Kenny's Cafe Corner

Sunday, January 20, 2013

We Are All Time Travelling Hazardously After All

I've hated all the characters that Aubrey Plaza has played so far. That is until I've seen her in 'Safety Not Guaranteed'.

Don't get me wrong, she's a hot nerd chick but her Julie Powers in the Scott Pilgrim movie is very hateable. I've to confess I haven't seen her much in Parks and Recreation though.

She plays pretty much the same bitchy bitter sarcastic type in 'Safety' but her Darius in this movie is so well fleshed out we finally get to sympathize with her.

This movie is about a journalist Jeff (Jake Johnson) and two interns, one of which is Plaza's Darius, investigating an ad seeking a time travel companion.
It says:
WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

Anyone familiar with Internet memes will recognize this as an actual ad put up in the '90s. You can read all about that real and
fascinating story here.

The movie uses it as a device to springboard into a story about time travel, nostalgia, regret and longing for the ability to fix things and be with a loved one.

The three of them found and made contact with the person who put up the ad. This person is a lonely grocery store clerk named Kenneth (played believably by Mark Duplass) who is more than the loser you'd make him out to be at first.
Soon, Darius and Kenneth connected because they are kindred spirits.

Now here the movie proves it understands the introverts and wallflowers who walks in our society. These are awkward, weird and even a little bit scary folks but deep down inside they are sincerely good and just like everyone else, wants very much to love.

There's more but I'm afraid you'll have to actually see the movie to appreciate how touching the core of each character's motives are. Especially notable is the supporting side-plot of how Jeff, the senior journalist, tries to hook-up with an old flame only to realize several truths about what-could've-beens and experience his own loss.

The movie might be marketed as an outright screwball comedy but it isn't. While it has quirky witty laughs it is mainly a simple but honest love story. It accords respect to even the creepy ones amongst us without demonizing the beautiful 'normal' folks.

A good time travel yarn is wonderfully entertaining and I've yet to hunt down at least two more other movies. Namely "Primer" and "Happy Accidents".

'Safety Not Guaranteed' reminds me of why I enjoy indie movies so much and it is a welcome addition to my list of favorite time travel stories that I've inflicted upon the world in October 2012.

As for Aubrey Plaza...hope to see more of her. Can't wait for her upcoming movie to arrive. The title of that movie?
"The Hand Job".
Intrigued yet?
:: posted by Kenny, 2:48 PM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Merry Public Penises and Pussycats

Here's a fascinating

A confessional and ranting essay by journalist David Simon. It's good to be reminded that ethics do exist even if his views might be a tiny voice drowned by all the orgiastic moans and groans of scandal.

My personal thoughts would be that yellow journalism will always be prevalent but we should pause, step-back and look at the circus from a saner viewpoint. Just long enough to choke on more laughter.

My sympathies goes out to the collateral damage. The cheated-upon spouses, the crying children, the disappointed relatives and friends. Poor them!

None however, goes out to the public figures or stakeholders who participated in the fuck-fest.
You chose the career of celebrityhood even if you're a public servant.  Expect no privacy.
You will be judged, fairly and unfairly no matter what you do or don't do. And thanks to the Internet, judged by the whole wide world!
Sorry, you bought it, now pay for it.

Your life is an open book the moment you chose to court attention. There ain't no such thing as 'balance' between decency and ascendancy.

As such, your failings and where your private(-less?) parts have been 'in' is fair game for our entertainment. We enjoy watching you get naughty and then burn for your transgressions against society's hypocritical mores.

That is, if you got caught. If not, I'm sure that jealous mistress of yours will oops! leak it out to the media when the time is right anyway. No mistress? Then you'd better hope for a relative in debt, opportunistic friend or career-rival. You know, those sorts...

Scandals are the most addictive and viral reality shows of all time! We spectate because we feel better than these people who are more successful than us. Reality shows make us feel superior. It's showbiz!

Got dirt on Petraeus/Broadwell, McAfee/17-yr-old hookers, Alvin Tan/Vivian Lee, Ajib/Altantuya? Bring 'em on!

Feed the frenzy of my schadenfreude shark!

The world economy is kinda bringing us all down.
So, thank you for making us laugh and giving us something to joke about with our friends over the water-cooler or at the gym.
Don't take it too hard. It's just vaudeville for the rest of us.
Soon you'll be forgiven. Then your books will fly off the shelves and your phone will ring non-stop with requests for interviews. And then you'll be forgotten.

Next scandal please!
:: posted by Kenny, 11:58 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Favorite Time Travel Stories

Time travel is one of my favorite science fiction sub-genres.  Such stories are by nature filled with paradoxes and weirdness. Since there is no such thing as a time travel story that made perfect sense a measure of suspension of disbelief is required in order to enjoy such stories. I'm fine with it as long as a story sets its own rules and play by it consistently enough.

They are fiction after all. You want to be a killjoy, go watch a friggin' documentary!

I recently saw the movie 'Looper' and thought of some of my personal favorite time travel stories in the form of movies and prose. You might think some of these aren't the best or greatest stories (and you'd be right) but they are enjoyable for me nonetheless.

Here they are listed as a countdown but in no particular order of awesomeness. Except for number one that is.

I consider that the best.

Warning: Might contain slight spoilers.

14. Groundhog Day -
Not really a time travel story as it is a movie about Bill Murray stuck in a time loop. In the mainstream psyche permanently because of the performances and the moral lesson on living life the best you could the first time around.

(Related honorable mention: movie - The Source Code)

13. The Time Machine -
A seminal work by the father of modern science fiction H.G. Wells. The work that influenced all the others that come after it with the concepts that time is just another dimension and you can travel through it with the help of a machine (as opposed to using hibernation, hypnosis, or other new agey techniques).

Unfortunately, the latest math theorists are proposing it is more useful to think of time as not another dimension, but as an illusion. Time seems to be more likely just a symptom of entropy/measure of chaos. Deep stuff but I shouldn't get into that discussion here. :)

Nevertheless, this novel sets the foundation for almost all modern time travel stories.

12. Back to the Future -
This is probably the most mainstream time travel story and it's a fun ride! Mainly because of that it has popularized the concept of time travelling to the average person on the street.

11. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time -
This Japanese anime film tells a sweet coming of age story of a schoolgirl. It's a well told story of boy-girl-romance and the power of responsibility.

10. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure -
A movie that's wacky and stoned as heck! Interestingly enough, it feels as if it's the most 'realistic' time travel story told through its sheer mad-capness. I miss the cheerful Keanu Reeves. He's too mopey these days.

9. The Final Countdown -
This is not a great movie by any means but as a geek-kid growing up in the 80s, it was a wet dream seeing F-14 Tomcats do battle against Japanese Zeroes hours before the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Though unrelated, somehow this movie also reminds me of the song of same name by Europe. Imagine the synthesizers playing as jet fighters blast WWII airplanes out of the skies.

8. A Sound of Thunder -
A short story by Ray Bradbury. Science fiction has offered many reasons for the hazards, and therefore, impossibility of time travel. Namely, it messes up our beloved concept of causality. Whatever changes you made to the past will 'ripple' through the timeline thus changing the present future in great unexpected ways. It is a testament to Bradbury's poetry that he used a butterfly as trigger for this exponential cascade in changes. That's why it's called the 'Butterfly Effect' today. He invented the term! Fucking genius!

7. The Brooklyn Project -
A short story by Philip Klass.  I consider this a companion piece to 'A Sound of Thunder'. The scientists attempt to change the past as little as possible by sending just a probe. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the probe displaces a whole lot of space itself. Change is inevitable, again illustrating the Butterfly Effect but this time to truly horrific results.

6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home -
Probably the funniest timey-wimey fish-out-of-water tale after Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I'm already a Trek fan so this movie was a pleasant surprise. It was directed by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, whose character is always straight faced and yet it turned out to be the funniest movie in the series by far.

5. Twelve Monkeys -
Terry Gilliam's movie is bleak but with a sense of whimsy and mystery. As far as I know it coined the term 'Cassandra Effect' for a psychological disorder about being able to prophesize or see the future but going crazy because nobody believes you. One of the few time travel stories that feature an immutable universe. Meaning, you have information about the future but the universe will not allow you to change it.

4. The Terminator franchise -
I do not consider this a time travel story as much as it is a war story that features time travel. However it is an enjoyable saga with an almost anti-technological warning. If we aren't contemplative enough about our technological advancement it will outpace us and we might really have to fight the future!

3. Somewhere In Time -
A movie in which Christopher Reeves falls in love with a photograph of a long gone stage actress (Jane Seymour) and travels back in time meet her. I saw this movie on TV back in the late 80s and couldn't forget how teary eyed I was at the ending.

(Related honorable mention: Novel - The Time Traveler's Wife)

2. Slaughterhouse-Five - I love me some Kurt Vonnegut. His cynicism of humanity is tempered by some of the darkest tragicomedy that made me laugh so loud I felt quite silly afterwards!

1. All You Zombies... - a short story by the luminary Robert A. Heinlein.
In my humble opinion, the best time travel story ever written.

If you think 'Inception' was twisty, wait till you read this screwy baby! I have often recommended it on the sci-fi USENET newsgroups whenever someone asks what is the most incredible time travel story they have ever read. As luck would have it, you can
read it here. Quick! Before the copyrighters take it down!

:: posted by Kenny, 11:56 AM | link | 0 comments |

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brainfarts for the End of September

Some people are just N.B.A.s (Natural Born Arseholes). Little did they know that they're mere pissants. A pimple on the butt of humanity, as they used to say on USENET.


When I was a wee lad...wee-er than right now, the act of running did not exist. What we adults call running was merely the default mode of transport for us. Everywhere I went I needed to get as fast as possible.

Whenever adults chastise children in public for running they just don't get it. Kids have short legs and the world is vast!

So shuddup and let your child get to that somewhere!


My writing is a deception.

I attempt to appear smarter than I really am. In real time, I am incapable of insouciantly throwing witty words or thoughtful phrases. The powers of intuitive improvisation eludes me.

What I do is arrange ideas with the best words I can so poorly think of. Then I trim and trim the text into a topiary of boring prose that people are usually too lazy to read.

If the result does not move you, then I've just flatulated a whole lot of hot-air nothings into the world.
If the result appears pleasing and aesthetic, then it's because the English language is beautiful.

It takes time and meticulous mind-straining.

In other words, I cheat.

:: posted by Kenny, 3:33 PM | link | 0 comments |

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Car Named Ronald

"Papa's back!", I would run to my mom as the new car stops in front of our house. How old was I? Eleven ... maybe tweenish.

Mom greeted dad with a hug after taking a look at the brand new Proton Saga and exclaiming "it's beautiful!"
I was taken aback at this sudden uncommon show of affection.

The car was a Tiara Silver top of the line first generation Saga. Automatic transmission, sixteen 'Mega Valve'  four cylinder 1.5 litre engine with power windows, power side mirrors and a central locking system. All modern features for cars in Malaysia at the time.

The Blaupunkt cassette tape player with FM radio still works today. The on-board clock never did work right from day one. Service after so-called service by the official Proton workshop never corrected the incorrect time displayed at all times, well, except maybe once in every 24 hours.

It was our first air-conditioned car replacing the reliable but non-climate controlled Datsun we had for years. The silver whirring glimmering vehicle in front of our doorstep was our family car for years to come.

It was cool.

After acquiring my driving license, I drove the Datsun infrequently but tend to prefer the Saga for obvious reasons. My sister drove it when she was in university. I drove it when I joined the work force.

The old aluminum tin can was getting rather expensive to maintain when I decided to pay for a car of my own. My current darling is a MyVI by the name of 'Sally'. While I have never given the Proton Saga a name I then thought of calling it 'Ronald'. Why Ronald? I don't know. It just felt like the name of a senior who has served its owners well.

I thought Ronald should be retired or traded-in when I return it to my dad in Ipoh. However dad kept it around even when he has another car, a Toyota. Ronald is left in the sun outdoors though, while the newer chariot is parked under roof. The Saga is rusting and the dashboard plastic cracking yet the power windows and motorized side mirrors still work flawlessly.

Dad still drives it around opting to go out for lunches, dinners and church in Ronald even though it feels more like a steam room in the afternoons what with a troublesome air-conditioner that defies proper fixing.

Which is why I was stumped when I got back to Ipoh to discover that dad sent Ronald to the workshop again for another total overhaul. He whines about how costly the repairs are and I kept telling him to give up and just drive the Toyota instead.

Old Ronald

Maybe as people get older the more their material possessions become imbued with sentiment.

Maybe he is grateful for Ronald's loyal service to the family.
My sister was driving Ronald when she was blindsided by a speeding 4-wheel drive in Serdang. She survived that without injury. It was a side impact and the 4WD is larger than Ronald.

Maybe my mom's spirit and guardian angels were protecting the Saga.

Maybe the car reminded my dad of my late mom....

My own experience with Ronald? Despite his age and bad treatment by my sister when I finally got to drive Ronald everyday to and from my workplace, the silver Saga did alright.

During Ronald's tour of duty with me, he got his butt kissed twice by younger models with nary a major repair needed. In fact the dent on its hard metal bumper was unnoticeable but the collision resulted in misshapen hood covers that flew off for the other cars.
The offending drivers apologised profusely but seeing the results made me let them off easy. I didn't have the heart to be angry.

Ronald's driver side window was smashed once by thieves grabbing the few coins and loose notes I stored in the ashtray. Glass replaced, the power window still works great.

Ronald's engine died on me when I made him wade through one of Kay Elle's infamous floods. Water got into the carburetor, spark plugs were wet and the car won't restart. I had to wait for 20 minutes in the downpour before the engine would sputter into life again but revive, it did. No need for a mechanic.

I've helped women move house with the Saga's huge cabin space and deep trunk. I was grateful all that furniture and gear could fit along with a pair of cute sisters!

Another time, my sister, brother-in-law and I were on the PLUS expressway when there was a sudden loud smack and the windshield turned to smithereens. Forward vision was immediately denied as the glass looked like the textures of a crystal crocodile. It was incredible that my brother-in-law was able to slow down from 100kph to the road shoulder safely.

Apparently something must have hit the car at high speeds. We had to remove the remaining bits and pieces of the whole windshield in order to drive to the nearest workshop. I drove because my spectacles protect me better from whatever tiny shards that could still be blowing into our faces. It was a scary and harrowing experience but we were unharmed. That's all that matters.

My last great sin towards Ronald was neglecting him when I got 'Sally' the MyVI. I drove Ronald less so I forgot to check the lifetime expiry of his timing belt.

Ronald must be feeling quite despondent when the belt broke while climbing an inclined stretch of a highway. Luckily we were going at a respectable speed so I was able to cruise to a stop at the side of the road despite being surrounded by heavy traffic.

A split timing belt is very bad for the engine indeed. All four of the cylinders exploded in their respective shafts and part of the engine cam shattered. Ronald was literally heart broken.

Repairs costed in excess of four thousand Ringgit and though we eventually got him running again his heart beats like a chugga chugga diesel instead of a purring petrol.

I wanted to retire Ronald. Return it to my dad in the hopes that the less harsh driving conditions of Ipoh will not stress Ronald anymore.

Thank you for your years of service Ronald and I hope in a few days time you will be cruising the streets of Ipoh again with my dad. Old, beaten, disrespected on the roads but fondly remembered by those who recognize you.

Now I know why so many old people drive old cars. Slowly. Gently.

:: posted by Kenny, 6:07 PM | link | 2 comments |

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Ninety Percent of Grey

I don't fault Erika Leonard aka E.L. James for writing and selling the 50 Shades novels.
She started with Twilight fan-fic and gained enough popularity to publish and sell her stories. Everyone deserves the right to express themselves especially in a mid-life crisis.

While she admits she isn't a great writer and is embarassed whenever interviewed about her books at least she's laughing to the bank now. Good for her! (How I envy her actually!)

It is the people who bought/paid for the books who are to blame for propagating poor taste. Even so I hesitate to judge them too harshly. After all porn is porn. You have the right to masturbate to such things. 
Surely you wouldn't be comfortable seeing men watch explicit sex videos in public.

This proves two things (none of which are new): 
1. Porn for women sells. That's why the romance and trashy novel genre is so huge. Women tend to read more fiction than men. The porn industry knew this but somehow it takes a soccer-mom to show them how it's done.

2. Sensational hype snowballs. The word-of-mouth and media attention given to the novels hit a tipping point thereby accelerating its popularity.

The Internet enabled the dissemination of fan fiction and its style of prose. It's bad literature but fiction written by obsessed minds reveal the deepest id and fantasies of the writer. This is truly what people want to read about. This is pure sex! And sex should be dirty otherwise what's the point?

That's why fan fiction is shameless but well-received.

Now there's a reason why romance novels are a sub-genre of the fantasy genre. They are titillating stories that people want to read/hear about or watch on the screen. People do not necessarily want to act out such things though.

So there lies another one of the things critics of the books worry about: the promotion of the BDSM lifestyle. They think the popularity of 'Fifty Shades...' will send the wrong message that deep down inside women just enjoy being treated like shit. 

I don't think most of the readers want to be debased like Anastasia Steele. No more than being able to enjoy a murder mystery make you want to kill people or be killed. It's's fantasy. The intention is to be entertained.

The power of consuming fiction is such that we empathize and put ourselves in the protagonist's shoes. More so when the prose is written in the first person point-of-view.

If what the protagonist goes through is 'sick' or beyond the social norms then such prose feeds the id of our soul. Once the fiction ends we re-enter the real world. It is the ability to differentiate fantasy from reality that is the distinction of a diseased unhealthy mind and a normal person.

So reading fantasy doesn't automatically make you a bad person. Paying and thereby rewarding bad fiction doesn't make you a bad person either. You just have lousy yecchy taste.

E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades and you paid money for it. Congratulations! You have contributed to ninety percent of the world.

The ninety percent that is crap!

:: posted by Kenny, 11:07 AM | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Girl of My Dreams

Last night I was travelling the villages of Malaysia's west coast. Admiring the greenery and overflowing bunds of the fields. 

Then there was a colonial building beside the road and I went inside. The place was filled with all sorts of knick-knacks to be sold and when I looked up saw that the ceiling was really high with bird nests and sleeping bats and daylight streaming from tiny windows.

I continued walking and the back opened out to the sea. There was a jetty and some people were on it and there she was...jogging. She came past me and smiled. I smiled back out of reaction. She, petite long black frilly haired. Me, kinda sorta feeling light and happy. I said hi, she said hi back, wanna join me? I said ok.

We ran down the length of the jetty, there was this tall white modern hotel with blue glassed windows beside it. The air is really salty now. At the end of the breezy jetty was stairs down. We walked down. The water rather calm and people were swimming in it. Wasn't deep could see the sand. There were fish.

We were sweaty and I mentioned that looks nice to swim in. We took off our clothes and went in. Someone put a portable TV at the edge. Manta rays swam up to watch it. We held hands in the coolness.

That night we had satay lit only by kerosene lamp. 

I asked her how she found this place. I couldn't remember what she said. 
She asked me how I found this place. I told her a friend wrote about it and the photos looked nice.

She asked me where I got this welt on the arm from. I told her it's from paintball and described how painful it is. But fun! She said she liked blowing hundreds of soap bubbles into the sun.
And we talked and laughed the night away. 

I woke up feeling rather sad she's not real.
I must write this down before I forget it all.
:: posted by Kenny, 10:24 PM | link | 0 comments |

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