Monday, 24 February 2014

A Phenomenal Philomena

I love watching movies on Monday evenings. It is the best time to watch since Wednesdays are always jammed packed with discount seekers (movies are cheaper to watch on Wednesdays and most expensive on weekends) and people are very much preoccupied with their so-called Monday blues – even after working hours.

While I was hoping to catch a glimpse of “Saving Mr Banks”, a Disney film that revolves around the origin of its iconic film Mary Poppins starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, the timing seemed not right for me. 

That said, I browsed through TGV cineplex website and came across “Philomena”, a film inspired by real events. Moreover, the movie even rang my bell as I remember reading about it in the January issue of US ELLE magazine. Fine, I bought the ticket online and printed it out before calling it a day at the office.

Earlier it was raining outside but I have not the faintest idea of how the rain pattern was – drizzling or heavy downpour. But I knew it was raining because the floor and tarmac of Jalan Yap Kwan Seng were absolutely wet. There was a little drizzle from the sky but hell, why should I care when I have a movie to catch at TGV Suria KLCC within 10 minutes. By the time I reached the cinema, the trailers were on and the cinema was close to empty. Yes, there were, more or less, 10 people in the cinema and I took the centre seat at the last back row.

The lights turned dim and faded off, marking the start of the film. The film opened with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former journalist who was sacked from the Labourer party as government advisor meeting his general practitioner (or what we know as doctor in Malaysia). 

When asked about his future plan, Sixsmith told the doctor that he plans to write a book on Russian history. His doctor found it as boring and immediately advised him to start running.

One evening, he and his wife attended an evening mass. Sixsmith got bored and exited the church, waiting for his wife outside. Now comes Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench), a meek Irish old lady who came to light a candle at the church, in conjunction with the birthday of her lost child. Known for her stunning performances in movies such as Shakespeare in Love, Tea with Mussolini and the 007 franchise as M, Dench effortlessly brought Philomena’s character to life. Her Irish accent was close to bona fide. 

One night, her daughter was filling in staff shortage at a party and met Sixsmith. Prior to that, Sixsmith was introduced to an editor who was not interested in his initial plan – to write a book on Russian history – and told him to call her when he has stories that will interest her audience.

The story goes on with Philomena’s daughter hooking her mother up with Sixsmith; made a trip to Ireland and the past began to unravel. Her search ended in the United States where her son was adopted by an American family, renamed as Michael Hess and grew up as an attorney during both Bush and Reagan’s administration ̶ a closet gay attorney who later died due to AIDS complication in 1995. 

In this film, the nuns of the Sean Ross Abbey were cast under bad light as merciless women who took in pregnant unmarried women and gave away their wedlock children to American families via forced adoption programme.Of course it courted a controversy among the Catholics and you can read it all on the Internet.

From scene to scene, my focus remained not on the storyline but on Philomena Lee. Despite losing her virginity in a tryst at a local fun fair, she seemed to be a “virgin”: She couldn’t understand certain jokes; she’s easily fascinated by everything new from free drinks at British Airways Club Class flight (she told Sixsmith that she would have to pay for her drink on Ryanair) to all-inclusive buffet breakfast in Washington DC and she’s friendly to almost everyone. 

Though she was separated from her own child for the span of 50 years, her motherly instinct remained strong and she knew it that her son would grow up to be a gay man and has no fuss on it. In a way, one could see a spectrum of characteristic layers in Philomena – vulnerable, naive, instinctive and strong-willed – despite all the harrowing phases of life and the emotional pain that she went through.   

Though the plot seemed tad long-winded to me, I find it an interesting film to watch indeed. And what’s my verdict for this film? I would give it an A+ with credits due to Judi Dench’s impeccable performance, the Super 8 cinematic mood, and the home video-styled flashback vignettes.

Phiolmena is showing now at selected cineplex outlets nationwide. Oh, before I forget, do bring a packet of tissues with you as you might end up sobbing. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Sudden Bus Trip From Kajang to Seremban

I wasn't born in Kajang, a town that's about an hour away by car. I was born in Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, this is where I spent the first 10 years of my life. 

In the 80s, Kajang was just another sleepy town tucked in between Kuala Lumpur and Seremban. There were no buildings taller than 10 floors; no hotels were seen around and the town was entirely dotted by colonial shophouses built in the mid-1900s. 

Growing up, I didn't see much in Kajang. I just see a plain town with a couple of schools (mine is located in the centre of the town), a hospital and other infrastructures that dated back to perhaps the 70s (judging from their architectural style). The sight of blue-eyed, blonde-haired tourists was absolutely rare.

But it was after I left the town for KL, and growing up, I began to fantasize - or imagine - how would it feel like to live in Kajang before Malaya gained its independence from Britain, subsequently forming Malaysia. I wanted to know how life was during that period and through the Internet, I did find some interesting stories pertaining to the town during the World War II days. 

Well, if only the walls of these old heritage buildings could talk, rest assured they will be delighted to weave a tapestry of story, rich in past memories that chronicled back to the foundation of the town itself. 

Speaking of foundation, I've been told that Kajang was founded 100 years before Kuala Lumpur came to existence. A visit to the Majlis Perbandaran Kajang website could confirm this fact. So, on a recent weekend, I decided to reminisce the first 10 years of my life via a bus trip to Kajang.

It was not a long trip as the distance between Cheras and Kajang is just a mere few kilometres apart. Like Ipoh, Kajang is best enjoyed by foot. Most of the pre-war buildings are located in the town centre while new, modern buildings are widespread and not too far from the centre. 

There's a building that dated back to 1917; I guess it must be the oldest building ever built in the town. A stone's throw away from the centre are several notable schools such as Kajang Convent, Kajang High School and Sekolah Kebangsaan Kajang (which I atended from Standard 1 to Standard 4). 

Kajang High School is notable for its fair share of Japanese ghost stories as it used to be the Japanese army base in Kajang during World War II. Too bad I didn't have enough time to pay it a visit. Then, I boarded the bus and headed to Seremban, which is about an hour drive from Kajang. 

Using the trunk road, the bus passed by smaller towns of Semenyih, Beranang and Mantin to name a few. It was a scenic journey indeed. 

I could see quaint traditional Malay houses dotting the roadsides, verdant greenery and mushrooming new developments. 

The bus reached the town centre of Seremban. With my pair of feet I walked around this quaint town. It was Sunday and Seremban seemed to be so quiet. But I have to say that, compared to Kajang, Seremban has more pre-war structures to boast. 

The shoplots boast a melange of various architectural styles predating back to the Great Depression Era such as Art Deco and Neo-Classicism. There's even a hint of Paris' iconic Cathedrale de Notre Dame, which is in the form of the Church of Visitation. Built in 1889 with further expansion in 1934, the church is now one of the most recognised landmarks in Seremban. 

Venturing uphill, I came across more colonial buildings as well as a building built in the fashion of traditional Minangkabau architecture that features distinctive curvy horn-shaped roof. Another heritage building - the State Library - is not far from there. 

Built by Arthur Bennison Hubback, the building is indeed a doppelganger of Ipoh Town Hall. Reason being the Town Hall was also built by Mr Hubback. 

Not far away is a beautiful and well-maintained lake garden with its lake cascading via split-level elevation. I soaked in the evening rays of Seremban sun before heading to the train station and bid the quaint town adieu.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Kuala Lumpur ~ Memory Of Your Shores Part 2

Petaling Street — the tourists are major fans of it while the KL's rich certainly loathes it. 

But truth be told, I am not surprised if I come across some rich people who buy their “luxuries” from one of the iconic streets or “retail joints” in KL (the others being Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and my usual haunt, Jalan Bukit Bintang).

It has been years since I last visited Petaling Street, perhaps, five years or so. On a fine weekend, I made my journey back to the Chinatown, rekindling myself with the days of yore. The days where I, as a graphic design student, used to frequent one of the art supply stores to buy art supplies.

Delicious wafts of chestnuts cooked under the bed of charcoal greeted me as I arrived, followed by the colourful sights of old buildings and Chinese New Year decorations in tones of gold, yellow and red. 

The sweet and delicate taste of iced mata kucing beverage dampened the dryness of my parched throat. 

I walked against the throng of tourists and locals alike who were bargaining for best prices and stopped at a junction with an Art Deco building standing in glory - the Lee Rubber Building. 

A well-preserved and one of the finest examples of Art Deco buildings (the other being Oriental Building which once housed Robinson’s Department Store),  it was occupied by the Japanese kempetais during the World War II. 

A host of brutalities towards the local was said to take place within this building. According to a book that documented the World War II events in Kuala Lumpur, an Australian woman by the name of Doris van der Straeten was killed by the Kempetais due to a brief argument. 

According to the book, van der Straeten was married to a Malayan engineer of Ceylonese Burgher extraction. 

After she was captured by the Japanese and separated from her husband (whom she assumed dead during a raid in a tin mining area, somewhere near Southern Thailand), she was captured and taken to Taiping as a prisoner. 

Along the way, van der Straeten became a mistress of a Japanese general and was introduced to other Japanese officials as someone of the Axis nationality. 

However, her true identity was discovered and was taken to the kempetai base where she was questioned and tortured. In the end, she ended up in a brief argument before being pushed to her death from the top floor.As for the general, his fate was rather unknown. 

If it was ever to be turned into a movie, I believe Nicole Kidman would be the best actress to play van der Straeten's role. Or maybe Abbie Cornish. But I am rooting for Nicole Kidman, nonetheless.

From the junction I walked along the roads, passing temples imbued with wafts of incense and shops selling a myriad of goods. And with the clicks of my digital camera, I froze these moments.