Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

Every movie we see #42: Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel is a box of macarons

April 19, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Design, Movies No Comments →

40. A Handful of Dust. The book is hilarious, the movie is not.
41. Homefront. It’s finally happened. We’re tired of Jason Statham.

* * * * *


Perhaps the word that best describes Wes Anderson movies is exquisite. They are beautiful, like well-curated museum exhibitions. The color palettes are carefully selected, as if the director had begun planning his movies not with notes but with fabric swatches.


The compositions are symmetrical.


The production design is elaborate (It makes you want to run home and redecorate).


The art direction is meticulous.


The filmmaking style is unapologetically mannered, that is, not particularly concerned with presenting life as it really is.

In short, the films of Wes Anderson are macarons. When the ingredients are fresh and mixed in the precise, perfect quantities, the result is delightful (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums). One miscalculation and the outcome can be precious, or cloyingly cute (We loathe Moonrise Kingdom with a passion. Granted, this is preferable to casual loathing). Balance must be achieved, or the audience goes home feeling slightly nauseous.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lovely box of macarons, an affectionate look at a more civilized era where everyone could expect courtesy, decorum, discretion and consideration on the basis of shared humanity. The catch is that this more civilized era may not ever have existed, but the longing for it is universal (The same way people who have read a lot of Mitteleuropean literature are nostalgic for the Habsburg empire without ever having been part of it). The filmmaker acknowledges this by putting the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel in a frame within a frame within a frame: a girl in the recent past reads a book written by a former guest of the hotel, who recalls a conversation in the more distant past with a former hotel employee, who tells a story from an even earlier time.

Macaron is apt because while it may be argued that The Grand Budapest Hotel is no more than a confection, it is a wonderful confection. If we’re going to risk diabetes and heart disease by eating dessert, it had better be a sublime dessert. Otherwise we might as well spoon lard out of a vat.

Verdict: Enthusiastically recommended. We like the way Wes Anderson acknowledges the work of Stefan Zweig, whom we “met” through one of our all-time favorite movies, Max Ophuls’s Letter From An Unknown Woman.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is now showing at Ayala Cinemas.

Illustrations for the Apocalypse

April 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History 1 Comment →


In the 8th century, in a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk named Beatus set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript.




Read about the Beatus of Facundus at the Public Domain Review.

The Rains of Castamere by Sigur Ros is a soundtrack for your waking dreams

April 14, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Music, Television No Comments →

Anything we have to say about Game of Thrones at this point will contain spoilers, so let’s not speak of it at all.

The Icelandic band Sigur Ros can make anything sound haunting. They make us want to learn Icelandic (Lolo Tolkien would be pleased). Here they take the Lannister song The Rains of Castamere and turn it into the kind of music you hear in those prophetic dreams whose details you can never remember when you wake up. (We recommend listening to Sigur Ros while visiting tropical islands in blazing sunshine. It makes for an amazing contrast.)

Hey, today’s theme is dragons.

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Look, here’s a short film with music by Sigur Ros in which Aidan Gillen (Lord Baelish, who has a larger role this season) meets a fox.

Every movie we see #39: Excalibur tells us how to summon the dragon

April 14, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, Movies 5 Comments →

Catching up:

30. Vertigo. Our annual viewing. We were trying to convince Juan to drop by San Juan Bautista and “reenact” the body on the roof, but the drive to San Simeon took longer than he expected.

31. Philomena. Written by Steve Coogan, directed by Stephen Frears, based on true events, Philomena could’ve easily been a diatribe against the terrible crimes of the Catholic Church. Instead, it gives the villainous nuns of the story the compassion they never gave Philomena, an Irish woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock, is put to work without pay in a convent, and has her son taken away from her and given to adoptive American parents. Philomena is brilliantly portrayed by Dame Judi Dench in the most un-Dame Judi performance we can remember, and Steve Coogan continues to surprise. (See What Maisie Knew)

32. Stranger by the Lake. You think it’s gay porn, but it’s a thrilling psychological drama about how some kinds of love make us want to live, and others can’t be distinguished from the longing for death. Definitely NSFW.

33. The Lady Vanishes. We could recite this. We talk to the screen. “Look at the window! The win–” (merge with train whistle).

34. The Avengers. We had to decide which movie in the Marvel cinematic universe is the best.

35. Captain America: The First Avenger. Even better when you see it again! Chris Evans has been seriously, seriously underrated. Maybe no longer.

36. Byzantium. A contemporary vampire story starring Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton that may be Neil Jordan’s apology for the excesses of Interview With The Vampire.

37. Prince of the City. Treat Williams plays the police detective turned whistle-blower in this Sidney Lumet film from 1981. He thinks he’s making like Al Pacino in a previous Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon. Turns out that to overact like that, you have to BE Al Pacino.

38. The Thirteenth Tale. Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Sansa) in an entertaining contemporary Gothic tale.

* * * * *

39. Excalibur by John Boorman is still one of our favorite adaptations of the Arthurian tales. Because of Excalibur and The Once and Future King, we would’ve majored in Medieval English Lit (Fortunately we realized that the curriculumn would include lots of Piers Plowman ugh).

The Boorman movie is cheesy in parts (Nicol Williamson as Merlin is a runny Stilton), and it takes liberties with the source materials—Arthur himself becomes The Fisher King, Morgana is merged with Nimue—but it is wildly entertaining and it gets the spirit of the legends.

This wonderful scene in which Arthur awakens from his long stupor and rides through the land, awakening it, introduced us to O Fortuna! from Orff’s Carmina Burana.

We had to watch Excalibur at the cinema twice so we could memorize the Charm of Making.

In Old Gaelic: Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha. (Serpent’s breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making.)

Yes, that is Helen Mirren, who played Morgana.


Here she is with her then-boyfriend Liam Neeson, who was Gawaine. Here’s a funny story about them.

gabriel byrne

Gabriel Byrne was Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father.

stewart hinds

And Patrick Stewart and Ciaran Hinds were King Leodegrance (father of Guinevere) and King Lot (husband of Arthur’s sister Morgause and stepfather of the bastard Mordred, but not in the movie).

Ah! We know what illuminated manuscript we’re going to make: The Sword in the Stone, the first book of The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

If you are interested in the Arthurian tales, White is the best place to start. Mary Stewart’s Merlin series—The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment—is excellent, and Lloyd Alexander’s children’s books The Chronicles of Prydain are a great introduction to the Welsh myths The Mabinogion.

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones, which was the cover of Possession by A.S. Byatt.

Noah, Gilgamesh, and getting hammered

April 11, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Antiquities, Books, Current Events, Movies 5 Comments →

The building of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicles

We’ve already seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrice, and we wouldn’t mind seeing it again but one must try to get a life. So we thought of watching Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah, only to find that it’s not showing yet, nor is it on the roster of coming attractions. Hmmm. This wouldn’t have something to do with the protests about the movie version differing from the biblical version, would it? (According to InterAksyon, the delay in the screening is due to a dispute over distribution, not religion.)

Apparently American viewers have complained about Noah’s drunkenness—an episode we remember having read about, most recently in the David Rosenberg translation of the Book of J. From the King James Bible, Genesis 9:

20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

Which was harsh, considering Noah was the one who got so hammered, he passed out naked. (In his defence, he was about 600 years old at the time, reason enough to be cranky.) You think Ham wanted to see what he saw?

Here’s one of the likely sources of the story of The Great Flood, Tablet XI of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.

Read the Epic of Gilgamesh.

How to make illuminated manuscripts

April 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

Marquette Bible
Franco-Flemish, about 1270
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
Leaf: 18 1/2 x 12 1/8 in.
MS. LUDWIG I 8, VOL. 2, FOL. 126

The Making of A Medieval Book at the Getty Museum.

Having discovered Anne the calligrapher, we have put her to work on various manuscripts, including Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Isak Dinesen excerpts.

Next: Illuminated manuscripts!

We’ve always wanted to produce hand-made books (but NOT anthropomorphic bibliopegy), and now we have a collaborator. Yes, mass production is much cheaper and less troublesome, but making books by hand is a craft. The cost of the finished book is beside the point: the pleasure is in the “trouble” taken.

Besides, efficient utilitarian factory production has not saved the print market. We might even argue that reducing book production to a simple machine process has diminished the value of the book as an object.

Granted, we just enjoy making a fuss over the things we love.

Note: We have no intention of reliving medieval times. No indoor plumbing, terrible sanitation, rampant disease, low life expectancy, bad food. For the dramas of the medieval kings, we have Shakespeare. Always been fascinated by the Plantagenets.

from Good Tickle Brain, a wonderful Shakespeare webcomic, via io9

Download the Illuminated Morte d’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson at the Public Domain Review.