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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Arbol de Fuego: Cherry Orchard transposed to Negros in the 1970s

March 02, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books

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Go see Arbol de Fuego, PETA’s adaptation of Cherry Orchard, it’s a hoot. (Why not Jardin de los Cerezos? Because there are no cherries in the Philippines.) We’re not sure it’s Chekhovian and it does not seem Russian to us—granted we are partial to anarchists and epileptics, but it’s certainly Pinoy, specifically Negrense, like a companion piece to Oro, Plata, Mata.

Sometimes it veers towards Tennessee Williams-hood, like when Cherie Gil as the matriarch recalls the lover she left in Spain. Jake Macapagal is perfect as the brother, the effete devotee of the Virgin Mary. Leo Rialp as the buffoon who keeps trying to borrow money is heartbreaking in his final scene, and Bembol Roco as the ancient retainer demonstrates how to put on 30 years just by changing the way you walk. Cherie Gil is too youthful and fabulous as the hacendera on the cusp of nouveau poverty—she looks like she’s going to walk out of the estate and straight to the front rows of the Prada spring show. We should be so lucky.

Arbol de Fuego is directed by Loy Arcenas, who also did the production design; the adaptation is by Rody Vera.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy. You have been and always shall be our friend.

March 01, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Television

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Ever generous, even in his final public message.

Leonard Nimoy has died. To generations of nerds he was the uncle who would remind us to be logical when faced with ignorance, stupidity, meanness.


Apart from playing the original Mr. Spock to perfection he was the host of In Search Of…a TV show that investigated the 1970s obsession with UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster, killer bees and other phenomena that we kids assumed would lead to planetary extermination any minute.

Here’s a Spock-centric episode of classic Star Trek: Amok Time, written by Theodore Sturgeon. It’s mating season on Vulcan.

House of Cards: Ruthless politicians, what a shock

March 01, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television

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Here’s Kevin Spacey saying “Chos.”

Watching House of Cards, the Netflix-produced drama starring Kevin Spacey as American politician Francis Underwood, is destroying my faith in humanity, not that there was a surplus of it to begin with. Adapted from the book by British Conservative Party deputy chair Lord Michael Dobbs and the BBC miniseries based upon it, House of Cards assembles a team of Hollywood heavyweights, including the David Fincher, to pander to our cynical, most basic assumptions about politicians: that they’re vicious and power-hungry.

What does it add to the discussion of political power in the 21st century? That politicians are stupid weaklings, as demonstrated in episode after episode of Underwood chewing up and spitting out every Washington player in his march to the White House. In this world, describing Underwood as “Machiavellian” is unnecessary, not just because his victims have apparently never heard of The Prince, but because it never even occurs to them to compare notes about him. Seriously, people, it wouldn’t hurt to share information and check his stories, maybe even consult your constituents. Oh, right, they have no constituents.

Read The Binge, our TV column at BusinessWorld.


Where we first saw Spacey: TV’s Wiseguy.

T-Bird At Ako is a screwball comedy disguised as a drama

February 26, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies

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And we mean that as a compliment because we love screwball comedy.

We saw the digitally restored and remastered Danny Zialcita movie T-Bird At Ako last night at the UP Film Center, and it is an absolute scream. Nora Aunor was in attendance, along with Odette Khan who owned every scene she was in, and screenwriter Portia Ilagan, who recalled the spat she had with Zialcita over the movie’s “redeeming” ending.

Our review is coming up as soon as this migraine clears. Meanwhile, check out our previous posts on Zialcita movies:

Speaking of Karma, here’s Danny Zialcita, a review of Karma starring Vilma Santos, Ronaldo Valdez, Chanda Romero, Tommy Abuel
Try A Little Suicide, a review of Tinimbang Ang Langit starring Kuh Ledesma, Christopher de Leon, Rio Locsin

Thanks to Leo Katigbak, head of Special Projects at ABS-CBN, for the tickets to the premiere. Leo’s division has so far restored 84 Pinoy classics from the film archive, including Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon, Himala, and Oro, Plata, Mata. Coming up: another Nora Aunor-Vilma Santos starrer, Ishmael Bernal’s Ikaw Ay Akin. We saw it on Cinema One a few years ago and recall, apart from that enigmatic killer ending, a scene in which Christopher de Leon and Vilma Santos watch a movie at Alliance Francaise.

T-Bird At Ako will screen at chosen cinemas, watch your theatre listings.

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Read our column, Nora and Vilma get bi-curious, at InterAksyon.com.

Watch Sesame Street’s brilliant House of Cards parody

February 25, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television

This parody is more nuanced than its subject.

We’re doing House of Cards in our TV column on Friday.

“It’s beyond my control”: Dangerous Liaisons at CCP’s Tanghalang Pilipino

February 24, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

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According to some critics, the 18th century novelist and army general Pierre Choderlos de Laclos wrote the novel Dangerous Liaisons to expose the perversions of the French ruling class, which would shortly get their comeuppance in the Revolution. In the novel, which unfolds in a series of letters, the ex-lovers and combatants the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont plot their seductions like military campaigns.

The novel has been filmed many, many times. We are most familiar with the sumptuous Stephen Frears adaptation based on the play by Christopher Hampton. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are the leads, and their pawns are the radiant Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel, Uma Thurman as convent-fresh Cecile, and Keanu Reeves as the Chevalier Danceny. The current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi is Valmont’s valet. This production revels in its theatrical roots: every glance is a coded message, and the characters wear their baroque fashions like armor. It is so much fun, no one asks aloud what those women see in Malkovich.

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The more understated Milos Forman version had the misfortune of coming out a year later. Annette Bening and Colin Firth conduct themselves with a more subtle malice, but the production design is less spectacular. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere made changes to the plot so the outcome is somewhat kinder.

Then there is the modern teen version in which rich kids Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe plot against Reese Witherspoon. None of these three versions follow the ending of the Choderlos de Laclos novel in which the Marquise, her reputation ruined by the publication of her letters, flees to the country, contracts smallpox and dies. Which would be worse for her than being booed at the opera, no?

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The Tanghalang Pilipino production which goes onstage weekends at the CCP Little Theatre is called Juego de Peligro. Translated from the Hampton play by Elmer Gatchalian and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio, it is set in late 19th century Manila. The schemers are now Margarita (Shamaine Buencamino) and Vicente (Arnold Reyes), two upper-class Spaniards corrupting the indios, who include a wonderful LJ Reyes as the virtuous married woman, and Vin Abrenica as Keanu.

The historical context creates difficulties, beginning with the language: it is rather long-winded and the leads speak it in the fraile-accented Tagalog of old movies: “Nguni’t subali’t datapwa’t an mana indio, que barbaridad.” And then the costumes: we are used to seeing Dangerous Liaisons with low necklines and elevating corsets for the women’s costumes and tight pants for the men’s. The setting being pre-Revolution Manila, there are no boobs or quads, though there are butts, all male, for which we are not complaining, and Vin Abrenica’s abs, which should get separate billing.

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Drogon: This is not G-rated!

Still, bringing colonialism and class struggle into a 233-year-old novel is an interesting choice, and Margarita casts herself as a proto-feminist who refuses to be controlled by the patriarchy. Students being introduced to Choderlos de Laclos may find themselves hooked.

Juego de Peligro runs until March 8 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Call 8321125 loc. 1620 and 1621, 0905-2544930, 0921-8204155; TicketWorld 8919999, ticketworld.com.ph.