Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Movies’

The most human movie of the season is War for the Planet of the Apes

July 18, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

Yes, a movie that makes us root against our species also shows humanity’s potential for greatness. This humanity resides in Caesar the ape (nurture wins this argument). He is a hero in the classical sense, possessing what the Greeks call arete.

Few had high hopes for a prequel trilogy to a 1960s science-fiction movie that had already spawned a movie series, TV series, a failed reboot (Burton-Wahlberg) and this classic Simpsons musical sketch.

I hate every chimp I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Zee…

But they did it. From Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where James Franco raised Caesar the super-intelligent ape and accidentally brought about the end of the human race; to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Caesar tries to establish peaceful coexistence with the remaining humans while fighting off the challenge to his leadership from Koba, who believes in total war with the humans; to War for the Planet of the Apes, the trilogy has grown stronger. This conclusion to the Apes trilogy is majestic.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a delightful teen movie with superpowers, not that anyone needed an opinion.

July 06, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 10 Comments →

Can you remember the time before superhero movies ate the cineplex, when viewers could actually choose from a wide range of categories and genres, and humans-with-incredible-abilities was just one of the options? My favorite movie year is 1999, when these were just some of the movies at the cinema: Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson, Being John Malkovich by Spike Jonze, Rushmore by Wes Anderson, The Matrix by the Wachowskis, Three Kings by David O. Russell, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella, Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, Summer of Sam by Spike Lee (mixed reviews, I loved it), South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Notting Hill, Bowfinger (laughed my head off), Fight Club by David Fincher, and GalaxyQuest. See the range?

Now consider that this year, the movies I’ve enjoyed most are Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I’m looking forward to Thor: Ragnarok.

I enjoy superhero movies, but I wish I had options. I’d probably watch them all anyway.

That said, I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming very much. It’s giving me a Back to the Future vibe, and in my world that is a high compliment.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s main strength is its youthful energy. Tom Holland is perfectly cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. We believe he is a geeky 15-year-old reveling in his newly-acquired abilities and his insanely upgraded suit courtesy of Tony Stark while dealing with the adolescent stuff: his torpe crush on the lovely Liz (Laura Harrier), being mocked by his rich asshole classmate (Tony Revolori of Grand Budapest Hotel as Flash**, whom I imagine Tony Stark was like in his teens), trying to be taken seriously by the adults (Tony Stark and Happy Hogan are not real adults) and keeping his crime-fighting activities from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)*, who is presumably grieving for her husband. (This time we don’t see Uncle Ben die or hear the power-responsibility equation.) Holland, a classically-trained dancer, has the added advantage of being able to express himself through movement. His physical grace contrasts nicely with his social awkwardness.

Peter’s best friend probably has a harder time than he does, being non-white (Jacob Batalon is Fil-American; with Dave Bautista that makes two Fil-Ams in Marvel movies) and non-skinny. There’s also Michelle (Zendaya), a sarcastic, antisocial classmate who will presumably become the love interest in the sequel. I like how Peter is surrounded by Americans of African and Asian descent, and it’s perfectly normal. Because it IS perfectly normal.

Mindful that there have been two reboots of this Marvel property in the last 15 years, the filmmakers spare us a repeat of the radioactive spider bite. The movie begins a few months after Spider-Man’s impressive introduction in Captain America: Civil War.

In Homecoming, director Jon Watts and a legion of screenwriters try to address two common criticisms of Marvel movies: the generic-sounding music, and the generic villain. The former is fixed by Michael Giacchino’s soaring soundtrack. With songs from the 80s! Holy crap, it’s The Ramones. Later I thought I was hearing things, but it was A Flock of Seagulls.

The villain is still a problem. Michael Keaton can do anything, but he needs a character. We hear of The Vulture’s resentment, which echoes the resentments of most other villains. In the Marvel universe, apparently, there are villains because there are heroes. A good villain divides our loyalties, gets our sympathy despite their fiendish plots. Here The Vulture kills an associate by mistake, and doesn’t exhibit a shred of remorse. Arms-dealing is justified by the need to pay the mortgage. (Then again, people vote for flimsier reasons.) Bad guy and good guy do have a chilling encounter out of costume, and for a few minutes we’re in Hitchcock territory. Then it’s back to thrashing each other.

Not surprisingly, the movie is sprightlier and more engaging when the kids are onscreen and when Peter is testing his suit (It has a voice, like Ms Jarvis, and I mean Jennifer Connelly) than in the final fight between Spidey and The Vulture. Martin Starr from Silicon Valley, still hilariously deadpan, is the coach of the academic decathlon team. Bokeem Woodbine, so memorable in the second season of Fargo, is a henchman who may reappear. Hannibal Buress and Donald Glover show up; here’s hoping they have more to do next time. (Apparently Glover’s character is a reference to the current comic book Spidey.) There are two credit sequences and a running joke about Captain America.

Watch it!!!! (4 exclamation points)

* Does anyone remember that romcom Only You with Tomei and Downey?
** I caught the branzino allusion, which means I have seen too many comic book adaptations.
*** I’ll probably see the movie a few more times during its run, so this post will be tweaked.

We watched Okja, then we had crispy pata for dinner.

July 03, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Movies 6 Comments →

Since Wonder Woman, every Hollywood product that’s opened in cinemas has been garbage (My eardrums are still recovering from the previous Transformers. No, thanks). So for our Sunday movie night we turned to Netflix’s Okja, Bong Joon-ho’s satire about capitalism in general, and the food industry in particular. You might say it aspires to convert viewers to vegetarianism. You can gauge our reaction from the fact that after seeing it, we had crispy pata for dinner.

Maybe I have to be in the right mood for a movie about a super pig who is not named Babe or animated by Miyazaki, but I found it bizarre and not in a fun way. Its critique of capitalism and consumers is timely and should be provocative, but it doesn’t go far enough. It is unwieldy, its whimsy forced, and the laughs presumably lost in translation. It quickly grows tiresome. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal do some rare terrible overacting, though Paul Dano is oddly romantic as an animal rights activist. The super-pig looks like a hippopotamus. When the conflict is resolved, I thought, “Something they could’ve done in the first ten minutes!” just seconds before Juan said it. If you know Juan, this is an achievement.

I wish the BBC’s The Sense of an Ending had never begun.

July 03, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 4 Comments →

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a short novel in which very little seems to be happening, but there is so much tension you cannot believe that that’s all there is. The novel rewards overthinking—everything happens between the lines. Yesterday I saw the BBC adaptation of The Sense of an Ending starring Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Joe Alwyn (current tabloid fodder) and the great Charlotte Rampling.

The adaptation takes the thrumming tension of the novel and stretches and stretches it until it is as slack and shapeless as the garter of an old man’s shorts. Fine performances, but what for?

See our Reading Group discussion on The Sense of an Ending from 2011.

A list of movie and TV heroines who kicked ass in the dark ages before Wonder Woman

June 25, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 28 Comments →

Action Women Movie Montage from ClaraDarko on Vimeo.

Lali sent me this.

Okay, lots of people haven’t seen Aliens, Buffy or Xena. Maybe they’re too young to have seen them and they didn’t grow up in pop culture-mad households. But surely they’ve seen Marvel movies, and Black Widow isn’t exactly bupkiss, even if they haven’t seen fit to give her a much-deserved solo movie. And duh, Hunger Games? I hope they also saw Mad Max: Fury Road, which infuriated many male viewers by relegating Max to second lead/tripod and having Imperator Furiosa, an armless female in a buzzcut, as the hero. (Also, some of us can recite large chunks of Casablanca and we weren’t alive in WWII, so youth is not an argument.)

Here then is a list, in no particular order, of ass-kicking movie and TV heroines from the ancient times before Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman appeared on the big screen.

The reviews promised epic awfulness, but The Mummy is just dull.

June 11, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 1 Comment →

Sofia Boutella in Kingsman could slice and dice The Mummy.

I love bad movies, not for the movies themselves but for the opportunity to laugh at them. Between a movie that’s just dull and mediocre, and a movie that is full-on garbage, I choose garbage. It is hard to describe blandness without boring yourself, but mocking the truly terrible is fun. And if the awfulness comes from a major studio with a huge budget and superstars, mocking it feels like dispensing justice.

(Just the other day, I felt the black clouds hovering above my head so I put on my favorite bad movie to chase them away. The movie is The Oscar starring Stephen Boyd as a petty criminal jerk who becomes a Hollywood star, treats everyone like dirt and sets the stage for his own downfall. Harlan Ellison (!) is one of the credited writers. Watching The Oscar is like drinking liquefied jamon serrano through a straw. If you love The Oscar, too, we can hang out.)


Hollywood these days is all about franchises, and Universal was feeling left out at not having any superhero or space opera or fast car melodrama properties. What it has are monsters, so it has launched its “Dark Universe” starting with The Mummy. No, you are not having déjà vu—versions of The Mummy were made less than 20 years ago with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and there was even a spin-off called The Scorpion King starring The Rock. The new The Mummy is about an ancient, ageless being who is out to rule the world, and who knows more about that than Tom Cruise.

If you had given Tom the Oscar for Jerry Maguire or Magnolia he might’ve had higher aspirations.

The Mummy is an evil alien who is dropped into a volcano which is then blown up with atomic bombs, scattering Thetan spirits, who then possess the souls of newborn babies—no, wait, that’s Tom’s religion. The Mummy is an Egyptian princess who makes a grab for power, and then invites the God of Death to take mortal form. Clearly, she did not think her plan through.

The Mummy opened last week and got dismal reviews. My favorite is the one that says it should be sealed in a crypt for a thousand years. Imagine my expectations—I was sharpening my tongue as I lined up for a ticket. “Mummy awakens after thousands of years to ask Tom for beauty advice!” Seriously, Tom looks younger than he did in last year’s highly enjoyable Mission Impossible: 578 and Jack Reacher: Why does this sequel exist? Tom is a couple of years older than Russell Crowe, who plays Dr. Henry Jekyll (as in Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde) and looks like his dad. (Dr. Jekyll’s office functions as the S.H.I.E.L.D.) The scariest scene in The Mummy happens near the beginning, when Russell Crowe pauses inside a cistern. For one terrifying moment, I thought he was going to sing again.

My hopes for epic badness were quickly dashed as The Mummy fell into the usual contrivances and overwrought mayhem that pass for thrills in the franchise era. It is not good, but it is not much worse than the typical big budget Hollywood drivel Transformers, Jurassic Worlds and Hunger Gamesss. What those blockbusters have that this flop does not are characters we can care about, even if our allegiance is really to the actors playing them. Sorry, Tom, charm cannot carry this.

One may argue that The Mummy is more honest than other movies because it openly admits that its ambition is to take our money for years to come. It is not about art, or love for the cinema, or the sense of wonder, its aim is purely cynical. It is devoid of spark or inspiration. It just wants us to show them the moneyyyy.

If Universal wanted a proper monster series, it could’ve just turned Penny Dreadful into a movie. It already had Amunet, the Egyptian goddess who kept trying to take over Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). It had the Wolfman, Dracula, Jekyll/Hyde, Victor Frankenstein and his creatures, Dorian Gray, and a fey Egyptologist. It had well-defined characters and a story, neither of which The Mummy can claim to have.

Forget it.