Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Movies’

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 1 Comment →

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.

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.

See Norte on April 15 at Glorietta and Trinoma

April 11, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Movies No Comments →

poster with dates ayala encore

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.

The Castle of Citizen Kane

April 10, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies, Places 3 Comments →

facadeSan Simeon photos by Juan

After a recent conference in Vegas, our friend Juan took a road trip to San Simeon, California to see the Hearst Castle. The hilltop palace was built by William Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper magnate who was the model for Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. (More recently it was the location of a Lady Gaga music video.)

Hearst was not amused, and did everything in his power to suppress the film. He tried to stop the studio from screening it. Failing that, he forbade all his newspapers from mentioning Citizen Kane, and ordered them to smear Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane did decently at the box-office and got some Oscar nominations, but it should have been Huge. Much of what we take for granted in cinema today was invented by Welles and his collaborators, notably cinematographer Gregg Toland. Orson Welles was 25 when he made that movie, and it was his first (though he was already a stage and radio sensation, having caused a panic with his War of the Worlds broadcast). He cited sheer ignorance as the source of his nerve—”There is no confidence to equal it. It’s only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful.”

Ironically, Hearst is largely remembered today as the inspiration for Citizen Kane, one of the greatest, most influential films in history.

Kane reflects on his life. Reflects, get it? Citizen Kane screenshots from Movie Images.

But Welles’s career was badly wounded by the Hearst propaganda, and for the rest of his life he would have trouble getting movies made. Charles Foster Kane was a man who had gotten everything he wanted, and then lost it all—the same could be said of Orson Welles.

roman pool 2
The Roman pool at Hearst Castle, not to be confused with the outdoor pool.

“The castle is a bit sad now that it is devoid of glamorous people,” Juan reports. “The most frequent guest was supposed to have been Clark Gable, who visited 42 times.”

dining hall

“The longer you stayed, the farther away you sat from Randolph Hearst, who was always seated at the middle. P.G. Wodehouse had to leave when he found himself at the end of the long table one night.”


Compare the actual dining room with the one in the film. The movie version is practically minimalist.

tennis court

“The conceit of the guy was not in building a castle but in building it on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere and giving it the comforts of a modern home. Indoor plumbing, lighted tennis court (first in California), heated swimming pools. Imagine the infrastructure of water, sewage, electricity that had to be built. Highway 1 had not been constructed yet so the castle was extremely isolated and difficult to get to.”

The library of the man who invented yellow journalism.

“In the late 1930s, Hearst owed $127M and had to downsize a lot. The family wanted to donate San Simeon to UCLA but the cost of maintenance was too much to bear (and there was no endowment for upkeep).”

The ornate ceiling. Hearst bought a lot of art from impoverished European nobility to furnish his castle.

“Paul Getty wanted to buy it and break up the art collection; the family refused. So it ended up with California government. I guess they had to do it as part of the estate settlement.”

Does that window give you the urge to confess?


“Randolph supposedly left control of his company to Marion Davies (his mistress, who was friends with Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay of Citizen Kane after he’d been barred from the castle for drunkenness), but she handed it back to the family.”


“I doubt that we will ever see something of this scale built ever again.” (Don’t count out the nouveaux riches just yet.)

The connection between William Randolph Hearst and Philippine history: During the Cuban revolution, Hearst and his newspapers inflamed public opinion against Spain, and this was one of the factors that led to the Spanish-American War. Which ended with the Philippines becoming a possession of the United States—a precursor of Vietnam and Iraq.

Citizen Kane was our godfather.

Star Wars as spaghetti space western

April 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Childhood, Clothing, Movies No Comments →

guerre stellari

This is our new favorite T-shirt. We acquired it at great cost. Not that it’s expensive, but we had to lose in order to get it. Recently we challenged Rene to a Don’t Buy Anything Contest, in which the player who refrains from spending anything in a store wins. We thought we were a shoo-in, since we weren’t feeling covetous at the time. Our mistake was setting the challenge in Uniqlo, where it is difficult for us not to buy anything because the stuff is so practical and the prices so sane. We could ignore the collaboration with Ines de la Fressange because the dress requires ironing, but this Italian Star Wars T-shirt…

“Isn’t this brilliant?” we cried. “Luke and Leia look like characters in those Italian sword-and-sandal flicks. We don’t recall Luke Skywalker getting topless in Star Wars.”

“Or bottomless,” Ricky pointed out. “He’s not wearing pants.”

The shirt is even more brilliant than we thought! We’re going to wear it till it falls apart. According to the Museo Fermo Immagine blog, the movie poster illustration is by the Sicilian artist Michelangelo Papuzza.