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Archive for the ‘Movies’

Benedict Cumberbatch is adapting our favorite books, what an excellent idea

March 02, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

He stars in the BBC adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (Hated the fourth season, by the way, frantic and incoherent) and is the screen incarnation of Stephen Strange. We first noticed him as the villain (Not Briony Tallis) in the film of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. He was Peter Guillam in the 2011 version of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Christopher Tietjens in the miniseries based on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End (teleplay by Tom Stoppard). He was the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit movies, Hamlet onstage, and a mesmerizing Richard III in The Hollow Crown. Benedict Cumberbatch is Literary Adaptation Guy, sort of a male equivalent of Helena Bonham-Carter.

Last year he announced that he would produce and star in an adaptation of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male

our favorite spy adventure thriller featuring a cat as a major character.

Earlier this year it was announced that he would star in the BBC adaptation of what may be Ian McEwan’s finest novel, The Child in Time.

And now Cumberbatch will produce and star in the adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn.

Patrick Melrose, there’s a character to push an actor to their limits. (When I first saw the headline I thought they meant a reboot of Melrose Place haha.) Abused by his domineering father, left alone by his wealthy, passive-aggressive mother, he goes through all the self-loathing, addiction and bad behavior money can buy. It’s a harrowing, oddly hilarious read and I can’t wait to pick it up again.

What other literary adaptations can Cumberbatch star in? Denis Villeneuve (Arrival!) is adapting my favorite SF novel Dune, and while it will almost certainly not be as gorgeously bonkers as the movie Alejandro Jodorowsky never got to do, I expect great things of the project. Cumberbatch is too old to play Paul Atreides, but maybe Duncan Idaho? Thufir Hawat? Hasimir Fenring?

Weekly Report Card 7: Nothing much happens in Paterson, and it’s transcendent.

February 22, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →


Movie: Paterson by Jim Jarmusch

Here is a poem by William Carlos Williams, the guiding spirit of Jim Jarmusch’s movie Paterson.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Williams wrote a very long poem called Paterson, about a city in New Jersey. It starts like this:

Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He
lies on his right side, head near the thunder
of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations
drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river
animate a thousand automations.

The city is a man and the man is the city, and in the film he is played by Adam Driver. Paterson (no first name given) wakes up at the same time every day next to his wife Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani) and walks to work. Paterson is a bus driver. He listens to the passengers’ conversations but does not join in. He eats his lunch on a bench with a view of Passaic Falls. After his shift he goes home and has dinner with his rather flaky but delightful wife, listens to her latest plans (she wants to be a cupcake mogul and a country singer), then walks their bulldog, Marvin. He stops at the neighborhood bar for a beer. Then he goes home and goes to sleep. The following day his routine starts again, with slight variations.

If I knew I was going to watch a week’s worth of this I might have declined, and I would have regretted it. Nothing much happens in Paterson, and that is the point. Our bus driver (Adam Driver playing a bus driver named Paterson in a movie called Paterson, galaxies away from Girls and Kylo Ren) is a poet, watching and listening. Out of the ordinary, trivial details of daily life he writes poetry. He has a different way of seeing, which Jarmusch lets us experience. (In the morning Laura tells him she dreamed of twins, so everywhere he sees identical pairs.) Overheard tidbits make their way into lines of verse. His questions are mirrored and answered in the outside world.

This silence, solitude, reflection that the wellness industry has appropriated and sold back to us as “mindfulness”, this is where Paterson’s poetry comes from. This is not loneliness, this is creation.

I love this movie. Arrival and Paterson are my two favorite movies of the year because they pay tribute to the power of language.


Book: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

A noir crime novel and a dark comedy, Eileen reads like a collaboration between Patricia Highsmith (the Ripley novels) and Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived In The Castle). Eileen lives in a squalid house with her alcoholic ex-policeman father and works in a boys’ prison. Her hobbies include shoplifting and entertaining fairly chaste fantasies about one of the prison guards, whom she stalks on weekends. Her dream is to get the hell out of there, and her chance arrives in the form of a beautiful psychologist assigned to the prison. A thrilling read.

Weekly Report Card 6: The harrowing beauty of The Pier Falls and Manchester by the Sea

February 15, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

Mark Haddon’s first book for adults (which children also loved) was The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time, which by being deliberately affectless (the narrator-protagonist has Asperger’s) reduced us to puddles of tears. The Pier Falls, a collection of stories, employs a similar very clear, pitilessly detailed style to destroy the reader. The title story is a minute-by-minute account of a disaster which kills dozens of holiday-goers. We look on in horror and fascination, and in the seconds that remain of these strangers’ lives we understand that they are just like us. Another story, The Island, retells the myth of Ariadne, the Minoan princess who helps Theseus to slay the minotaur, only to be abandoned by the hero on the island of Naxos. (The story of Ariadne really bothered me when I came upon it as a child in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: How can a supposedly noble savior turn out to be an ungrateful asshole? As I grew older I learned the answer: Humans are like that.) Haddon’s version brings us face to face with Ariadne’s terrible loneliness. Unsought solitude is the curse shared by the characters in this collection, and while I would not recommend it to anyone in search of a cheerful diversion, I prescribe it to readers who are feeling glum, disheartened, depressed. (And, of course, fans of excellent writing.) You think you have it bad? Read this.


So that’s the unplanned theme of the week: awfulness and compassion. I direct you to Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which feels like a fishbone in your heart that you can’t dislodge. Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a handyman who has endured unspeakable tragedy and cannot forgive himself. We see this silent, angry, broken person and somehow feel affection for him. For Chrissakes, Lee, come on. His brother (the ever-dependable Kyle Chandler) offers him the possibility of a new life, and his ex-wife and nephew (Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, both wonderful) want him to take it, but he’s locked up so deep inside himself that no light can get in. The amazing thing about Manchester by the Sea is that for all its bleakness it’s also funny. During the most awful moments there are bursts of humor that bring up the absurdity of being human. (“It’s not a good disease,” says the attending physician. “What’s a good disease?” “Poison ivy.”) Watch it.

The stray cats of Istanbul star in their own movie

February 10, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Movies, Places No Comments →


Still from the documentary Kedi

I was just talking about the street cats and dogs of Istanbul. We were interviewing the director of Hagia Sophia for the travel show when a very self-possessed cat walked over and sat between my co-host and myself, to remind us who the real boss was. Now there’s a documentary about the Turkish felines.

Update: It turns out that the interrupting cat was the same one who had greeted Barack Obama on his visit to Hagia Sophia. His name is Gli and he has a very memorable face.


Photos from LoveMeow

If you love something, you let it go. Cat people understand this intuitively. You never quite possess a cat, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the better. Cats will chase the tinfoil ball, if they are in the mood, but they will almost certainly not bring it back. We forgive them for this because there is no other option.

I have no trouble linking cats to the divine. Chris Marker’s transcendent short film of a sleeping cat is nothing if not an image of Nirvana, pure being, whatever you want to call it. The look in a cat’s eye guides us toward an idea of freedom, as Claude Lévi-Strauss suggested. Having spent a lifetime studying the structures of ancient societies, the French anthropologist understood well the prison cell into which technological man had locked himself. Only at rare moments, Lévi-Strauss posits near the end of Tristes Tropiques, do we see beyond this cell. One of those is “in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.”

Read it in the Paris Review.

Watch the trailer.

What can’t Jake Gyllenhaal do?

February 09, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music No Comments →

That is not an easy song, and try performing it while going down steep stairs. (Watch Jake’s rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls when he hosted SNL ten years ago.)

Three people we love: Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Sondheim, and Cary Fukunaga, who directed this video.

Weekly Report Card 5: If language is your weapon of choice, Arrival is a religious experience.

February 06, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

Movie: Arrival
Cosmic wonder and bottomless sorrow are the two poles that Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival navigates, and the engines of propulsion are the eyes of Amy Adams. Arrival is a conversation between your brain and your heart. It is both epic in scale and intimate in its execution. It calls on you to consider the immensity of the universe and its infinite mysteries, and then it compresses them into the most intense emotion known to our species. If you believe in science, if you believe in the power of language, it is something of a religious experience. It does what science-fiction is meant to do in times of chaos and uncertainty—and to humans, when isn’t it a time of chaos and uncertainty? It reminds us that beyond our limited perception, there is hope.

Book: 10:04 by Ben Lerner
Time travel was the theme of the week. What is the significance of 10:04? Tick tock tick tock…it’s the time fixed on the clock tower after it was (and will be) struck by lightning in Back to the Future. Ben Lerner’s second novel is about time travel, in a way. The narrator, a writer working on his second novel, is considering his best friend’s request for him to father her child, which makes him think about the future. The present is scary: a cataclysmic storm is heading for New York, and he’s been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition. Global capitalism is failing. He can’t even tell his nephews a bedtime story without having a panic attack.

Meanwhile, in an alternate timeline, a writer working on his second novel is considering his best friend’s request for him to father her child…

10:04 is unrelentingly clever, which would be annoying but for its self-deprecating tone. It’s also funny, especially when nothing seems to be happening. Like the beloved movie it references, it breaks out of the prison of time to create parallel worlds where people realize that they’re living in deceptions—alternative facts, as they’re called today. This 2014 novel portended our scary new world, but it faces the future with humor and optimism.