Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

Vikings: The domestic lives of ancient marauders

February 18, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Television No Comments →

Photo from the History Channel

Vikings is a production of the History Channel, so we’re inclined to think that this series about the rise of the legendary chief Ragnar Lothbrok is concerned with historical accuracy and authenticity. On the other hand its creator and showrunner is Michael Hirst, whose previous projects The Tudors and The Borgias can hardly be accused of accuracy. The court of King Henry VIII may have been as sexy as depicted in The Tudors, but the famed portrait by Hans Holbein shows that the monarch’s calves were larger than the waist of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who portrayed Henry.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Every movie we see #10-13: Whiplash is thrilling and Selma should be Best Picture

January 24, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies No Comments →

10. Blackhat by Michael Mann. Many filmmakers have taken a crack at making the writing and execution of computer code look thrilling. A bunch of people typing does not make for compelling cinema, unless you Matrix it. Michael Mann tries to liven up proceedings by showing a visual representation of information flowing, which doesn’t work for us, and by casting People’s Sexiest Man Alive as a genius hacker and surrounding him with hot Chinese actors (Leehom Wang from Lust, Caution, Andy On, Archie Kao of CSI), which does. Whenever we heard ourself thinking, “Chris Hemsworth as a computer genius??” Hemsworth would take off his shirt or something and we would forget our reservations. Yeah, parts of the movie are slow—they’re meant to be slow. Michael Mann will not change his pace to suit your attention span.

Blackhat is terrific, a moody thriller set in the new Wild West: the digital frontier, which laughs at national borders. With Viola Davis and Tang Wei, star of Lust, Caution.

If you liked Miami Vice with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, which we find woefully misunderstood, you’ll love Blackhat. By the way, every Michael Mann movie is about manhood. Deal with it.

11. Selma by Ava DuVernay. In truth we expected to sleep through it. Movies about important historical moments usually feel like a duty, with their tendency to canonize their subjects. (Confession: We haven’t seen Gandhi and Lincoln in their entirety.) But from the first scene, in which Martin Luther King (the commanding David Oyelowo) is dressing up for the Nobel Prize ceremony, we were riveted. Ava DuVernay has made a powerful film that puts you right there on that bridge with the people marching for Civil Rights in 1964 and the policemen waiting to crack their skulls. It makes us ashamed of our ignorance of recent history.

Critics have torn into Selma for portraying President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson—why are the major roles played by Brits?) as the villain. We don’t know what movie they saw, but Johnson wasn’t the bad guy in Selma. He was being what he was: a politician.

Which brings us to the Oscars, which many say have been whitewashed. How many times has the Academy’s Best Picture been unquestionably the best picture? It doesn’t have to be. “Best Picture” is a political message: it’s the Academy saying, “This is how we see ourselves, this is what we aspire to.” Boyhood is a worthy contender, and Birdman, and Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice and Whiplash, but in the year of Ferguson and “I Can’t Breathe”, Selma is both worthy and timely. It captures a moment that continues to impact on today’s America. Just because Barack Obama is African-American doesn’t mean it’s over.

12. The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum. We are the target audience for this one: Benedict Cumberbatch fans who know how Alan Turing was maltreated by his country and take an interest in the cracking of Enigma. (Polish mathematicians laid the groundwork. They started working on it in the early 30s because they knew the Nazis were coming. Turing built on their work.) And we liked Tyldum’s art crime movie, Headhunters.

We fell asleep at the Merchant-Ivoriness of the first 30 minutes. We’ll take another crack at it next week.

13. Whiplash by Damien Chazelle. Whoa! This is thrilling filmmaking. You know the oft-told story of the teacher who is tough and cranky because he wants his student to be the best he can be, but is really a kind old geezer? J.K. Simmons as the mentor is a monster on the outside, and when you get to know him he’s even more monstrous. Miles Teller is excellent as the aspiring drummer, and their final face-off is so tense we kept forgetting to breathe.

And yet we detect, in the film and in ourselves, a yearning for a mentor who will push us beyond our limits, resulting in either irrepairable breakage or greatness. “But what’s at stake?” some may ask. “No one even listens to jazz anymore. He endures all that torment, and what’s the point?” That IS the point. Greatness is not measured in fame, fortune, or the approbation of award-giving bodies. The public doesn’t care, but you will know.

That said, you do not have the right to be that mentor and condemn mediocrity if you yourself are mediocre. Also, practice is for developing discipline, it’s not a substitute for talent. Without talent, that kind of brutal training will only produce assholes.

Is krungkrung hyphenated?

January 23, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Language, The Workplace 4 Comments →

Our friend Noel sent us a video report that could very well be the definition of krungkrung. Then he asked something that, in our universe, is a vital question: Is krungkrung hyphenated? Krungkrung or krung-krung?

Read our column at

The Devil in the Philippines

January 14, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

Drogon vs Diablo

Translated into English and annotated by Benedict Anderson, Carlos Sardiña Galache and Ramon Guillermo, Ang Diablo sa Filipinas (1886) unfolds as a dialogue between Isabelo and his friend Gatmaitan. They hear that a directorcillo in Bulacan, well-known for his library, has died. (The directorcillos were the secretaries of the Spanish administrators. They handled all official documents, which made them very powerful in their towns.) Isabelo and Gatmaitan rush to the dead man’s house to ogle the local girls, enjoy the buffet at the wake, and look at the famous library. Of particular interest is the “Little Book”, said to possess magical powers.

But the Little Book manages to hide itself from the two men, and they end up passing the time by reading from the missionary chronicles they find in the library. For instance, there is Aduarte’s account of a demon that played pranks on men who went into the forest alone. This demon would bring the man some creatures who resembled women. These “women” would lure the man into some thick shrubs, where they proceeded to play pelota using him as their ball.

Read our column at

Every movie we see in 2015. Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo is a handsome diorama.

January 06, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies 1 Comment →

New year, new record.

1. The Green Ray. We had seen this a few years ago, but as with many Eric Rohmer movies we weren’t sure we had. We couldn’t recall the plot, because nothing much really happens in Eric Rohmer movies. A young man walks around the neighborhood where his crush lives, hoping to run into her. A young man waits for his girlfriend to show up, meets another girl and hits it off. A man gets stranded at a woman friend’s house by a snowstorm and spends the whole night wondering if he should sleep with her. You get the drift. The situations are so banal yet the characters’ thought processes are so interesting that we cannot tune out.

In The Green Ray, a woman can’t decide how to spend her summer vacation. That’s about it, plot-wise, except for the bit about a Jules Verne novel. But it’s riveting, and by the end we’re screaming “What! You can’t stop there! What happens next?”

Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo photo from InterAksyon.

2. Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

The history looks correct but let’s not forget that this is not a school report but a movie, and the root word of movie is move.

Robin Padilla goes through all the poses: Monumento, UP Vinzons Hall, and so on. We expect a line of action figures.

Whenever the movie threatens to achieve any momentum, it is interrupted by the framing device in which Daniel Padilla is a high school student working on a school project at the KKK Museum. On the other hand, we learned that there is a KKK Museum.

As the museum custodian, Eddie Garcia is moved to tears because Bonifacio is called a traitor. As far as we know, Bonifacio is still generally considered a hero, it’s only the Aguinaldo biopic El Presidente that portrays him as a traitor.

After the end credits, which we sat through because we were discussing Bonifacio, there is a stinger which teases the Antonio Luna biopic. It’s the 1896 Revolution Cinematic Universe! That would make Robin Padilla’s Bonifacio Groot. Because he dies but lives on, what did you think we meant?

Maratabat, Memory and Maguindanao

December 16, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History, Movies No Comments →

Photo from

In Maratabat, the first film by journalist Arlyn de la Cruz, one family—Abubakar—rules a fictional yet familiar province in Muslim Mindanao. The father is Governor, the eldest son Congressman, the younger son Mayor. Their power appears to be absolute; they don’t so much govern the province as hold it hostage. Early on the Governor (Julio Diaz, switching between charm and malevolence so fast it makes your head spin) has breakfast with a young relative. All is friendly until the younger man confirms that he intends to run for mayor against the Governor’s son. The Governor casually shoots him in the head and leaves. No witnesses come forward—“It happened so fast.”

Motherhood, Money and Medicine

How many movies have we seen in which a bitchy, overbearing woman is revealed in the end to be a tender-hearted softie hiding behind a veneer of toughness? Thankfully, Zig Dulay’s M (Mother’s Maiden Name) is not one of those movies.

Zsa Zsa Padilla is terrific as Bella, a successful lawyer and single mother who discovers that she has late-stage cancer. “How did that happen?” she asks her doctor. “I eat expensive food. I seldom drink, and only expensive liquor.” Thus she sums up her upper middle-class notion that her lifestyle will protect her from anything really terrible. That’s what she thinks. In M, everyone is vulnerable to illness regardless of socio-economic class; however, money will determine the quality of medical treatment.

Read our column at

Today’s reviews are brought to you by the letter M.

* * * * *

M (Mother’s Maiden Name) and Maratabat will screen at the New Wave (in other words, indie) section of the Metro Manila Film Festival, December 17-24, 2014 at Glorietta in Ayala Center, Makati and Megamall in Mandaluyong.