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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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We live in science-fiction times. You have to read Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life (filmed as Arrival).

November 29, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 1 Comment →

Movies showing in New York: Moonlight (which I have to see with my friends), Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford’s latest, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Venice where Lav Diaz won the Golden Lion), and Manchester by the Sea, the new film by Kenneth Lonergan starring Casey Affleck. Cost of a movie ticket: $16.


I loved the ill-fated Lonergan movie Margaret and wanted to see Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck, who has used his freaky stare to great effect in his brother’s Gone Baby, Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, is said to be terrific in it (the word Oscar has been used). But when I got to the Angelika both screenings of Manchester were sold out (there was a Q&A with the filmmakers aargh) so I settled for Nocturnal Animals.

Tom Ford’s first movie A Single Man, an adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel, was a feature-length perfume commercial (Bawal ang pangit) lifted by a heartbreaking performance by Colin Firth (who really won his Oscar with that). Nocturnal Animals, an adaptation of Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, is actually two movies. The first is about an art gallery owner played by Amy Adams who seems to have everything she wants: a thriving career, a rich and gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer), a fabulous house and glamorous lifestyle. It still looks like a perfume commercial, but this is to underscore the shallowness of her existence.

The second movie is a dramatization of the novel her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) has written and dedicated to her. It’s a nasty, alarming thriller in which a man (Jake), his wife (Isla Fisher, brilliantly cast—she looks like Amy) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are driving through a Texas highway in the dead of night when they are forced off the road by a trio of thugs led by a terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The worst that can happen, happens. The ensuing investigation is led by the always disconcerting Michael Shannon, who would’ve made off with the entire movie if Jake were not so solid.

As the gallerist reads the manuscript, she recalls her relationship with her sweet, unambitious ex and how she destroyed him at the prodding of her mother (Laura Linney, who is brilliant). Nocturnal Animals stays in your head for days, and should cause a few arguments about the ending.

Amy Adams is having a great year. I’m looking forward to Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). Even before I’ve seen the movie, I already owe it a great debt for introducing me to the work of Ted Chiang.

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Arrival is based on Chiang’s The Story of Your Life. Ostensibly a first contact with extraterrestrials tale, it is a mind-bending rumination on language and cognition, and a deeply emotional story of motherhood. The main idea is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:

the theory that an individual’s thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks. The strong version of the hypothesis states that all human thoughts and actions are bound by the restraints of language, and is generally less accepted than the weaker version, which says that language only somewhat shapes our thinking and behavior.

Chiang is a writer who explores exhilarating ideas without losing sight of the familiar and human. Like many of the finest writers today, he is isolated from the general audience by the label “science-fiction”. But we live in science-fiction times, and the only way we can make sense of this pandemonium is to read writers like him.

If you see Ted Chiang’s books in stores, buy them all. Read them and give them to your friends. If for some reason you don’t like them, send them to me and I’ll swap other books for them.

Recommended by mood: 7 books paired with 7 movies

November 04, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 3 Comments →

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The very cool people of Seven A.D. invited me to their monthly Sietehan, where we talked about my strange career, the writing process, and how to survive the discovery that your father is not Darth Vader but Jar Jar Binks. Teeny, who heads the agency, was my classmate at UP——there were only a handful of Comparative Literature majors, so our classes were held in the teachers’ offices at the Faculty Center. (If you’ve seen that wonderful San Junipero episode in the third season of Black Mirror, that was my college soundtrack.)

Tey asked me to recommend books and movies for the younger staff who, being of the digital age, are swamped with reading and viewing options. Here are seven books and seven movies, paired according to mood.

1. The Outsider by Albert Camus and Blade Runner by Ridley Scott

The short novel is about a young man who casually commits murder because life is meaningless. The movie is about a cop who is assigned to kill clones who aspire to be human. The two protagonists should talk to each other.

2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock

In the novel, a young woman goes to the house of a titled family and claims to be related to them. It turns out that she is the genuine article and her “relatives” are fake. Terrible things follow. In the movie, a detective becomes obsessed with a client’s wife, has a nervous breakdown, and then hires a woman to pretend to be his client’s wife. Only she’s not pretending to be that woman. Terrible things follow.

3. A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter and The Earrings of Madame de…by Max Ophuls

A swoony, sexy novel about young lovers driving across France, as told by a friend who imagines their affair. A swoony, romantic movie about a sophisticated marriage that is shaken up by a sudden, grand passion.

4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson

Seemingly random groups of characters turn out to be connected in ways we did not suspect.

5. Any Human Heart by William Boyd and Children of Men by Alfonso Cuaron

A delightful novel about the life and times of a writer near the end of his life, and a heartbreakingly beautiful movie about a man facing the end of the human species. You dive into the depths of despair, and somehow emerge hopeful.


6. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor and The Last Days of Disco by Whit Stillman

After being kicked out of boarding school, a young man decides to walk across Europe on the cusp of World War II. After graduating from college, a group of young people make their way in New York City. Common theme: Young people figuring out how to be adults.

7. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh and Young Frankenstein by Mel Brooks

A timid nature writer is mistakenly sent to cover a war in East Africa. The grandson of Victor Frankenstein recreates that infamous experiment. Both are hilarious.

Doctor Strange: Psychedelic Marvel

October 26, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 2 Comments →

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Doctor Strange opened in local theatres today, more than a week ahead of its US debut. The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton, who can play any role she wants as far as we’re concerned.

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Saffy’s Wow face

You will enjoy Doctor Strange if

– You’re into eastern mysticism, magical arts, astral projections and that mind-bending stuff that was big in the Sixties when the comic book first came out.
– You like seeing Benedict Cumberbatch playing another arrogant genius (See Sherlock, See the Star Trek Khan redo, See The Imitation Game, See The Fifth Estate). Typecasting!
– You like seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as an arrogant genius who has a life-threatening experience and learns to see past his enormous ego to serve the greater good (See Iron Man, which launched the Marvel movie universe).
– Tilda Swinton is your life guru.
– The concept of alternate universes and time loops appeals to you.
– You’re a completist and you have to see where one of the Infinity Stones comes from (That is not a spoiler).
– Years of watching two Marvel superhero movies every year have trained you to sit through the end credits for a surprise guest appearance. (There are two closing credit sequences.)
– You get a kick out of random pop references in your superhero flicks.
– You prefer your superhero flicks to be fun, because life is grim enough.
– You approve of the Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger look that Stephen Strange ends up with.
– You’re thrilled by reality-bending, folding, splintering effects, like Inception without the “Look, this is the greatest thing ever!”
– Seeing Stan Lee reading The Doors of Perception makes you happy.
– You are not yet exhausted by the endless parade of superhero movies.
(You live for superhero movies/You do not live for superhero movies.)
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Very brief movie reviews: Girl, Derailed and Crimes and Misdemeanors Lite

October 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 3 Comments →

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Girl On The Train tries so hard to out-Gone Girl Gone Girl, it derails itself. Incoherent, irritating, suspense-free and a waste of Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson.

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Like most recent Woody Allen, Cafe Society is a retread of peak Woody Allen—in this case Crimes and Misdemeanors—but if you need cheering up you could do worse. Bonus question: Do all the protagonists of Woody Allen movies do a Woody Allen impression? Even Cate Blanchett was doing his speech patterns in Blue Jasmine.

What would be great: Emily Blunt in a Woody Allen movie.

Lav Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) wins Venice Film Festival

September 11, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 4 Comments →

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The Woman Who Left, a black-and-white revenge thriller lasting 228 minutes, has won the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice film festival.

The 19th film by Filipino director Lav Diaz, 57, it focuses on the struggle of a schoolteacher to reintegrate into society after 30 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit.

“This is for my country, for the Filipino people; for our struggle and the struggle of humanity,” said Diaz, thanking the jury headed by British director Sam Mendes.

In second place, winning the Silver Lion, was Nocturnal Animals, a mordant thriller by Tom Ford which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams in dual roles as a once-married couple and as the protagonists in the novel one of them has written.

It is the fashion director’s second film; his first, A Single Man, also had its first screening at the festival, in 2009, taking best actor for Colin Firth.

The award for best director was tied between young Mexican Amat Escalante (for The Untamed) and veteran Russian Andrei Konchalovsky for his Holocaust drama, Paradise.
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Clint Eastwood’s workmanlike airline drama Sully flies because of Tom Hanks

September 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

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How do you turn an amazing event that lasted all of 208 seconds into a two-hour movie? Especially if the hero at its center is a man so dignified, selfless, and flawless that he doesn’t even allow himself to feel pride at his stunning feat? First you cast Tom Hanks, the world’s most sympathetic everyman, whom we’ll believe in almost anything (except Dan Brown movies). Then you line up an antagonist.

Now who would be the villain in the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the veteran pilot who made a forced landing of a crippled airplane with 155 people on board on the Hudson River in the dead of winter? The geese who crashed into the plane, causing both engines to fail? The media, which has the habit of declaring people heroes one minute, and then tearing them down in the next? That giant caterpillar on co-pilot Aaron Eckhart’s upper lip which obscures his granite-like beauty?
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