Sunday, October 08, 2006

falling in love again... a review of the film "Kicking and Screaming"

I'm kind of silly in that I sometimes fall in love with movies. If you know me personally and have asked me what my favourite movies are, I'll just say that the ones I always mention are usually the ones I'm totally in love with, like City Lights, Husbands, Minnie & Moskowitz, Breaking The Waves, Rushmore, Harold & Maude, It Happened One Night, Apur Sansar and many others.

I first got curious about Noah Baumbach after I saw The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which he co-wrote with one of my fave currently active director, Wes Anderson. When his latest film, The Squid & The Whale got all that rave reviews last year, I got even more curious, so I begun working towards buying all his films on DVD in reverse chronological order, as in latest first and oldest last.

Kicking & Screaming is his debut film, and was only out on DVD, for the first time ever, about a month ago on Criterion. I pre-ordered it from Amazon a few weeks in advance so as to get the special pre-order price, and received the DVD about 2 weeks ago. I only managed to watch it last weekend, as I've got quite a backlog of new DVDs that I haven't seen yet and are even more of a 'priority' than Kicking & Screaming for me.

Anyway, let's just say that after the first viewing, my reaction was lukewarm at best. The movie was funny, very witty, but gave this impression of being a bit on the "too light" side. But in the next couple of days a few lines & scenes from the movie stayed with me, like these:

Scene 1:
"How do you make God laugh?", a character named Chet asked.
"Erm.. I don't know", answered a character named Grover.
Chet then said, "Make a plan."

Scene 2:
Grover, who's been trying to deny that he still wants to be with Jane, who's now in Prague, suddenly realises that he HAS to go to Prague to see Jane. He thinks that he's been sitting still long enough. So he went to an airline counter and asked to buy a ticket, and after some begging (of course at first there's no ticket available for the next flight!) managed to convince the counter girl to issue him a ticket. And when he's asked to produce his passport, he realises that it's not with him at that time.
The counter girl then said to him, "You can always go tomorrow."

Scene 3:
This is the final scene, which I've been playing over and over and over again throughout this weekend. It's a flashback to one of Grover and Jane's early dates (we know in the first few scenes of the movie that they're not together anymore). Grover said, "I wish we're an old couple, and had known each other long. That way, if I were to kiss you right now, you won't mind at all, possibly even be delighted. If I were to do that on our first date, you might think I'm too forward."
Jane replied, "What do you mean?"
Grover then said, "I just wish we're an old couple."
After that just marvel at the wonderful expressions on both Jane's and Grover's faces.
And then the movie ends with the wonderful sounds of Freedy Johnston's "Bad Reputation" playing over the credits. And then I realised how perfect and deeply resonant this ending is.

It is only after all this obsessive repeating that I realized that I'd fallen in love with Kicking & Screaming. The story's nothing new, it's basically your usual Gen-X or Gen-Y type comedy in which a bunch of graduates try to figure out where to go next after university/college.

But sometimes movies can teach you things, even without spelling it in bold for you to see. Just take a look again at my descriptions of the above 3 scenes, and try to visualise it in your mind, or better still just go get the DVD. I think you can see what I mean. I can say the same about the final lines in Rushmore:

Ms. Cross said to Max Fischer, "Congratulations Max, you pulled it off."
Max replied, "Yeah, it's not bad, at least no one got hurt."
Ms. Cross then replied, "No one except you..."
Max then said, "Nahhh, it didn't hurt that bad."

If you've seen Rushmore and know the context of the conversation, you'll definitely find it miraculous that such a simply worded conversation can convey so much meaning in terms of the growth and experience that Max's character had during the course of the film. I'm sorry if I made these films sound like they're dead serious, but I assure you they're not. They're comedies. Romantic comedies.

I can only hope that reading this would at least make you a bit more curious to check out the films I mentioned here. It's a great feeling you know, falling in love...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sepet & Gubra - Pencemar Budaya?

I've been a bit slack the last few months. Yes, I've seen a fair bit of Malaysian films, including Castello and Rock, both are, to be honest, very much hit and miss affairs and I don't feel like spending my already scarce free time writing bad things about films I'm disappointed with. I was going to review Gubra (but taking my own sweet time to do it... haha!!), but last night I saw a forum on RTM1 called Fenomena Seni in which Sepet & Gubra was discussed, the topic being "Sepet & Gubra, pencemar budaya?" (roughly translated: Sepet & Gubra, cultural pollution?).
For the film, I'll just say this: "It has noble, brave ideas that everyone should applaud. But I can't praise the execution, as personally I think it's clumsy in places, and are plagued with cliches that are thought to be 'fresh storytelling methods' that you can find in the worst of arthouse and/or independent pictures. But please go see it anyway, and make this beloved country of ours a better place to live in."

Back to Fenomena Seni. There were 3 panellists, Akmal Abdullah (I've no idea what this guy does), Hassan Muthalib (sounds familiar, but I still don't know what he does) and Raja Azmi (who wrote and produced Black Widow Wajah Ayu and Cinta 200 Ela). The forum was chaired by Rosyam Nor (hero #1 Malaysia!!). I've to admit that I only managed to catch the last 30 mins or so of the show, so I must've missed a hell of a lot more. But even the little I saw was enough to outrage me, and shame me. There were a few remarks that totally stood out for me:

1. Akmal Abdullah was outraged at the portayal in Sepet of a Muslim girl who entered and hung out in a Chinese restaurant that sells pork, calling it irresponsible and not reality.

2. David Teo (a movie producer for Metrowealth) calling in and going on and on about how the 'culture' depicted in movies will be a 'heritage' in the future and there are lines which should not be crossed (I presume he's referring to the pork restaurant scene), as it is irresponsible to do so.

3. Raja Azmi: "Isteri yang solehah akan duduk di rumah dan masak untuk suami."

4. Raja Azmi: "Sepet tidak Islamic dan memburukkan nama Islam."

5. Raja Azmi's incredible and soon to be immortal speech: "Semua orang tahu yang kita di sini unik dan adalah masyarakat majmuk, dan dah banyak kali senario masyarakat majmuk ni ditunjukkan dalam filem-filem kita. Jadi tak payahlah nak tunjuk lagi. Lagipun, kita kena ingat yang ini Tanah Melayu, dan kita orang Melayu-Islam memang, seperti dalam Quran kata : Aku jadikan kamu berbagai-bagai kaum supaya kamu dapat berkenalan dan menerima antara satu sama lain. Jadi kita orang Melayu, yang memang bersopan-santun memang baik menerima kaum-kaum lain di negara kita ni." I really don't want to translate this appalling statement, so if you don't understand Malay, please ask a friend to translate it for you. Besides, ini kan Tanah Melayu, so you should understand Malay, you dummy!! Ask Raja Azmi!!

I've commented on a few blogs already about this, so in response to all the above statements, I'm just gonna cut n paste my comments on other people's blogs, and add bits and pieces here and there. It's in Malay though. After all, this is Tanah Melayu!! Don't we all just LOVE Raja Azmi? Hehe:
"Bukan dangkal lagi dah. It's downright racist. Kepada Raja Azmi, negara kita ni bukan Tanah Melayu lagi, sekarang nama kita Malaysia. Kalau nak sangat hidup di Tanah Melayu, pergi panggil balik British suruh jajah kita balik. Dan agaknya Rashid Sidek tak pakai baju dan scene nyanyi2 ala Hindustan dalam Cinta 200 Ela tu memang 'Islamic' habis lah kan? Mesti tak hina Islam kalau macam tu. Tak tutup aurat pun takpe, bukannya menghina Islam. Scene yang menunjukkan orang Islam boleh terima budaya dan cara hidup orang lain tanpa mengkompromi budaya dia sendiri (macam masuk kedai ada jual babi, tapi TAK MAKAN babi) memang tak Islamic kan? Lagi bagus kalau scene tu tunjukkan orang Islam tu marah dan kutuk orang Cina bodoh sebab makan babi, sebab kotor. Orang Islam lagi pandai dan 'betul' sebab tak makan benda kotor macam babi. Agama kita kan betul, Tuhan dah bagitau awal2 dah tak boleh makan babi, sebab Tuhan dah tahu makan babi tak bagus. Kan ke babi ada cacing pita bermeter2 panjangnya?Tuhan orang lain mana tahu benda2 ni. Pasal tu lah agama kita betul. Kita Melayu/Islam kan lagi bagus, superior. Macam itulah baru Malaysia kita sekarang kan? Macam tu lah baru Malaysia di mata Raja Azmi, dan Akmal Abdullah. Cerita Melayu tunjuk orang Islam minum arak dan seks bebas takpe, tapi masuk kedai ada jual babi, tapi TAK MAKAN babi tak boleh, perosak budaya. Sebab tu lah Mat2 Rempit tak kisah minum arak dan main2 seks luar nikah dan rogol2 anak orang. Janji tak makan babi kan. Makan babi tu dosa besar habis!! Minum arak takpe, sebab makan babi jadi darah daging, minum arak jadi air kencing je. Jadi, agaknya takpelah kot kalau budaya orang Islam minum arak dan seks bebas, rogol2 anak orang jadi 'warisan' kita. Janji tak makan babi. Yay!! Raja Azmi for Prime Minister!! Yeah!! Hidup Malaysia!!"
Dear friends, I humbly apologise for all the hurtful things the panellists said. I'm terribly sad that after almost 50 years of independence, we're still stuck in this rut. If this is where our beloved country's going, maybe we should all just pack up and leave, but no, not without a fight we won't. Like what the Alan Yun character said in Gubra, "It's like loving someone who doesn't love you back." If you do love that someone, will you fight for it? Tepuk dada, tanya selera, my friends. Anyone who thinks otherwise and agrees with Raja Azmi, please don't call me anymore. I don't wanna know you.

Much love,

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

help my band (couple) tour america!!

A little detour folks!! Haven't posted in a while since I've been busy with my band, Couple, recording and prepping for the release of our long awaited and much demanded debut album. If you've been tuning in, you'd have got wind of the news that we've signed with a US label. No kidding!! If you wanna check out how we sound, go to

So if you already know that, congratulations!!! Now off to our plea for charity. See now you already know that we're releasing a record in the States, on a small, but top class indie label called Sizzleteen Records. What you don't know is that we've been invited to play at power pop festivals in Los Angeles and San Francisco this summer. We've also been getting requests to plug in other shows in Los Angeles and other places. We can even play in Canada if we have the money, as we've got people who want to book us there if we want.

We think it's fair to highlight here that these are not shows set up by and are intended mainly to be attended by Malaysians living in those places!! These are true blue invitations by people from across the globe who like our music and want to see us rock the stage live. It's truly an opportunity for us Malaysians to show that Malaysia Boleh, even in rock n roll!!

So, the question is money. We're not rich, but it's any musician's dream to be able to play overseas, especially in America. So you can bet we want to go! We need to raise a lot, since tickets to America ain't cheap. And we need to eat and sleep there too. Hence our multi-plea (is that a word? Hah!!), which is basically twofold, one to corporate sponsors, and the other to our loving fans and individuals. To get in touch, please email:

Corporate Sponsorship
If you work in, or better still is a director of, a company, and are interested to be involved in supporting our Malaysia Boleh cause (and to be known to the public as doing so!!), please get in touch. Exposure for your company will come in various forms (depending on the amount donated/sponsored), including but not limited to:

a. Your company logo appearing on the flyers for our American Tour, which will be distributed around the cities we will be playing in America, and also in Malaysia;

b. Main sponsors (that is if you donate real huge sums of money!!), will have the privelege of being 'presenters' of our American Tour, e.g. "Company X, Company Y, and Company Z presents... Couple - American Tour 2006", with such credits appearing as the main title of the flyers for our American Tour. We can say this though, if you pay for our flight tickets to Los Angeles, you'll definitely be a main sponsor!!

c. Main sponsors will also be mentioned prominently in our Malaysian publicity and interviews for the American Tour.

Fans & Individuals
For kind fans and individuals who want to help, please get in touch as well. Your reward for doing so:

a. Your full name will appear in a special page on our official website (

b. Individual sponsors of RM500 and more will also get to have their photograph appear alongside their names on the said page.

c. Individual sponsors of RM1,000 and more will also get the chance to be an extra in our next/future music video, in addition to the name and photo appearing in our official website!!

Remember, you don’t have to contribute huge sums of money!! RM1, 10 cents, 1 cent, it all helps!! The point is to help, that’s all. Even a little help goes a long way!!

What are you waiting for kids? Go check your piggy bank and see how much you can spare us poor musicians. We love all of you!! Thanks for your time reading this. If you don't wanna help, or can't afford to help, why not tell someone who can help of our plea? That's still helping!! See, be creative folks, and let's all make our dreams come true!! Muah!!!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

top 10 CDs of 2005

1. THE ROOKS – The Rooks
I’m gonna cheat a bit here. This album came out in 1993, and was on such a small indie label that locating it (even in the States!!) is nigh on impossible. Even being in contact with the guitarist of this band (oh Myspace, where will I be without you?) doesn’t help much, as the band broke up a few years back. But alas, the good people of The Rooks found a few copies (from the original first pressing!!) of this much sought after power pop classic when clearing their attic and put some up for sale at at a very reasonable price and autographed by their resident genius songwriter, Mr Michael Mazzarella. Yes, this is supposed to be my Top 10 CDs of 2005 list, and this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a 2005 CD. But this IS the absolute best CD I’ve heard in 2005, hands down!! Their reputation as one of the absolute best of all power pop bands is richly deserved when I heard this debut by them. I have all their other CDs, and loved each and every one of them, but nothing prepared me for the majestic, ass kicking, pop songs I heard here. The mix is outstandingly crystal clear, and packs a major punch as well. The songs rock too, as in early Beatles rock!! I will definitely cherish this CD till the day I die, and I seriously warn all you folks to not even think of nicking this CD if you come visit me!! I will hunt you down!! Now, if only I can persuade them to do a reunion show and let my band open for them when we go tour the States later…

2. THE CRIBS – The New Fellas
Unjustly labelled as knock-offs of The Strokes, I have to say that I enjoy these guys more than I ever enjoyed The Strokes. Great catchy songs, played with great sloppy conviction, with great sloppy production by Edwyn Collins, this is clearly one of the outstanding releases of 2005, if only all you hipsters don’t count too much on what music critics say to pick out the stuff you like.

3. PUFFY – Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi
I’ve been a borderline-pervy fanboy of this cute Japanese duo since 1997, even before there was that cartoon show on Cartoon Network, mainly because of all the great power pop songwriters, producers and musicians they always managed to rope in on every album, like The Velvet Crush, Andy Sturmer (of Jellyfish) and Paul Bevoir. And I can, with a mixture of pride and shame, confidently say that I have all their albums, and can talk Puffy as well as any Trekkies out there can talk Star Trek. This is basically a compilation of their older songs, with a few new ones, and quite a few sung in English. Put this on and I dare you not to want to bop around or bang your head to the ridiculously bubblegummy songs. If you don’t, check your pulse ‘aight, ‘cause you don’t deserve to be here.

4. JASON FALKNER – Bliss Descending
It’s been a long time since his last album, and this is just a 5 song EP. I won’t even say that every song in it is fabulous, but one song, called Moving Up is an absolute stunner for me with its simple, almost embarrassingly obvious lyrics, topped with a gorgeous, gorgeous melody. Actually only one song seem weak to me. So it’s not bad, 4 out of 5, that’s 80%! Favourite romantic lines of the year: “Can I be the one who you give everything to? Oh why do you wait? I swear it’s never too late” – from Moving Up.

5. THE CLICK FIVE – Greetings From Imrie House
Probably the band with the least street-cred (maybe even none whatsoever!!) on this list. Even power pop fans and writers have voiced their fears that this band might inflict even more damage on the already flimsy reputation of power pop than The Knack did in the early ‘80s. Yes, they have dodgily boy-band sounding harmonies and dodgily boy-band slick production. But boy, are the songs catchy or what. They call themselves New School Power Pop, and they drop names like Badfinger and The Raspberries when asked about their influences. And they probably do like power pop, seeing that they chose to use an Adam Schlesinger song, and chose Mike Denneen to produce. Whatever you might want to think, this is still super fun, teeth rotting ear candy to me, especially on songs like Friday Night, Pop Princess, Time Machine and their current single, Catch Your Wave. Resistance is futile.

6. THE PADDINGTONS – First Comes First
Probably the greatest legacy that The Libertines can leave us (apart from their great 2nd album) is this band. Building their name by making friends and spreading out word about their guerrilla gigs on The Libertines forums, The Paddingtons delivered a glorious ruckus of a debut album, reminding us of the glory days of the Buzzcocks and The Undertones, only with an even surer command of anthemic melodies. No one knows how good their 2nd album will ultimately be, but this is one hell of a debut.

7. BRENDAN BENSON – The Alternative To Love
Probably not as jaw-dropping as his previous CD, Lapalco, this is still a solid collection of solid, and sometimes awesome songs, as in the awesome opener Spit It Out and the Phil Spector inspired The Pledge. I may be picky though, as not everyone can write a song as fantastic as Metarie even once in their life, and Mr Benson already did that on Lapalco, so it’s definitely a tough act to follow, and I may have been expecting too much from this CD.

8. HOT HOT HEAT - Elevator
This is a really groovy CD. The Killers may get all the airplay and ink, but these guys are just as good!! Infectious songs you can dance to, it’s really a pity that the hipster crowd again chose to ignore and put this album down, by saying that the band sold out, and failed to improve on the ‘arty’ punk-funk sound of their debut (which, for the record, completely failed to connect with me). Hmmm… is it just me or do you also consider writing tighter, catchier and infinitely more danceable songs a huge improvement over supposedly ‘intelligent’ and ‘arty’ but nowhere near as infectious punk-funk songs with pretentious lyrics? I really can’t see how some stuff can be considered ‘intelligent’ and ‘arty’ while some aren’t. These hipsters!!

9. THE MAGIC NUMBERS – The Magic Numbers
Not a great debut, but filled with a lot of magical pop songs. There’s still a lot of filler and only okay songs to wade through. But the high points soar totally, completely!! The guitar work and lead vocals really remind me of Daryll Ann, a great, great Dutch band that shamefully got lost in the shuffle and never got the recognition they deserved. Let’s hope the same thing never happen to The Magic Numbers, who’ve been getting a very respectable amount of hype and press. And it’s really not hard to see why, as they have truly some of the most gorgeous pop songs of the year, like Forever Lost, Love Me Like You and Love’s A Game. If they keep on writing stuff like these, we’ll definitely have a bona fide great band in our hands, folks.

10. TSAR – Band Girls Money
A true rock n roll monster!! The singer sounds like he’s ready to bite your head off anytime, and the band rocks out like there’s no tomorrow. All of which won’t count for much, if they don’t have the great songs that they do to pull it off. Songs like Wrong and Conqueror Worm will stay stuck in your head long after the CD’s left your CD player. And those 2 songs are definitely some of my favourite rock n roll songs of the year, and I’m already calculating how to best rip off these songs for my own band!!

11. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE – Out Of State Plates
Okay, I’m cheating again! But I just can’t leave out this 2-disc, 30 plus song B-sides and rarities collection by Fountains Of Wayne, simply because it’s home to what I think is THE best and most complete song of 2005, called The Girl I Can’t Forget. It’s truly a wonder of a song, running through a whole gamut of emotions, from happy to happy-sad, to romantic-happy-sad, and finally to romantic-happy-sad-hilarious!! With the kind of witty lyrics that I can only dream of writing, it’s really the kind of song I wish I wrote. Check it out: “Now that I’m with her, the whole thing seems a bit absurd. But she never fails to tell the tale of the time she had to post my bail. And for giving me a second chance, I’m forever in her debt. Since the night I can’t remember, she’s the girl I will never forget.” Oh so gorgeous!