you feel the world is rushing to oblivion, and then Federer wins a grand slam again and suddenly everything will be fine. Sport: the great metaphor.

* * * * *

The match everyone thought would never happen again, where everything turned out the way I have always wanted while agonizing through every Federer v Nadal match in the last ten years, and I missed it.

I was in Thailand for work. Periodically I would check the results from Melbourne but was vewy vewy quiet because I didn’t want to jinx it. Sports fans maintain the irrational belief that their actions affect the outcomes of matches. But it was all Federer and Nadal. They are the best emotional investment we tennis fans have ever made, and they’re still paying off.

Okay, it’s been over 24 hours. We now return to the resistance. Now we see why superhero movies and dystopian narratives took over popular culture in the last decade. The writers could see it coming. We’re living in it now.

One week till the next Writing Boot Camp

January 27, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements


Oglaf on preparing the text.

The world is a strange, chaotic place, and one way to deal with it is to write. Join the workshop.

The Impossible Burger tastes exactly like meat.

January 25, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Food

As a meatatarian, my main issue with vegan and vegetarian food (as long as it does not come with a lecture on how not eating animals is so much better for you and the planet in general) is that it tastes like cardboard. For a long time I’ve suspected that the ingredient that makes meat taste—well, meaty—is blood. Yup, we’re vampires.

A couple of months ago I had lunch at Momofuku Nishi in Manhattan and there was something on the menu called “the impossible burger”. It was made entirely of plants, but claimed to taste like beef. The fact that it was called “impossible” sounded like a challenge, so I ordered it.

It was delicious, and it did taste exactly like beef. They haven’t gotten the texture exactly—it’s softer and more moist, which I did not mind at all. And I was right: the ingredient in question is hemoglobin.

The magic ingredient turned out to be a compound called heme. Their research identified this as the thing which made meat distinct, giving it a richer taste and its bloody, red colour.

The firm has now figured out a way to produce heme on a large scale cost effectively by using fermentation.

Read about the hamburger made of plants.

The Impossible Burger cost USD14 (about PHP700). When it becomes available in Manila, assuming it isn’t already, I hope it’s priced lower, although travelling reminds me that food in Manila is expensive (the value for money ratio is low).

Weekly Report Card 3: Carrie Fisher, Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck and the actor as writer

January 23, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

Books read: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher; A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor (on Cappadocia)

I loved Carrie Fisher, first because she was my Disney princess, and then because she was a truthful writer who mined her mental health issues for comedy without belittling them. I thought reading her last book would be a proper goodbye to someone whose work struck sparks in the darkness. And now I feel bad for her because it seems like she never got over being an outwardly worldly but naïve and insecure teenager in love with an emotionally distant, much older, married man who, to paraphrase Fisher in another book, granted her the use of his penis. That he was playing Han Solo just makes it worse.

Supposedly The Princess Diarist was written because Fisher unearthed the diary she’d kept during the making of a low-budget space adventure called Star Wars. But the stuff from 1976 only consists of some poems—not too embarrassing—and entries describing her confusion and frustration over the non-romance. The first half of the book is her recollection of that rather mingy affair, the third quarter is the old diary, and the last is about how stars of beloved SF&F movies can continue to cash in on past fame at fan conventions. I assume that’s one of the reasons this book was written at all. But Carrison!

I’m glad Carrie Fisher had her service dog Gary Fisher in her final years because his affection and loyalty was never in doubt. If you’ve kept old journals about past amours, shred them now.

Movies watched: By the Sea, written and directed by Angelina Jolie; Live By Night, written and directed by Ben Affleck

The French seaside town is beautiful, Angelina Jolie is beautiful, Brad Pitt is beautiful, their clothes and accessories are beautiful, but they’re miserable for some reason that is vaguely hinted at till the end of the movie. What is their damn problem? Is it that they’re too beautiful for this world? And when the problem is revealed, you have to yell, “That’s it?!” and demand the two hours of your life back. It’s like Antonioni’s L’Avventura without the everything.

Live By Night has already been savaged by the critics, so I’ll be kind. Ben Affleck is a skillful director of taut thrillers. I enjoyed Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo very much. Live By Night, which Affleck himself adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel, is a gangster epic that takes place over two decades from Boston to Florida, and the director seems to be having a crisis of confidence.

The movie feels small and cramped. The characters talk too much, and then Affleck provides a voice-over that explains everything all over again. The tough-guy noir dialogue is soft-boiled, the cardboard crimelords are not particularly menacing, and the star looks tired and ill at ease. Did Batman burn him out? We could not help but notice that Affleck, who does not usually pass up the chance to display his torso (even while whisking embassy staff away from the Ayatollah’s Iran), kept his clothes on throughout the love scenes. Was he feeling a bit hefty? That, we understand. His disappearing Boston accent, not so much.