Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’


February 07, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies, Television 1 Comment →


Uro dela Cruz, who died on Thursday, was a brilliant fictionist, screenwriter, film and TV director, photographer and amateur anthropologist. He was 64. He had shelves full of awards, including seven Palancas, that he was grateful for but did not talk about. Crowing about his achievements embarrassed him — the important thing was the work, and even that he barely discussed. It became a running joke: ask him how many TV shows he was directing at the same time, and he would say, “None.” “You don’t direct Bubble Gang anymore?” we would press him. “That show practically directs itself,” he would shrug. After we had peeled away layers of semantic obfuscation, we would learn that in addition to the comedy show he helmed for two decades, he was directing two game shows and a sitcom starring Manny Pacquiao. No wonder it took him ages to reply to texts and phone calls.

All these accomplishments — the shows ranging from Battle of the Brains to Bubble Gang that defined pop culture and Pinoy humor (he wanted to set up a website called Wackipedia as an archive of jokes); the now-classic films he wrote, including Virgin Forest and Scorpio Nights; the amateur urban archeology that led to a trove of photos by Teodulo Protomartir; the novel Antyng-Antyng (Kwadrisentenyal), which remained unpublished until we kidnapped the manuscript and sent it to a publisher — these are sidebars to the life of Rosauro Quevedo Dela Cruz of Lucban, Quezon. What Uro really excelled at was being a human being. He was a devoted husband to Anna, who runs the household with military precision, whom he described as the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. He was a terrific father to Tata, Toto and Dodong, whom he deprived of any issues they can report to a psychiatrist later in life because they could talk about everything. He was a marvelous friend — kind, generous, deadpan funny, fiercely intelligent, a human Google of arcane knowledge, and he would be the first to point out that there are too many adjectives in this sentence. Uro was one of the finest people I’ve ever known. It’s all downhill from here.

Continue reading in the Philippine Star

Looking for Kafka in Prague

January 27, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling 1 Comment →

It’s been 14 years since we went to Prague with our sister. We’re old. We saw a hotel called Metamorphosis. Cracked us up. Check in as a person, check out as a cockroach. It was snowing in late March. A man on the street sold us cheap tickets to the opera. Our seats were just below the ceiling and we froze our butts off. People were eating ice cream in the snow. It was supposed to make you feel warmer. Not true. We had an attic room in a pension—Airbnb had not yet been invented, so we found it on a site called Eurocheapo. Our first choice was a converted mental hospital turned Soviet torture chamber but someone had already booked it. Our landlord wore a different costume every day. It made him happy. A typical meal consisted of a slab of meat, breaded and fried with cheese, with an egg on top. That made us happy.

The Big Short: A comedy about how stupidity and greed broke the US economy

January 20, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 3 Comments →

In The Big Short, Adam McKay’s adaptation of the Michael Lewis nonfiction book, a motley group of highly-strung fund managers and financial analysts realize in 2005 that the housing market, the very foundation of the American financial system, is headed for a meltdown. For starters, no one thinks to ask why subprime mortgages are called subprime. So these perceptive assholes start to bet against the housing market by buying credit default swaps.

McKay knows that if we hear the terms “credit default swap” and “collateralized debt obligation”, our minds will leave our bodies and start hovering around the snack bar. Which is one of the reasons the market went bust: regular people don’t want to wrap their brains around these concepts. The joke is that the experts themselves didn’t understand them, either. They just headed off any questions with the words, “It’s too complicated.” Even as it became clear that the financial system was headed for Armaggedon, they refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong. It wasn’t just oversight, it was system-wide fraud.

Screenwriters McKay and Charles Randolph solve the jargon problem by having the narrator, trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling with a bad perm and a reptilian aspect), address the audience directly, and bringing in physical representations and celebrity explainers. The subprime mortgage marget is explained with building blocks, or if that’s not visually arresting enough, Margot Robbie from Wolf of Wall Street in a bubble bath. Anthony Bourdain compares collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to three-day-old fish remarketed as fish stew. Our personal favorite: synthetic CDOs are dogshit wrapped in catshit. It’s an educational movie, a hilarious comedy, and a financial thriller that is thrilling even if we know how it ends.

The terrific cast is headed by Christian Bale as Michael Burry, a socially-awkward investment analyst with a glass eye who has heavy metal blasting in his office. This makes sense because compared to the mortgage market, heavy metal is harmonious. He starts betting that doomsday is nigh. Vennett gets wind of his transactions, and a wrong number leads him to a hedge fund headed by a very angry man named Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Baum is wrestling with personal tragedy, but even if he wasn’t, he’s the sort of person who is most happy being unhappy.

Meanwhile, two young traders named Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) accidentally learn of the scheme and enlist the help of retired financial wizard Ben Rickert (Hot damn Brad Pitt looks good with facial hair. Pitt, one of the producers, starred in the adaptation of another Michael Lewis book, Moneyball). They come up with another way to profit off the impending catastrophe.

McKay, who directed the Anchorman movies and co-founded the Funny Or Die website, has us rooting for these guys against the housing market. We join them in seething against the clueless morons who laugh at them. We rail against the blind fools who refuse to see the evidence in their faces (Melissa Leo’s literally blind S&P officer explains that if they downgrade the outlook, the banks will just go to their competitor).

And then, when it is obvious to everyone that our guys were right, we can’t really celebrate. They’ve won, but the losers—the people responsible for breaking the economy—will never be brought to justice. The US government bails them out with the people’s money, and they take the bailout and give themselves performance bonuses. For screwing up. They’ve won but the ordinary people pay, losing their houses, their life savings, their pensions. They’ve won, but they’re profiteers who cannot claim moral superiority to the financial powers they bet against. In this equation, everyone is an asshole.

P.S. CDOs are back, rebranded as “Bespoke Tranche Opportunities”. Shiftyyyyyyy.

* * * * *

Check out some other films on the 2008 financial meltdown: the Oscar-winning documentary The Inside Job, J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, and Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes.

Charles Bukowski’s cat was a literary critic

January 20, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 2 Comments →

On Cats, hardcover at National Bookstores, Php955.

It turns out that Charles Bukowski, the poet of the American lowlife, loved cats, took in many strays, and admired their toughness and no-bullshit ways.

a reader
by Charles Bukowski

my cat shit in my archives
he climbed into my Golden State Sunkist
orange box
and he shit on my poems
my original poems
saved for the university archives.

that one-eared fat black critic
he signed me off.


Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is gorgeous but wimpy

January 13, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 1 Comment →

Macbeth is our favorite Shakespeare because it is phantasmagorical, fast, and it makes us identify with its murderous maniac so that we are complicit in his deeds even as we recoil in horror.

The new screen adaptation by Justin Kurzel is rich in phantasmagorical atmosphere. “Scotland”, wreathed in mist, looks like a gorgeous gateway to hell. When the three witches turn up—four including the child who appears with them—we’re not even surprised because they belong there. They don’t look like toothless crones with warty faces, but aspects of nature.

Then Macbeth goes into battle for King Duncan, and as the two armies charge at each other, the action turns to slow, slow, very slow-motion. Ngek. We thought the point of adapting a play for the cinema was to let it move. Director Justin Kurzel stands his actors in front of beautiful medieval finery and makes them recite the words. Then he chops up and remixes the text so the grandeur is watered down. There is plenty of blood, but we are detached observers. When it occurs to him to add choreography the results are impressive, such as the murder of Banquo scene. Otherwise the film is reminiscent of our grade school terror: the declamation contest.


Macbeth stars two of the most beautiful people on earth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Fassbender is a robust Macbeth, beefier than usual, as befits a mighty warrior. Cotillard is too ladylike as the woman who calls on the spirits to “unsex” her so she can do what must be done, who goads her husband into killing the king and then anyone who might threaten his reign. Unfortunately this is part of the director’s vision.

The film opens with the Macbeths burying a child, presumably their own. That’s not in the play, but scholars have noted that the real-life inspiration for the character had a dead child. One interpretation is that Macbeth, being unable to have children, killed children. So instead of a strong, furious Lady Macbeth, the film gives us a depressed mother. We would’ve bought an “If I can’t have children, then neither can you; I’m already dead so die!” interpretation. “Poor me, no baby” doesn’t do it for us. Why can’t characters just be evil instead of putting us through their psychotherapy?

We recommend you see Macbeth anyway—it might move you to read the play, or watch other adaptations. Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is still the best Macbeth we’ve seen.

We have to have all the Peanuts toys.

January 12, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 4 Comments →


We loved the Peanuts movie, but not as much as the small children two rows behind us who laughed uproariously at every gag. And we thought today’s children would have no interest in Charlie Brown and Snoopy, a depressive neurotic child and a delusional dog, respectively.

Naturally we had to possess the Snoopy toys, which can only be obtained through the purchase of Happy Meals. We may be overgrown children, but the consumption of Happy Meals would be dangerous to our health. Still, the toys. So we ate one Happy Meal—the mini-pancakes—for breakfast, and bought four more for the building staff. That’s five toys, five more to go. Easily done: this weekend we’re dragging sister, sister’s husband, and their three brats to the happy place.