Friday, November 18, 2005

just like heaven

I've been updating this blog less and less these past few months. Same excuse, been a bit busy. Work and, more interestingly, band stuff. Finally a proper album is on the way. I also have another blog, dedicated to solely review Malaysian films. Check it out at Now off to a non-Malaysian film review.

There's a tendency in present day film criticism to dismiss outright light mainstream films and overpraise independent films, or at the very least overpraise 'serious' mainstream Oscar nominated films. Gone are the days when a light, well made romantic or screwball comedy can receive rave reviews and multiple Oscar nominations, like the days when Frank Capra, Leo McCarey, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges ruled not only the wallets of audiences, but also the hearts and minds of film critics and awards nights. Of course, classic film buffs will just say that they just don't make movies like that anymore. And in a way, that statement is true. Film audiences have moved on. And so have filmmakers. But I think it won't be wrong to say that they may not make them like that anymore, but the spirit of those wonderful films live on, albeit in different shapes and sizes.

In Just Like Heaven, we get to see 2 lonely souls, David (played by Mark Ruffalo) and Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), venture into that journey called falling in love, although in this case (readily apparent from the trailer - so you cannot accuse me of giving anything away) one of them literally is a soul. And so they will fall in love, experience some hiccups, and in the end be together again. You know it. I know it. It would take someone really naive (or overly optimistic) to expect anything else from a mainstream romantic comedy starring one of the reigning queens of the box office. But since when is that a sin?

Watching Just Like Heaven, I just can't help but wonder what made so many film critics around the world (even ones that I have great respect for) universally condemn this wonderful, sweet and funny little movie. Yes, it does not dwell on 'important' issues, but has it ever signalled any intention of doing that? I don't think so. It is exactly what it wants to be, a sweet, funny, and sometimes sad take on falling in love. And for succeeding to do so with much delicacy and tact, the film and its filmmakers deserve more credit than I think they will get. The writers have come up with a script so nimble that you just accept everything they throw in your way. Falling in love with a spirit who used to live in your aparment? No problem. Zany exorcism scenes by religious 'experts'? No problem. And all this in a simple, light romantic comedy, which also never lets you forget the fact that death is just around the corner. The acting of the two leads, I just can't praise enough. Mark Ruffalo is simply a star, playing his character with such simple honesty, and being the perfect foil for Reese Witherspoon's uptight character. And the fact that they cannot touch each other physically (one being a spirit) only adds to their wonderful chemistry and to the joy we feel when they finally touch.

And all of this was supervised with the kind of great, confident control of tone that you've come to expect from Mark Waters, the film's director, whose previous works (Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, amongst others) should have alerted you to his talents for crafting comedies both funny and human, without neglecting the commercial aspect of things.

So give this smart little movie a chance. Will it be a classic? Only time can tell. Will you enjoy it? I can't think of any reason why you won't.
(8 out of 10)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

weezer - make believe

Wow! It's been 2 months!! Sorry guys if you've been checking out this blog but nothing seems to goddamn happen everytime you do so. As usual, work's been pretty hard. So hard that I don't even feel like typing anything during my free time. That's how sick I am now of typing or drafting stuff!!

Anyway, I just bought Weezer's new album, Make Believe last weekend. Been listening to it ever since. They've always held a special place in my heart, especially with Pinkerton and the Blue album. Their last few releases have not been that great. You get the feeling that Rivers Cuomo's heart seemed not to be in it anymore - like he was just churning out all those tunes just for the sake of it, because his bandmates and his fans keep on asking him to do it, like he'd rather do something else, or not do anything at all, for a while. It's a measure of how great a talent he has that there are still a number of songs that 'get' you, the way the songs in Pinkerton always do.

Like I said before, I've been listening to this album since the weekend, only once right to the end though, 'cause I kept on coming back to songs no. 2 and 3, i.e. Perfect Situation and This Is Such A Pity. Not to say that the rest of the album sucks, 'cause the last 2 songs were spellbinding as well, but because song no. 2 & 3 just 'got' me. I read in some punk reviews website that the reviewer likened this album to something like an 'apology' by Rivers to everyone, a bit like when you have a fight with someone you love and then have a long 45 minute or so apology session with that person. Funnily enough I think it's an apt analogy.

There's an honesty to Rivers' delivery in quite a few of the songs here (the ones I mentioned above included of course!) that I haven't heard in a long time. And I'm so happy for him that it did happen again. Because I also know how that feels - like your heart's not in it anymore. Especially now. Sometimes when the pressures of work get a little too hot to handle, I do get that feeling to just maybe get off doing music for a while, or maybe for a long time. But then, once in a while when a song suddenly comes to me, I know that it would be a shame to stop doing music, because I know I love it, and I know how happy it makes me feel when I'm playing on stage and seeing people grooving to it. And sometimes when I think that that song happens to be quite decent, I realise it even more.

I've been fielding questions about what's happening with my band Couple quite a lot lately. Because even though I know that I have a kick-ass new set of rock 'n roll songs waiting to be recorded, there just doesn't seem to be enough time!!

Anyway, I'm sure I'll get down to recording those kick-ass new songs eventually. I just hope that it'll be in the near future. As for Weezer's Make Believe, thank you Rivers for the wonderful apology. I hope there's more to come in the future, but not apologies lah, because you no longer have to make them, at least not for now!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

bangkok - a month ago today

A month ago today, I was in a garishly colourful bus heading to Bangkok. I would arrive in Bangkok at around 10.00 pm, hungry, and getting conned out of 100 baht for a not so long taxi ride to Khao San road, where's I'll be staying at a reasonably priced guest house called Kawin Place. Later, I will be chomping on some divine tasting Phad Thai, that costs just 20 baht.

A month ago tomorrow, I'll be having breakfast at the wonderful Roti Mataba, lunch at the MBK, and dinner at Jey Hoi seafood (I think, or maybe it's the next day?). I'll be spending some of my hard earned money on cheap original Criterion DVDs of the films Down By Law and Trouble In Paradise and some Thai DVDs of films directed by Apichatpong Weeraseethakul. I'm already in love with this city.

A month ago the next day, again I'll be having breakfast at Roti Mataba and lunch at MBK. And again I'll be buying another cheap Criterion DVD and some more Thai films on DVD. God, I love this city more!! That night I'll be going to Patpong and get conned to see some topless ladies just wiggling on stage (where's the ping pong show?!!). Later that night I'll be seeing a high school friend and hang out at a club called Lava and watch gorgeous Thai ladies swarm around drunk white guys, and as for me, all I got was some really dodgy and inviting stares and body language from a few ladyboys!! Ouch!!

A month ago the day after, I'll be trembling with anticipation at going to the famous Jatujak weekend market, and have a stiff neck looking at all those thrift store clothes. I'll be happy as hell to have finally bought the Antoine Doinel box set that day, along with the 2-disc set of Tokyo Story and an el-cheapo DVD of Le Million. Also loved the puff-fried catfish that I ate at Tom Yam Kung later that night. Started to feel a bit sad that the carefree wanderings of the last few days will end tomorrow.

A month ago the day after the day after, I was reluctantly taking a flight back home, wishing I had more money and time and could stay longer in Bangkok. I definitely love that city!!

As I write this and reminisce about those magical days a month ago, I realise it wouldn't even be half as magical if I didn't have my wonderful baby with me to do all that wandering around with. I'm so glad I found you B. I'm gonna go again soon so I can buy more DVDs!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

the life aquatic

Actually the movie's called The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It's directed by Wes Anderson, the man who did Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. I actually saw 2 other movies last weekend, In Good Company (directed by Paul Weitz) and The Notebook (by Nick Cassavetes), both are worth your money and time, but I'm just gonna write about The Life Aquatic today.
I've been a long time admirer of Wes Anderson. With Bottle Rocket, you can definitely see a potentially beautiful flower blooming, and with Rushmore, it is definitely in full bloom. The Royal Tenenbaums saw him broadening and deepening his usual concerns. And with this new film, I can safely say that Mr Wes is broadening his pallette even more by injecting elements that are hitherto unheard of in his previous films.
If you've never seen a Wes Anderson film, I suggest you start with Rushmore, a film that, IMHO, is just perfect in every way. You can't add anything more nor can you take away anything. It was done just right.
Back to The Life Aquatic. As usual, Mr Wes tells the same kind of story he always tells i.e. the story of a character with a serious character flaw, which is that he is actually a 'failure' of some sort, which deep down inside he might realise, but tries to cover it up with 'success', or at least his petty idea about what 'success' is. And throughout the films you'll get to see how the character come to terms with this flaw in their character, and how they open themselves up and accept what they need to accept and change what needs changing. Owen Wilson played this character in Bottle Rocket, and Jason Schwartzman perfected it in Rushmore, with Gene Hackman refining it in The Royal Tenenbaums. In this movie, the great Bill Murray gets a shot at playing this character, to hilarious and heartbreaking effect, I must add.
As usual with Mr Wes' movies, I can never get the courage to laugh so much during the first viewing, simply because like it or not his stories always have this tinge of sadness and regret just hovering in the air. Only after you've seen them the first time, therefore knowing what happens to the characters in the end, will you have the courage to laugh when you see them again, because only then can you assure yourself that it's okay to laugh. I saw The Royal Tenenbaums twice on VCD before I saw it in the cinema. And by that time I was laughing so hard in the cinema, I'm sure the other patrons found me annoying.
This trend looks set to continue with The Life Aquatic. I hope it'll make it here to our cinemas. The widescreen compositions are just so gorgeous, it would be a sin not to see it in the cinema. Plus, I already laughed quite a lot during my first viewing. So that's definitely a very good sign.
So folks, go see it. You can easily find DVDs or VCDs of this wonderful film at your favourite pirate ship. So go buy it already and treat yourself to a very special film, and thank our lucky stars that we might just have our very own Hal Ashby in Mr Wes Anderson. Two words to sum up the movie: "Hilarious heartbreak."
Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10 stars

Thursday, January 06, 2005

clown jewels

Thank god for HVN (Home Video Network, for any of youse guys unfamiliar with buying original VCDs or DVDs. Shame on you! He he). If not for them, I wouldn't have had to dig deep inside my pockets to buy stacks of Jerry Lewis films, and now the Marx Brothers' films. Thank you so much for having the good sense to bring in these movies.

I've already written about The Nutty Professor earlier. So I won't be talking about Jerry Lewis, although I've already seen Cinderfella, The Geisha Boy and The Bellboy, all of 'em Jerry Lewis movies. Instead I'll be writing about Duck Soup and Animal Crackers, 2 Marx Bros movies already in the market here in Malaysia.

I've never seen any Marx Bros films before, so I didn't know what to expect when I bought Duck Soup. All I know is that they're comedians from a long lost era, i.e when people still appreciate slapstick and in turn the slapstick is done with more thought and planning into it than you might think is possible. I put on the VCD and saw Groucho making his entrance into the film. His dialogue is delivered incredibly fast, and the audio, due to it being a 70 plus year old film is terrible and hard to decipher. I didn't laugh much. Have I just wasted my hard earned cash here, I thought. Then came Chico and Harpo. Suddenly the movie springs to life and I was I rolling on the floor laughing hysterically. Suddenly I realised I hit jackpot. Harpo was brilliant. Chico was not as funny as Harpo, but still funnier than Groucho. But I was just amazed at the insanity and lunacy of the film. If there's one word that could sum up the Marx Bros' appeal, it's their lunacy and healthy appetite for anarchic physical and verbal comedy.

Then I saw Animal Crackers. By now I realised that each Marx carries their own persona into each film. Harpo is always silent, and is the most 'physical' of the lot in his comedy. And believe me, he is absolutely bonkers!! Chico has this Italian-Jewish accent thing. And Groucho delivers some the most silly, clever, and sometimes brilliant put-downs you'll ever hear. And the script is full of puns. Some you'll catch and make you laugh, some you'll miss and maybe catch later during subsequent viewings. Examples:

Groucho: "One day I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How it got into my pyjamas, I don't know."

Groucho:"And then I saw a moose. Ah.. the moose. What a splendid creature. I bet you don't know what a moose is. It's those little things running on the floor that's fond of cheese. Yes, the moose."

One character shouts: "Three cheers for Capt. Spaulding! Three cheers for Capt. Spaulding!"
And then Harpo comes in with 3 chairs to give to Capt. Spaulding.

Both films are full of these kinds of moments. Depending on who you are, you may or may not like it. I can definitely say I like it, even love it. But my best friend's really annoyed by them. Well, we all have our choices. Boo!

Anyway, support HVN and go buy these films. The pirates are definitely fantastic in bringing some fantastic films to our very own homes. But HVN is definitely catching up fast.

Rating: Duck Soup (8 out of 10)
Animal Crackers (7 out of 10)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

your favourite directors?

Another long overdue post. Been busy with work and making plans for Couple. I can almost surely announce here that for you people lucky enough to get a hold of the limited early edition of Punk Rock For Sissies, those CDs are almost certain to be the only ones that will ever be sold. We only made about 50 copies earlier. So depending on our mood that amount might be increased to 100 copies. But after that, it'll be gone. What will we do with the tapes? After all, we did spend a bit of money recording them. All I can say for now is, you'll see.

Bought a copy of The Life Aquatic on DVD yesterday. Was shocked to see that it's a pristine DVD quality copy, only with words saying that it's the property of some company on the screen. My dear pirates, you definitely never cease to amaze me with your resourcefulness. Still haven't seen it though. Spent last night being disappointed by the lazy Malaysian football players who seem to easily give up. C'mon guys, show more balls!!

Back to The Life Aquatic. Can't wait to see it. In case you guys didn't know, it's directed by Wes Anderson, the man behind Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. I can definitely say, that from the 90s, he's the only director that I would call my favourite. Why? Because like the great Hal Ashby, his movies are always just perfect. Never more, never less. Tarantino? He's good, but sometimes too flashy for his own good. Paul Thomas Anderson, well Magnolia was a triumph, but his others are still not endearing enough to make him my favourite.
Lars Von Trier, maybe. Up till Breaking The Waves, he was absolutely mesmerising. After that, okay lor.

So people. Why don't you leave comments after you read this and tell me who your favourite directors are. Here's my top 3:

1. John Cassavetes
2. Samuel Fuller
3. Hal Ashby

Why these 3? Because John Cassavetes is obsessed with dissecting 'love' (why? - because, in his own words :- People always need a philosophy. "Philos" in Greek means love. "Ophy" means a study of something. So 'philosophy' is a study of love. That's all I'm interested in. That is love), and his films say so much and show so much on how to behave decently towards other people and towards each other. Because Samuel Fuller is the greatest moralist ever to make great films. Because Hal Ashby's films have a tenderness and truth that you can't find anywhere else. And finally because all 3 have incredible command of their technique and what they want to convey with it.

Why no Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppolla or Orson Welles? Because Brian De Palma and even prime Spielberg (i.e. his commercial pop films like E.T and A.I) are more of a master than both Scorsese and Coppolla combined, and Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray and Billy Wilder deserve more respect than Welles, and even these people can't get into my top 3. Not even the great Charles Chaplin, Satyajit Ray, Yasujiro Ozu or Truffaut can do so.

So there it is folks. My top 3. C'mon, tell me yours. I'll be waiting.