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Every movie we see #76: Guardians of the Galaxy is worlds of fun

August 01, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

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We have not read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, we don’t know anyone who’s read them, and we know next to nothing about them. And yet we caught the first screening of Guardians of the Galaxy on opening day because we have been primed to watch every Marvel movie, even if it is based on a relatively obscure series about space outlaws including a talking raccoon and a walking tree. Because the Marvel cinematic universe delivers.

The secret is to make movies that appeal to our inner child without equating childhood with stupidity. Even when the movies are so-so (Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 are our least favorite, not counting the Hulk movie with Edward Norton), they have enough charm to keep us interested. This approach has been so successful that the studio can not only gamble on a non-household quantity like Guardians, it can actually float the idea of resurrecting Howard the Duck.

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Guardians of the Galaxy makes us happy. It’s brisk, loud, busy, and self-aware: it revels in the essential silliness of the material, and brings us all in on the joke. They’re laughing with us, not at us. Who are we laughing at? The people with sticks up their butts. Granted, we’re suckers for a movie where guys have arguments on the nature of metaphor.

Like its siblings, Guardians is loaded with pop culture references, including music from the 70s and 80s. When was the last time a movie contained hommages to Footloose, Cherry Bomb by The Runaways, and Benicio del Toro looking like wasted Eurodisco trash? And every space opera worth its dilithium crystals must have Moonage Daydream by David Bowie from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It makes us want to dust off our ancient Walkman. We know exactly how the hero feels when someone appropriates his mix tape and he declares, “That song belongs to me.”

The singing, dancing, joking, fighting star of Guardians is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, the outlaw who calls himself Star-Lord. Chris Pratt deserves to be a big star because he gives the human race hope that inside every funny overweight schlub is a hot guy. The amazing thing about Pratt’s transformation is not that he could look like that, but that he could look like that and his looks would only be his second or third most appealing quality. His band of outlaws includes a green Zoe Saldana, a heavily tattooed Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel as the voice of the tree Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket the raccoon. You know how a good performance can make us forget the actor playing the role? We forgot that he was a raccoon.

So Lee Pace’s Ronan isn’t particularly threatening, the great Glenn Close and John C. Reilly don’t have much to do, and the battle scenes are messy (Was the director auditioning for Star Wars?). Director James Gunn has made an amusing introduction that he can build on in subsequent movies. Guardians of the Galaxy lands at number five among our favorite Marvel movies, after Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (tie; CAWS is the better movie but we have so much affection for Avengers), Iron Man 3, and Iron Man. We’re watching it again. By the third time we suspect that it will be at number three.

Rating: (As if a review would stop you from watching Guardians of the Galaxy.) Highly recommended.

Every movie we see #75: We don’t know exactly what Enemy is about, but we want more.

July 30, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 2 Comments →

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We had dropped by the cinema to see the screening schedule of Guardians of the Galaxy, which opens tomorrow, when we saw that Enemy was playing in Cinema 1. We were curious about the film by Denis Villeneuve, which has gotten great reviews and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who encounters his exact double. However, we wanted to leave the mall by 4pm to avoid getting trapped in traffic.

Then it occurred to us that in the last couple of months our life has been circumscribed by our fear of traffic, and that is not good. We decided to stay on for the 530 screening, even if we had to walk home. Yay, cinephilia! Besides, we weren’t sure Enemy would still be in cinemas tomorrow (Under the Skin came and went, and Moira says the nudity and sex scenes were not cut).

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We dragged a friend out of the house to see Enemy with us, and he had not only read the novel it was based upon (The Double by Jose Saramago), but he had insider knowledge about Jake Gyllenhaal. “He’s in my friend’s yoga class and his downward dog is pathetic. Therefore he is straight.” (Oo, hindi pa nag-uumpisa ang pelikula, nalait na si Jake.)

It must be the season for doppelgangers: there’s also The Double, adapted from a novella by Dostoevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jesse Eisenberg.

Set in a grim and rather sickly-looking big city, Enemy opens in a vault-like room where men are quietly watching a performance involving women and spiders. Then we meet Adam Bell, a university professor whose general demeanor suggests unhappiness. His lectures sound mechanical, his apartment is drab, his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) is lovely but he seems interested only in quick and dirty sex. His mother (Isabella Rosellini) leaves a phone message asking how he can live that way. Upon a colleague’s recommendation, he rents a movie called Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way. There’s nothing remarkable about it, but the unsettling score (We don’t know about you, but when we hear atonal cello scrapings we think someone is losing their mind), the ominous shadows and the claustrophobic shots tell us that something is not right.

Then Adam is awakened in the middle of the night by the belated awareness of something he’d seen in the movie: an actor who looks exactly like him. Now if most people spotted an actor who looked exactly like them, they would probably be amused, google the actor, joke about the resemblance, and in some cases, send the actor a message on Facebook (or join the I Am Pogay contest). That’s what might happen in real life; this is a movie, as the unnatural, uneasy atmosphere reminds us.

Adam reacts to his discovery with fear and disgust and an undeniable fascination. He tracks down his double, the obscure actor Anthony Clair (along the way attempting to disguise himself with a hideous pair of sunglasses). Adam and Anthony meet in a hotel room, and why the meeting should be so creepy and anxious we don’t know, but it is.

This is one of those movies where nothing seems to be happening onscreen, but if you’re a susceptible cinephiliac, maybe an over-thinker who sees mysteries hidden everywhere, Enemy will haunt you for days. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? What is their relationship to each other? (The matching scars immediately recall the movies of David Cronenberg; in fact you could read Enemy as a riff on Dead Ringers.)

Gyllenhaal is brilliant as Adam and Anthony. In the early scenes it is easy to tell them apart, but as the similarities in their desires and anxieties are revealed, they seem to merge into one person and it becomes harder to say which Jake is which. Or are they the same person to begin with?

What’s with all the spiders? What is that giant spider hovering over the city? What does it have to do with Adam’s lecture on dictatorship, control, and keeping the individual down…

OH.

What more emphatic way is there to show the loss of individuality in cinematic terms?

Rating: If you need rational explanations, skip it. If you enjoy having your mind go off on strange tangents, highly recommended…assuming it’s still playing in theatres.

Every movie we see # 74: Hercules is legendarily awful.

July 29, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 1 Comment →

Movies #70-73: Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d, Evil Under the Sun, all adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. Orient Express is the most stylish—we’ve always wanted to take the Orient Express—but we found Albert Finney’s Hercule Poirot overdone. We prefer Peter Ustinov, who starred in Nile and Evil. The Mirror Crack’d is memorable for the insults traded by Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak, and if you like Diana Rigg in Game of Thrones, you have to see her as the scheming actress in Evil Under the Sun.


Lady Olenna Tyrell—in the halter dress—vs the Dowager Countess of Grantham!

We enjoyed our Agatha Christie film festival so much, we’ve been watching the TV series Agatha Christie’s Marple. Ricky calls it The Love Boat of murder mysteries because each episode features a raft of guest stars familiar from British TV including Timothy Dalton, Matthew Macfadyen, and the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.

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On one hand, Hercules: The Thracian Wars is by Brett Ratner, a director so terrible that Wolverine had to travel back in time to repair the damage he did to the X-Men series. On the other hand, it stars The Rock Dwayne Johnson, whose character in The Scorpion King we named our cat Mat after (Although we changed it from ‘Mathayus’ to ‘Matthias’ because we can spell).

So we watched Hercules because we love The Rock and think he’s (intentionally) funny and the reviews we saw were decent. Afterwards we decided that Dwayne needs to fire his agent because he hasn’t gotten the right projects, and the reviewers need to get detoxed.

The concept is intriguing: the deconstruction of a myth. This Hercules is not a demi-god but a mortal, a warrior accused of a horrific crime and reduced to working as a mercenary. He is accompanied by a merry band including Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, and Aksel Hennie (star of the excellent Norwegian art crime movie Headhunters with Nikolaj Coster Waldau). The stories of his exploits are made up by his nephew, apparently the inventor of PR.

So the premise is overflowing with comic possibilities, all of which the inept director ignores because he thinks he is making a serious movie. In the classics of camp the actors are hilarious because they think they are making a serious film. With Hercules, the actors know the movie is stupid, but the director has no idea. Poor Dwayne can’t even lift an eyebrow in jest because his character has been through a horrible tragedy.

The battle scenes are lazy and generic, the script is putrid, and the movie is a total waste of The Rock.


With all the money, technology, and stars going for it, Hercules: The Thracian Wars is not as entertaining as the cheesy old sword-and-sandal epic from the 50s.

Bad as Dwayne’s agent is, Joseph Fiennes’s and Peter Mullan’s are worse. (Never mind that John Hurt is in this, he’s appeared in some terrific stuff this year.) You make The Magdalene Sisters, and then you’re cast as the secondary villain in this? Fire your agent.

We fear that for lack of choice, this is Dwayne Johnson’s best performance in film so far.

Alan Moore calls for boycott of wretched film Hercules

Reading year 2014: Doctor Strange Season 1 is not that strange.

July 25, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

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What we’ve read since our last report in May:

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor – Reread the second volume of the record of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s epic walk from Germany to Turkey in 1933 before starting on the last volume.

Beyond Paris – Translations of stories by 20th century French writers including Michel Tournier and J.M.G. Le Clezio, published by Cacho in the late 90s. The project—contemporary French fiction translated in the Philippines—was not only ahead of its time, it’s ahead of this time.

The Broken Road – Patrick Leigh Fermor never got to finish the account of his long walk—he died in 2011, having crammed several lifetimes’ worth of adventure into his 96 years (In Crete during WWII, he led a daring operation to capture a German general). He left an unfinished manuscript, which has been edited by his biographer Artemis Cooper.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, while we were watching Penny Dreadful.

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Doctor Strange, Season One by Greg Pak and Emma Rios. Our introduction to Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts was neither marvelous nor mystical. It’s the typical buddy movie in which two very different individuals overcome their antipathy towards each other and learn to work together. The magic is incidental. By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth! It is not strange at all.

Yes, we’ve been looking for the vintage comics.

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Sixth Edition by David Thomson. Our favorite film reference—we disagree with Thomson half the time, but we enjoy the argument—has been updated to include Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and other players who have broken out since the last edition.

In the entry on Bryan Cranston, Thomson writes: “It’s hard to believe that the movies today would have the courage and the persistence to do someone like Walter White. Long-form television is the narrative form that has transcended movies in the way, once, the novel surpassed cave paintings. And Walter addresses two of our central questions: What will you do to survive? And what is left after survival?”

Now we want to watch Breaking Bad yet again. We should just have it on all the time.

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Currently reading:

Crime and Punishment – We have vowed to read every word and resist the urge to skim through the looong internal monologues.

Means of Escape – stories by Penelope Fitzgerald, upon the insistence of Tina, who has launched a campaign to make everyone read the late British author.

Next:

Zona by Geoffrey Dyer – a book about Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Notes from the Uncool # 1

July 22, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

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Scenes from the history of medicine

July 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History No Comments →

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The Wellcome Library, London has made a thousand years of historical images relating to the history of medicine available free to the public.

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Images from Wellcome Library, London

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