Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Movies’

NASA fact-checks The Martian

October 05, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Science No Comments →

After you watch The Martian, impress everyone by science-ing the shit out of it, from topography to hacking the rover. via Wired.

NASA discovers water on Mars, then The Martian opens in cinemas

September 30, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →


The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as Mr. Spock declared, but not where Matt Damon is concerned. Matt Damon must be saved at all cost, because one of the few things that unite the human race at this time is our fondness for Matt Damon. He’s good-looking, but not so handsome that he makes you feel like crap; he’s famous, but he’s not smug about it; he does good things but doesn’t have them publicized constantly, and unlike his friend he’s never starred in Gigli, been thrown out of casinos or accused of banging the nanny. (He’s actually due for a backlash.)

Nearly 20 years ago, the US had to send a squad into Nazi-occupied Europe to bring him back home in Saving Private Ryan. They sacrificed Vin Diesel. They sacrificed Tom Hanks! Damon joins Hanks and Sandra Bullock in that very special place in the current cinema: they’re the people the audience likes without question. In The Martian, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who is presumed dead and left on Mars by his fellow astronauts. In the ensuing discussion about how to save him, no one even mentions that the rescue mission would cost bajillions. It’s Matt Damon!

Like the novel it is based upon, The Martian is a straightforward problem-solving thriller. As written by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, Marvel’s Daredevil), it does not wax philosophical about man’s place in the universe. It does not wonder whether there is life out there, though the announcement of the NASA discovery of water on Mars days before the movie’s theatrical opening means that it will always be associated with the search for extraterrestrial life. And though the situation is beyond dire, it does not indulge in sentimentality. When things get overwhelming, there’s disco music to kill the self-pity (Though we do not believe that there was no other kind of music in the astronauts’ laptops). When Watney finally allows himself to cry, it’s a well-earned release.

After he staples himself together (reminding us of a scene from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus), Watney does not give in to rage or despair, but gets down to the problem of survival. Fortunately the Hermes mission (Bad choice of name, it made us think of a handbag flying through space) left a lot of equipment, including cameras so he can address us directly and explain what he’s doing. He figures out how to manufacture water, grow potatoes, and let mission control back on earth know that he’s alive. The movie works because we want Watney to live, and because we believe he can MacGyver his way until NASA figures out a plan.

Ridley Scott has taken us to outer space before, most notably in Alien, but The Martian bears little resemblance to his previous work. There is no dread or existential anguish. There are no villains—not the mission leader Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) or the crew (Michael Peña, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara who is way more believable as a scientist here than in Fantastic 4) who do not hesitate to risk their lives to get Watney back; not the NASA officials Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean—nice Lord of the Rings reference, but they passed on the obvious “Winter is coming” joke); not the NASA PR lady (Kristen Wiig) who has to break the news to the public; certainly not the NASA engineers and physicists including Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong) and Rich Purnell (Donald Glover); and not even the competing space programs of other countries. The closest The Martian has to a villain is the NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), who has to make tough decisions to ensure not just Watney’s survival but that of the entire space program. And he’s just doing his job.

The Martian, a most un-Ridley Scott Ridley Scott movie, is an efficient entertainment, a popcorn movie in which astrophysics and engineering are not the exclusive domain of nerds but matters that concern everyone. A movie that assumes the audience is smart. That’s thrilling.

9th anniversary, 9 stories

September 21, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Movies, Tennis 8 Comments →

The Cat’s Eye Nebula, from the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day archive.

On Thursday we mark the 9th anniversary of Jessica Rules the Universe. We started blogging quite late, after having declared that we would never blog. At the time, we did not anticipate that we would join the ranks of the unemployed, and that if our byline did not appear in a newspaper every week, readers would simply assume that we had moved to another country and forget that we exist.

Our first blog was on blogspot and it was called Twisted by Jessica Zafra. Once, as an experiment, we turned off the comment moderation. The section was quickly overrun by trolls so we abandoned the blog altogether. In 2006 Melo Villareal offered to host our site, which he continues to do to this day. We couldn’t use our own name because someone had bought the domain name back in the mid-90s, so we decided on Jessica Rules the Universe.

On this blog we cover our personal interests: Books, Movies (and lately, TV), Travel, Tennis, Music, and of course, Cats. Occasionally, when riled, we write on Politics and Current Events (mostly Traffic). We also hold Contests, do Group Translations (See Camus in Tagalog, above), and organize Reader Support Groups when we take on books that require extra attention (War and Peace, Blood Meridian).

To mark our 9th anniversary, we’re showcasing 9 representative blog posts over the next three days. If you have any particular favorites, let us know in Comments.

From 2010: Emotional Blackmail

Mat the Cat: I would like a treat, please. (My cats are haughty but polite.)
Me: This is not a treat day. Your next treat is on Friday.
Mat: I would like one now.
Me: No, we don’t want you to get super-fat.
Mat: I am not fat, I am big-boned.
Me: This is not a negotiation. No treats till Friday.
Mat tries poor, pitiful expression (See photo).

From 2012: Roger Federer, we release you

Before Sunday, Roger Federer’s last grand slam victory was at the Australian Open in 2010. Since then it’s been two and a half years of mental torment, recrimination and self-doubt—not for Federer, whose perfect hair remained unruffled by the dominance of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, but for Federer fans like myself.

I hope you’re a better human than I am, because I was reduced to hoping that Nadal’s knees would fall off (Not impossible, given the way he plays) or that Djokovic would split in half (Not impossible either—his upper torso goes left, his legs go right, boom! Manananggal). Sportswriters wrote Roger off (He’s 30)—I stopped reading them. He got cranky after his losses—I figured he’d been babysitting his twins. I watched the grand slams almost furtively, lest others gloat that he’d become “vincible”.

From 2010: 86. Try A Little Suicide (Danny Zialcita’s Tinimbang Ang Langit)

Victoria sees Sandra and has a fit of jealousy, or maybe she just had some bad shrimp for lunch, it’s hard to tell. Joel takes off to a beach resort to write songs, and he’s so distraught he walks around in shiny gold hot pants.

Ricki and the Flash: Meryl Streep’s second worst performance

September 13, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music No Comments →


Ricki and the Flash, an Oscars reunion, is maudlin, belabored, hollow, and features the second worst Meryl Streep performance in our memory (“Worsted” only by her Witch in the altogether horrible bowdlerized film adaptation of Into the Woods; her title role in Mamma Mia is third). We didn’t believe a moment of this Jonathan Demme-helmed, Diablo Cody-written vehicle, and only our faith that Meryl would do something amazing at the last minute kept us in our seats. At the last minute we concluded that she could not technique her way out of this. Rick Springfield is more believable than Meryl is—a sentence we never thought we would type. Casting beats technique in this round. (Her cover of Bruce Springsteen: Aieeeeeee.)

For a rockstar/horrible mother we can believe in, check out Julianne Moore in What Maisie Knew.

Rick Springfield reminds us of Jesse’s Girl which reminds us of this scene from Boogie Nights. Between a bonkers Alfred Molina, that coked-up look on Mark Wahlberg’s face, and the Asian boy setting off firecrackers: perfection.

Chris Evans’s directorial debut is That Thing Called Before Sunrise

September 04, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Re-lay-shun-ships No Comments →

The reviews of Chris Evans’s directorial debut Before We Go have been respectful but not enthusiastic. This did not stop us from watching it. Chris Evans also stars in it, so we know that even if it turns out to be terrible, we still have Chris Evans to look at.

The good news is that Before We Go is not terrible, the bad news is that it has no reason to exist (other than the aforementioned excuse to look at its director). Chris Evans has said in the past that he wants to quit playing Captain America: Please don’t. Who else can play the squarest most strait-laced man alive and make him hot? In fact Before We Go, despite its general lack of vavavoom, actually makes Chris Evans even more adorable to us because he looks like that but he wants to be Woody Allen.

Darling, you’re not Woody Allen. We are 200 times more Woody Allen than you are, and we haven’t even married some adopted orphans. We’ll write you a Woody Allen movie and we won’t even charge you, although we know that you are too lovely not to pay for it.

Before We Go is essentially That Thing Called Before Sunrise. It will appeal to people who think they are hopeless romantics and like to talk about themselves a lot. Two super-attractive strangers meet in Grand Central Station and end up spending five or six hours together walking the streets of New York City, but they are such obviously superior beings that no one tries to mug them, flash them or sell them drugs. Fine, someone tries to sell Chris Evans a Prada bag in Chinatown, but it’s—gasp—a real Prada bag. They’re such magical creatures that they even find a working payphone.

Chris Evans plays an aspiring jazz trumpeter who busks in the train station, and you know it’s a movie because people are not running to the nearest ATM and emptying their bank accounts into his instrument case. The movie is so basic it makes us feel like Quentin Tarantino in comparison. Chris Evans, you are so wonderful that you have convinced us that we might have a future in directing, and you didn’t even have to take your shirt off once. We can’t wait to see Captain America: Civil War. You’re a superhero. Accept your destiny.

Before We Go is showing at Ayala Mall Cinemas.

The Movies of My Youth by Italo Calvino

September 03, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →


There were years when I went to the movies almost every day, sometimes even twice a day, and they were the years between 1936 and the war, around the time of my adolescence. Those were years in which cinema was my world. It’s been said many times before that cinema is a form of escape, it’s a stock phrase intended to be a condemnation, and cinema certainly served that purpose for me back then. It satisfied a need for disorientation, for shifting my attention to another place, and I believe it’s a need that corresponds to a primary function of integration in the world, an essential phase in any kind of development. Of course there are other more substantial and personal ways of creating a different space for yourself: cinema was the easiest method and it was within reach, but it was also the one that instantly carried me farthest away.

Read it at the New York Review of Books.

We still watch movies almost every day, but only once or twice a week at the cinema.