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Captain (Fantastic) squared

August 17, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 2 Comments →

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We assumed a lot of things from the poster of Captain Fantastic. The image of a family standing by a bus conjures up Little Miss Sunshine, the palette The Royal Tenenbaums. The brief summary brings up Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast, in which Harrison Ford plays a father who takes his family “back to nature”, somewhere around the Amazon rainforest, with catastrophic results. The movie has bits of all of the above, but this exercise demonstrates how lazy viewers have become. Enough of “pegs”! Let’s talk about things. (Also, I just realized this is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema in weeks that is not part of a franchise.)

Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross (Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley), stars the singular Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a father raising six children ages 7-17 alone in the wild. He and his wife had intended to create a paradise and raise philosopher-kings out of Plato’s Republic. (Lazy descriptions: hippies, hipsters) The children are homeschooled and spectacularly literate—in one scene, the 8-year-old critiques the Bill of Rights. One of the teenagers is reading Lolita, and when she describes it as “interesting”, all the kids remind her that “interesting” is a non-word. True, it’s the default adjective when you’re too lazy to think of a proper description. Then she summarizes the novel, and her father says dwelling on the plot is lazy, too. Thinking deeply! An activity that is going extinct in the digital age.

Apart from literature, political theory, physics and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they learn self-defense, hunting, and how to survive in the woods equipped only with a knife. Every morning they train as if they were competing in the Olympics. Ben always tells them the truth, even the things children are supposed to be shielded from. They don’t celebrate Christmas, they do Noam Chomsky Day. These kids are extremely well-educated, articulate, independent-thinking, anti-capitalist and self-sufficient. In short, they are freaks.

Unbeknownst to his father, the eldest son Bo (an excellent George MacKay) has applied to and been accepted by the entire Ivy League. Then something happens that requires them to encounter “the outside world”, and Ben is forced to re-examine his beliefs. Funny how the sustainable way of life is not sustainable in regular society.

Viggo is always terrific—the full frontal exposure is not completely necessary, but thanks anyway. Ross, who was Departmental Dan in The Last Days of Disco, never treats Ben as a weirdo or the kids as the butts of jokes—we know exactly whose side he’s on. I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy and got an affecting drama about the collision between personal belief and living in the world. Watch it before it vanishes from the cinema. It’s showing at Power Plant only., Greenhills Promenade, and Robinson’s Galleria.

Love and Friendship is the cattiest film ever based on Jane Austen’s work

August 09, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 3 Comments →

It’s hilarious!

Lady Susan: The fees at Frederica’s school are too high to even think of paying. So, in a sense, it’s an economy!

Later,

Lady Susan: She says she must think of her school’s reputation.

Reginald de Courcy: Preposterous. I’ve never heard of her school.

I think Tita Jane Austen would love it. It’s made me realize how Austenian The Last Days of Disco is.

Rx: Pop culture therapy for anxiety, ennui, the fear that you’ve wasted your life

August 03, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music, Television 2 Comments →

Symptoms: Fear and despair over the state of the world

Treatment: Stranger Things.

It’s supposed to be a horror series—bizarre stuff happens, and some of it is quite scary—but its real hook is nostalgia. Specifically 80s nostalgia: Steven Spielberg of the Close Encounters and E.T. era; Stephen King’s The Body/Stand By Me, It, Firestarter; Goonies; a smattering of 80s music from The Clash, Joy Division, Foreigner, The Bangles and others; Winona Ryder as a harried single mom whose Dungeons and Dragons-playing kid goes missing. The early episodes are the best: they create a mood of unease and “What the hell!” while telling us nothing. When they start explaining the baffling events, the intensity slackens. The series becomes less interesting, but by that time you’re emotionally invested and you have to see it through. Part of the fun lies in identifying the movie references and predicting what happens next. Kids protecting a fugitive and fleeing the authorities on bikes: Will they fly?

Effects: Watching horror mysteries makes us feel that we can make sense of the absurd. And nostalgia is very comforting: it takes us back to a past in which we believed we could understand what was going on.

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Symptoms: Life has lost its flavor, and you are mired in ennui.

Treatment: The Great British Bake-Off.

I’ve never been much interested in reality show cooking competitions in which judges terrorize the contestants and reduce them to tearful blobs of jelly. That does not happen here. Everyone is polite, the hosts are funny, the competitors don’t try to destroy each other (if they do, it’s not in the final edit), and the criticism is constructive (The judges soften the blow because life is hard enough as it is).

Effects: Observing the process of creating cakes and pastries is deeply soothing.

Symptoms: You suspect you will never fulfill your ambitions and that you have wasted your life.

Treatment: Sing Street

This musical drama-comedy by the guy who made Once and Begin Again (and got a lot of flak for bad-mouthing Keira Knightley) is about a bunch of kids in economically-depressed Ireland in the 80s who deal with domestic strife and school bullies by forming a band, writing songs and making primitive music videos. The pastiches of songs by Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates are actually good. I would buy “Drive It Like You Stole It”. The film features the best brother in the world, who makes the nerdy kid listen to Joe Jackson and tells him to follow his dreams while everyone else is mocking or ignoring him. Listen, it’s corny and it’s usually an over-promise, but everyone needs to hear some variation of the “Go for it” speech as a kid. (Technically I got a lot of “Go for it” speeches but they were couched as “Why are you wasting your time when you could be blah blah blah.”) Jack Reynor plays the big brother, and Littlefinger Mayor Carcetti is the dad. Think of it as The Commitments, junior edition.

Effects: The film has a contagious joyfulness, and may remind you of your younger, brasher, more optimistic self.

Rogue Male to be filmed with Cumberbatch; who will co-star as Asmodeus the cat?

August 03, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Cats, Movies 1 Comment →

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Geoffrey Household’s wonderful thriller Rogue Male is coming to the screen! The film will star Benedict Cumberbatch, who will also produce.

It will be the third adaptation of Rogue Male, after the Fritz Lang version (Boring) and the TV movie starring Peter O’Toole (Somewhat better).

The novel is the gripping tale of an unnamed hunter who decides, on his own, to bag himself a dictator in an unnamed Central European country. He gets caught and tortured by enemy agents, but manages to escape and make his way back to England. There he is hunted by enemy agents, so he goes on the run in the English countryside, and Household’s description of the countryside makes me want to go camping (I have never gone camping in my life, being suspicious of nature). The hero makes himself a hideout, where he holes up for many days. His only companion is a stray black cat who has decided to stick around. He calls the cat Asmodeus, and I am looking forward to scenes in which the Cumberbatch converses with a cat.

Asmodeus is possibly the greatest role for a cat since Jonesy in the first Alien movie, so I hope they cast the right cat. No whitewashing: let it be a black cat.

Read the BBC News report.

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Saffy’s favorite cat performances
1. Jonesy in Alien
2. Tonto in Harry and Tonto
3. Philip Marlowe’s fussy cat in The Long Goodbye
4. Ulysses in Inside Llewyn Davis
5. Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

What are your favorite cat performances? Beside’s Blofeld the Bond villain’s white cat (and its Austin Powers parodies).

Jason Bourne is fast, intense, impressively-choreographed chaos.

July 27, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

The world has caught up to the Bourne movies, and the latest installment doesn’t deny it, name-checking Snowden at least twice and featuring an Assange-like character and a global network of hackers. After Bourne Legacy, which should’ve been a better movie considering the hellish inconvenience we in Metro Manila had to endure while it was being shot, Jason Bourne brings back the elements that made the series work: its original star Matt Damon, who has less and less dialogue as the series goes on, and the director responsible for its relentlessly kinetic style, Paul Greengrass. (It is also unswervingly loyal to Moby, whose song is still played over the closing credits.) This movie is almost exactly like the previous ones, with new players. Tommy Lee Jones is the scheming CIA guy, Alicia Vikander the hotshot surveillance girl, and Bourne’s former handler Julia Stiles sets events in motion. Vincent Cassel is the fearsome fighting opponent, a role that was filled by Clive Owen, Marton Csokas and Karl Urban, among others. The new element: Riz Ahmed as a tech billionaire launching a social media platform that guarantees privacy. As for character development, we don’t get speeches, we get fists—to punish himself, Bourne participates in underground fights.

If it’s the same movie, why should we watch it? Because it is executed so well, and it just hurtles along so fast, we have no time to complain that it’s all been done. Greengrass takes the most memorable elements from the previous movies—the car chases, the hand-to-hand combat, the tradecraft, the surveillance—then ratchets up the degree of difficulty. The chase scenes occur in even more crowded locations: a protest march in Greece, a tightly-packed convention center, a traffic jam in Las Vegas. It’s all chaos and confusion, and yet we always know where Bourne is in relation to his pursuers. Clarity! Geography! We see a world that seems to be falling apart, but its silent center holds.

Star Trek Beyond goes where many movies have gone before, still gives you a good time (But I want more)

July 21, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 3 Comments →

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My ancient Star Trek paperbacks, which the cats attempted to use as scratching posts

Star Trek Beyond is brisk and efficient, with impressive set pieces and the comedy partnership of Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban). All that was missing was Bones saying, “He’s dead, Jim.” The big action scenes could be clearer—the geography is muddled, the lighting murky—and the evolution of the villain Krall be explained better (How did he start draining his victims?), but the writers have homed in on the essence of Star Trek: scientific thinking employed with humanity, Spock + Kirk. Also I approve of a universe in which the Beastie Boys is classical music. And appreciate the lovely tribute to Leonard Nimoy even if I’ve forgotten how there came to be two Spocks, and how the writers paid tribute to the living George Takei by revealing that Mr. Sulu is gay. I will miss Anton Yelchin.

I understand that given the cost of making special effects movies, the filmmakers have to make the product accessible to the widest audience possible. What I’m missing is the compelling, brain-bending science-fiction I took for granted when I was watching the reruns of the original Gene Rodenberry series in the late 1970s. The effects were laughable, the sets tore during the fight scenes, William Shatner was pure Roquefort, the make-up was hilarious, but the stories!

The current writers are hard-put to create storylines that boldly go where no movie has gone before, so why not do a bit of time-travel and retool some of the classic Star Trek stories? City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, even The Trouble With Tribbles. They need not be slavish remakes, but tweaked, expanded, reworked. That episode where Kirk split into his good and bad halves—Chris Pine would kill in it. Amok Time, where Spock goes into heat (Vulcans do) and fights to the death for a mate—Quinto would be brilliant.


Star trek TOS 2×01 by 3_14us