Rabu, 28 Disember 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

True-blue hunk

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 03:22 PM PST

Joe Manganiello, who plays a werewolf in True Blood, prepared for his role by watching his pet dogs.

COMPARISONS with the Twilight vampire movies come with the territory for the cast of True Blood, but as beefy as Twilight's resident werewolf is, True Blood's Joe Manganiello could probably eat two Taylor Lautners and still have room left over for dessert.

Not that he eats much dessert, mind you. At a press event in Los Angeles, California, the actor – who stands at 1.95m tall and weighs 100kg – politely declines the plate of pastries a reporter pushes towards him.

He is "in training", he explains, for a role in the movie What To Expect When You're Expecting, a pregnancy-themed romantic comedy to be released next year starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez, and in which Manganiello has been cast as the eye candy.

The usually sombre female journalist from Poland dissolves into giggles when he says this, which proves to be a fairly common reaction to the handsome 34-year-old, a classically trained theatre actor with the body of an underwear model.

On True Blood, he plays the werewolf Alcide, who has become a firm fan favourite despite being introduced only in the third season of the series which started airing last year.

This is due in no small part to the many scenes in which he takes off his clothes, including one this season where he and vampire Eric (played by Alexander Skarsgaard) go naked at a lake for little apparent reason.

All this has contributed to some rather forward requests from fans. "I get men who want me to let their wives sit on my lap. That's a little strange."

He also gets "fans who heard that wolf saliva helps people's wounds heal quicker, so they've asked me to lick them", and gay men who "mostly want to know my workouts – what am I doing, who am I training with, what am I eating".

"We've got some freaky fans out there," he says, chuckling.

He does not help matters by his frequent references to his own impressive physical dimensions.

A graduate of the venerable Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, he believes he was cast as Alcide because there just "aren't a lot of six-foot-five, 220-pound athletic, classical theatre-trained people out there" who can "look like this giant werewolf".

To prepare for the role, he watched documentaries about wolves and studied his two pet dogs. "I have a little Yorkshire terrier who tries to let me know that he's the boss ... That kind of spirit, of this eight-pound thing trying to out-macho and out-alpha me at 220 pounds – there's a lot of that in Alcide."

The actor, who is now single having recently split from his fiancee, says he is glad his career did not quite take off a decade ago when, fresh out of drama school, he landed a role in the 2002 movie Spider-Man – and then proceeded to not work for four years.

It is just as well, because he would have been too immature to handle success at that age, he says.

Then True Blood came along and offered "just the right part at the right time". Before, the artistic and athletic sides to his personality and resume "didn't really fit together – until now".

"I think this part found me as much as I found it," he says. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

> New episodes of True Blood Season Four premieres every Thursday night until Jan 19 on HBO (Astro Ch 411) / HBO HD (Astro Ch 431).

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Suspected kidnappers killed in China's restive west

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 07:11 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Police in China's restive far-western Xinjiang region killed seven "kidnappers in a hostage rescue", official media reported on Thursday, calling the suspects members of a "terror gang".

The kidnappers took two people hostage late on Wednesday in Pishan County in the southern part of Xinjiang, said the region's official news website (www.tianshannet.com).

When police responded "the assailants resisted arrest and launched assaults, killing one police officer and injuring another", said the report.

Seven of the suspects were shot dead and four were wounded and caught, said the report. The two abductees were freed.

The reports did not say explicitly whether the alleged kidnapping was related to ethnic tensions in the region, where many members of the largely Muslim Uighur minority resent the presence of Han Chinese and the controls of the central government.

"Pishan, an oasis county near the Taklamakan Desert, is located in the ethnic Uighur-dominated area of Xinjiang that is no stranger to violence," Xinhua news agency said in a report.

Calls to the Xinjiang government by Reuters were not answered.

In July 2009, Uighurs rioted against Han Chinese residents in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, killing at least 197 people, mostly Han, according to official estimates.

Xinjiang sits astride south and central Asia, and China sees it as a bulwark in this volatile part of the world, making it all the more jumpy about unrest.

In September, courts in Xinjiang sentenced four people to death for violence in two cities over the summer that left 32 people dead.

The government blamed the incidents in Kashgar and Hotan -- both in the majority Uighur southern part of Xinjiang -- on religious extremists and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for their people who speak a Turkic language.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Yangon blast kills 17, injures 80 - Myanmar police

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 06:40 PM PST

YANGON (Reuters) - At least 17 people died and 80 were injured in an early morning explosion at an industrial district Thursday in an eastern suburb of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, police said.

Firemen attempt to put out a fire in Yangon December 29, 2011. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Earlier, witnesses had spoken of about 50 dead bodies after the 2 a.m. (7:30 p.m. British time Wednesday) blast in an industrial district of the country's commercial hub.

But a police officer said 12 men and five women had been confirmed dead as of 6 a.m. He said further deaths were expected.

Some witnesses said a fire had broken out at a chemical storage warehouse, causing an explosion that triggered several smaller blasts. Police said three firemen were among the dead.

Fire engines from all parts of Yangon were at the scene, witnesses said. Fire was reported to have spread to a nearby shipyard and factories.

Television pictures showed rescue teams carrying casualties on stretchers in the middle of the night around what appeared to be badly damaged buildings.

The shock from the loud explosion in the area was felt by many people in eastern and central Yangon.

Police would not comment on the cause of the disaster.

"There are many casualties. We are not in a position to give you further information. We are still looking into it," a second police officer from Mingalar Taungnyunt Township Police Station told Reuters.

Last Wednesday, December 21, a woman was killed and another injured when what was described as a bomb exploded in a public toilet near the main campus of Yangon University.

Bomb blasts are common in Myanmar, which has been torn by ethnic rebellions and armed struggle against successive governments since independence in 1948.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Mexico arrests drug dealer linked to boss Guzman

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 06:36 PM PST

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico captured a suspected drug trafficker with links to the country's most wanted man, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, whose operations have recently suffered a string of blows.

Luis Rodriguez Olivera, known as "El Guero" (Blondie) is shown in this handout photograph provided by Mexico's federal police December 28, 2011 in Mexico City. REUTERS/Mexican Federal Police/Handout

Mexico's federal police said on Wednesday they captured Luis Rodriguez Olivera, known as "El Guero" (Blondie), for whom U.S. authorities have offered a reward of up to $5 million.

In a statement, Mexican police said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers were responsible for trafficking cocaine to the United States between 1996 and 2008 for Guzman's gang.

A "wanted" statement on the U.S. State Department's website said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers split with the Sinaloa cartel around 2005 and later forged a strong relationship with Guzman's rivals, the Zetas cartel.

One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the 39-year-old Rodriguez Olivera had ties to Guzman but had latterly struck out on his own. Federal police arrested him on Tuesday in Mexico City airport.

Later on Wednesday, the government said it had seized eight containers carrying more than 120 tonnes of monomethylamine in the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan state.

It was the second big seizure announced this week of monomethylamine, a compound used to make methamphetamines. According to calculations by security analysts, the shipment could have been worth $300 million dollars or more.


Full coverage of drugs war http:/link.reuters.com/wam89p


President Felipe Calderon's conservative administration has been dominated by a military crackdown on drug cartels that has claimed more than 46,000 lives in the past five years, eroding support for his National Action Party, or PAN.

The PAN has trailed its main rival for months as Mexico gears up for a July 2012 presidential election, and analysts say it needs to rack up some victories in the fight on drugs.

Javier Oliva, a drug war expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said Michoachan-based cartel La Familia was the most likely intended recipient for the Lazaro Cardenas shipment, though the Zetas were also a possibility.

The shipment set out from Shanghai and was destined for the Guatemalan port of Puerto Quetzal, the government said.

Though the Sinaloa cartel deals in methamphetamines, it is not regarded as exercising much control over Lazaro Cardenas.

Mexico had already arrested three senior traffickers allied to Guzman in the past three months.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Business

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Malaysia-Market factors to watch Thursday Dec 29

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 04:42 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Following is a list of events in Malaysia as well as news stories and press reports which may influence financial markets.


> Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between Multimodal Freight Sdn Bhd and Transport Workers Union at Kuala Lumpur Railway Station at 8.30 a.m. (0030)


* Malaysia's stock market finished 0.2 percent higher on Wednesday, with gains in leisure conglomerate Genting Bhd, banking group and telecommunications firm Axiata

* U.S. stocks fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday after a hefty year-end rally and the S&P 500 erased gains for the year on renewed concerns about the euro zone's financial health.

* The euro weakened about 1 percent against the dollar and the yen on Wednesday, one day before an important auction of long-dated Italian debt, while U.S. stocks slid more than 1 percent on concerns about the economy in early 2012.

* Malaysian crude palm oil futures climbed to a near five-week high on Wednesday as dry weather in South America sparked concerns about lower soybean yields, potentially tightening soyoil supplies.


> Giant Vale ship gets China port OK

> Asia Rubber-China sells cargo from warehouse * Most Southeast Asian stock markets drifted lower on Wednesday in light trading as market players took profits on recent gainers such as telecom shares.

Palm futures buoyed soyoil supply concerns

KUALA LUMPUR: The following factors are likely to influence Malaysian palm oil futures and other vegetable oil markets on Thursday.


* Malaysian crude palm oil futures climbed to a near five-week high onWednesday as dry weather in South America sparked concerns about lower soybeanyields, potentially tightening soyoil supplies.

* U.S. corn rose more than 1 percent on Wednesday, notching gains for the eighthstraight trading session and hitting a six-week high, as dry weather trimmed crop prospects in Argentina, the world's No. 2 corn exporter after the United States.

* Oil prices fell on Wednesday, snapping a string of six straight sessions of gains as part of a broad sell-off across commodities and equities.


* The euro weakened about 1 percent against the dollar and the yen on Wednesday, one day before an important auction of long-dated Italian debt, while U.S. stocks slid more than 1 percent on concerns about the economy in early 2012.

* Oil closed lower on Wednesday, snapping a six-day run-up,and gold prices fell too, hitting three-month lows, as a rally in the dollar pressured commodities denominated in the U.S. currency.


> Taiwan's BSPA passes in 60,000 T soybean tender

> ADVISORY-Astra Agro suspends palm oil auction on Dec 30, Jan 2

DIARY - Malaysia 29 December



* KUALA LUMPUR - Signing memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Multimodal Freight Sdn Bhd and Transport Workers Union (TWU) at Kuala Lumpur Railway Station at 0830am (0030).

* KUALA LUMPUR - Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi launches Malaysia Islamic Propagation Foundation (Yadim) Customers' Day at Dataran Lanai Coliseum, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur at 0900am (0100).


KUALA LUMPUR - Release of Nov 2011 Money Supply data.

SHAH ALAM - Kelington Group Bhd holds EGM at No. 3, Jalan Astaka U8/83, Jelutong Industrial Park, Sha Alam at 1000am (0200).

2012 MONDAY, JAN 2

KUALA LUMPUR - Market and Public Holiday - New Year. - Reuters

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Management Tip of the Day: Don't worry about your first job

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 04:27 PM PST

BOSTON (Reuters) - New graduates should remember that no matter what job you choose today, you build skills and create options for the long-term, Harvard Business Review: the learn, earn, contribute trifecta.

The Management Tip of the Day offers quick, practical management tips and ideas from Harvard Business Review and HBR.org (http:\\www.hbr.org). Any opinions expressed are not endorsed by Reuters.

"Graduates, take note: Few people start their work life in the right place. So don't stress about your first job out of college. Chances are it's not going to predict your future field, income, or career path.

Instead of looking for the perfect job, look for these three things:

1. Opportunities to learn. Whatever job you take, you should acquire new skills and experience.

2. Enough money. You don't have to be a banker. Waiting tables is perfectly respectable if it affords you the time and flexibility to do what you care about.

3. Chances to contribute. Everyone wants to feel a sense of purpose. Find a position that allows you to be a force for good. If you can't find a job that fits the bill, volunteer on the side."

- Today's management tip was adapted from "Your First Job Doesn't (Really) Matter" by Jodi Glickman.

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U.S. online poker ruling at risk in future

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 04:14 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - While the Internet poker world salivates at the prospect of its business coming back to life thanks to an Obama administration ruling, a future U.S. president could reverse that decision and send the industry back to the drawing board if it is not codified into law.

Late on Friday, the eve of Christmas weekend, the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued a legal opinion stating that the 1961 Wire Act prohibited online betting only for sporting events and contests, not Internet games such as poker or lotteries.

That opens the door to online poker and leaves it to each state to decide whether to legalize the multibillion-dollar industry. Pressure likely will mount on the U.S. Congress to address the issue too.

A Justice Department memorandum can be withdrawn and a controversial decision can be reversed. Courts can intervene and render it void. One way to assure the future of the ruling is for Congress to codify it into law.

"This is just an opinion of the Department of Justice and only reflects what the Obama administration would bring charges on. Future departments of Justice could interpret the Wire Act differently," said Greg Gemignani, a lawyer and expert in Internet gaming with the Las Vegas firm Lionel Sawyer & Collins.

It seems hard to imagine a future U.S. administration pulling back should many states go ahead and approve online poker. But there is precedent for reversing a president.

At the beginning of President Barack Obama's term in 2009, the Justice Department took the rare step of withdrawing opinions that the Office of Legal Counsel issued during the Bush administration related to interrogations of terrorism suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency.


"An opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel can be withdrawn or changed, although it is not often done," said Linda Shorey, a partner at K&L Gates LLP in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who focuses on gaming laws and regulations.

"Under the U.S. Constitution, only the courts have the authority to determine whether the Wire Act applies to poker wagers," she said. "The Department of Justice memo is not binding on the courts."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, has ruled in favor of the poker industry on the Wire Act, saying it only applied to sports betting, but a federal judge in Utah has ruled against it.

That could put pressure on Congress to address the issue. But with elections due in November, lawmakers are typically loathe to do anything controversial that could spark the wrath of their constituents.

"With the (conservative) Tea Party in such a powerful position (in the House of Representatives), that just seems to me impossible" that legislation would pass anytime soon, said I. Nelson Rose, a professor and leading gambling consultant and expert for states and the industry.

The ruling by the Justice Department hands the states the power to make decisions about what forms of online gambling, if any, are legal, he said. If they permit it, then states could reach pacts to allow their residents to play online in each other's jurisdictions as well, Rose said.

Republican Representative Frank Wolf, head of the panel that oversees the Justice Department's annual budget, was puzzled by the decision to reverse the long-standing position and planned to ask for an explanation, his spokesman said.

The casino industry is eager for Congress to pass legislation that would ensure uniformity in regulating the industry.

"If there is not a federal bill then you will see individual states each passing unique sets of rules," Caesars Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman told Reuters. "It's obviously a far less rational way to proceed and it runs the risk of not addressing the illegal operators in any way."


While the Justice Department decision will likely have far-reaching ramifications for the gaming industry, one area it leaves untouched is pending prosecutions against individuals and companies facing charges over online poker businesses.

Federal prosecutors may still come after online gamblers using state laws that prohibit such activity and they could always add federal fraud, conspiracy and other charges.

They did exactly that in New York when prosecutors charged a dozen people and their online poker businesses this year with conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, money laundering and violations of a 2006 law banning most Internet gambling.

Because they were not charged under the Wire Act, the new legal memorandum will have no impact on that case, said a Justice Department source who declined to be further identified.

The prosecutors appeared to carefully avoid using the 1961 law in making the charges, knowing that this controversy over the Wire Act was brewing, according to Rose.

"It's actually quite startling that they're charging people with money laundering and illegal gambling and yet never mention the major federal statute," he said, adding that they likely did so "because they knew they were in trouble with the Wire Act."

A Justice Department spokeswoman said online poker did not constitute betting on a sporting event under the Wire Act, but said that other state and federal laws will still apply to online gambling.

"In states that ban various forms of gambling -- including Internet poker -- the department will be able to investigate and prosecute those gambling businesses under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and other sections of the criminal code," said Justice Department spokeswoman Alisa Finelli.

In the New York case, last week an executive for Absolute Poker, one of the three largest Internet poker companies, pleaded guilty to deceiving banks over the processing of gambling proceeds and conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud. Another individual pleaded guilty in May to similar charges.

As part of the prosecution, the U.S. government seized the Internet domain names of the three biggest online poker companies: Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.

Lawyers for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

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The Star Online: Sports

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India set victory target of 292 against Australia

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 05:08 PM PST

MELBOURNE: Australia were dismissed for 240 runs in their second innings before lunch on Thursday, leaving India requiring 292 for victory with more than a day remaining of the first test.

Mike Hussey and James Pattinson resumed on 179-8, a lead of 230, but it was not long before Zaheer Khan had removed Hussey for 89 when the veteran feathered a catch to wicketkeeper MS Dhoni from a stinging delivery that moved away slightly.

Paceman Zaheer's joy was cut short when he blew a golden chance to end Australia's innings by dropping Pattinson on 15 after lumbering in from fine leg to spill a low catch from a skied slog off Umesh Yadav's bowling.

Pattinson, a 21-year-old playing his third test, went on to blast an unbeaten 37 and build an invaluable partnership of 43 with Ben Hilfenhaus. Ishant Sharma wrapped up the innings by having Hilfenhaus caught in the slips for 14.

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Nicol will stop at nothing to get sport into the Olympics

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 05:54 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Like all great champions Nicol David refuses to embrace defeat. So it upsets her that she is still unable to achieve the one thing she wants most: squash in the Olympics.

Typically, Nicol refuses to give up, continuing her campaign despite the intransigence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on accepting squash as part of the Games.

Nicol's latest attempt to get her sport in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics also met with failure. The IOC snubbed squash in favour of golf and rugby but that has only made Nicol, who presented a paper to the IOC in 2009 for the inclusion of squash, even more determined to crusade on.

"My dream has always been to play in the Olympics and I will do everything I can to see squash in the Games," said Nicol, who has won every title the sport has to offer.

"It's discouraging that the IOC have rejected our appeal for the 2016 Olympics as well but I haven't given up hope."

Nicol, who has bagged 56 Women's International Squash Players Association (Wispa) titles since turning pro in 2000 including the world title a record six times, now intends to fight for the sport's inclusion in the 2020 Olympics even though she is unlikely to be still playing then.

Her frustration is understandable. It is every athlete's dream to compete in the Olympics and Nicol is at the peak of her career. She would be the favourite for the gold if squash was on the London Olympics programme.

Nicol, who had said after winning her record sixth world title in Rotterdam last month that she would willingly trade them all for one Olympic gold medal, is perplexed as to why the IOC continue to disregard squash.

The world squash Hall of Famer said: "We will keep at it until the sport becomes an Olympic event. We will be getting together soon to prepare a bid for inclusion in the 2020 Games.

"We are expected to make our presentation to the IOC in September. We have to redouble our efforts to convince them that squash merits recognition," she said.

Nicol, who has been the women's world number one since 2006, hits the competition trail early in the new year with the World Series Final in London from Jan 4-8.

"It gets tougher every year so I have to train harder and improve my game to stay ahead," said Nicol, who leaves for Amsterdam tonight to continue her training under coach Liz Irving.

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Pei Tty may call it quits if she fails to qualify for Olympics

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 06:03 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Experienced women's doubles shuttler Wong Pei Tty may quit if she fails to qualify for the London Olympics next year.

Pei Tty, who turned 30 last month, and partner Chin Eei Hui had an indifferent year as she struggled to reproduce her best form after returning from a serious knee injury in March.

The pair, who were once ranked No. 2 in the world, failed to make an impact, crashing out in the first round of several tournaments. Their best performance was finishing runners-up in the Australian Open back in April.

They did, however, produce a good run in the recent India Open GP Gold, reaching the semi-finals and are currently ranked No. 20 in the world. It is a vast improvement from their No. 68 earlier in the year.

But that is still out of the Olympic qualifying mark as only the top 16 pairs will make the cut.

"I'm feeling much stronger and things are finally getting back to normal. I only hope it's not too late," said Pei Tty.

"My dream is to qualify for the Olympics for one last time and we really have to get some good results soon to achieve it.

"I'll probably call it quits if we fail. I'm not that young anymore so it may be time to look at other options like coaching.

"I will discuss it with BAM before making any decision."

Pei Tty said it was timely that the younger pair of Woon Khe Wei-Vivian Hoo are finally coming through as they would have to carry the challenge soon.

"Khe Wei-Vivian have improved a lot and, perhaps, with my retirement, they will have the opportunity to take over and make an impact," she said.

Pei Tty-Eei Hui have a rather tough draw in the upcoming Korean and Malaysian Opens. In Seoul next week, the veteran pair are drawn against top Taiwanese Cheng Wen Hsing-Chien Yu Chin in the first round. If they upset the Taiwanese sixth seeds, they will probably come head-to-head with Singapore's Shinta Mulia Sari-Yao Lei, who beat them in India last week.

In the Malaysian Open, Pei Tty-Eei Hui face Sweden's Emelie Lennartsson-Emma Wengberg in the first round but next up will be either sixth seeds Meiliana Jauhari-Greysia Polii of Indonesia or Korean pair Eom Hye-won-Jang Ye-na.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

A woman’s world

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 03:16 PM PST

For this KL-born, much-photographed LA girl-about-town, life is as interesting as the movies.

AT first glance, Florence Low Sloan looks like the archetypal trophy wife. Bold and beautiful, with a figure cut out for couture, Sloan seems to have life wrapped around her perfectly-manicured digits. Being married to one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, former chairman and CEO of MGM Studios Harry Sloan, doesn't hurt either.

However, it doesn't take long for one to realise that Sloan, who's in her late 40s, is anything but a trophy wife. For one, she's not afraid of getting her hands dirty, as her recent stint in China with close friend and business ally Wendi Deng Murdoch (yes, we're talking about the slam-down sister) as co-producers for the movie Snow Flower And The Secret Fan has shown.

"Working in China has changed my perspective on life, and in a good way," she says. "Making a film is hard enough to begin with, but making it in China is even harder! I suppose you could say I was forced to grow up in the process."

It's a balmy Thursday morning in the Low family home in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, and Sloan is recovering from the red-carpet movie premiere (in KL) the night before. She tells me she was expecting something on a smaller scale, something befitting an art-house movie, but it turned out to be "a huge event, thanks to my friend (Datuk) Farah Khan, who had went out of her way to organise it for me." Even more astounding: some female members of the audience came up to her after the movie with tears streaming down their faces.

"Their make-up was running!" exclaims Sloan. "They told me how proud they were of me and how I've become something of a role model in the local film industry."

Meanwhile, I am agape, trying to take in the unusual scale of this four-storey penthouse owned by her parents, Tan Sri Low Keng Huat and Puan Sri Molly Low, with God-only-knows-how-many square feet on one floor, and everything in surprising proportions, the veranda, the sculptures, the TV. Framed pictures of the Low family, together with their children and spouses, hang in the living room where we sit.

"My husband always arrives a little later because he knows I need time with my family," says Sloan. "I love hanging out with my mum and sisters when I'm back. Oh, and I also like to eat nasi lemak, curry puff, curry mee ... you know, food that I can't find in LA."

It's hard to imagine someone so well-heeled and well-connected can also be so down-to-earth. Sloan, however, has several other surprises up her sleeves.

Hello, Hollywood!

The eldest of four siblings, the ever-so-eloquent Sloan is the by-product of an overseas education system. She spent her formative years in Britain; at 11, she left the nest to attend boarding school. The distance, however, did not stop her parents from keeping a close watch on her.

"My mum and dad visited me too often," she says, chuckling. "They were typical Asian parents; very strict. They expected me to get good grades, get home at a certain time, dress in a certain way ... but I suppose I'm really grateful for all of that since it gave me discipline and made me the person I am today."

Sloan would spend 10 years there before returning to Malaysia with a law degree from City University London. After divorcing her first husband, however, she returned to London with her two sons (now aged 25 and 21). It was there where she met Harry Sloan through a friend. They got married, and in 2002, she packed her bags and left for Los Angeles where she has been living ever since.

"When I first arrived, I was busy with a number of things, like finding the right school for my kids and learning how to drive in LA. I lead a pretty regular life there actually," says Sloan.

Of course, this "regular life" also comes with the usual trappings of Hollywood glitz and glamour.

"I've met many actors and actresses because I help my husband entertain," she says. "I think we have ideas in our heads on what certain people are like. But once you meet them, you realise that they're all just very nice, very normal human beings."

Without naming names, she adds: "Of course, there are some who will surprise you!"

Demanding divas aside, Sloan names Tom Cruise as one of the most interesting A-listers she's met by far. She says: "I really enjoyed meeting him. He was so different from what I expected ... highly intelligent and really friendly. His wife Katie Holmes is also a lovely woman with a great fashion sense. I love talking about fashion with her!"

Sloan, you see, seems to revel in the style-icon role that her increasingly high-profile appearances have foisted upon her. Her passion for fashion began at a tender age, as a result of the regular shopping trips she took as a child with her mother. Today, she's clad in designer garb from top-to-toe, from the bronze body-skimming lamé blouse by Gucci to the multi-coloured Prada wedges on her feet.

Her quirky shoes, with its four-inch heels, soon become the focus of our discussion. I ask if she knows about Arianna Huffington's recent op-ed in The Huffington Post in which she compared a modern woman's practice of wearing high heels to the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding – a practice central to the story development in Snow Flower. The worst part, according to Huffington, was how some women are starting to inject botox into their feet to counteract the damage being done by their shoes.

"I hate to say it, but I'm still a big fan of high heels," says Sloan. "Women had to have their feet bound in the old days so they can find themselves a husband. Today, we tend to torture ourselves with five-inch Louboutins and plastic surgery, and by choice, so we can be more beautiful."

Although she wouldn't call herself a feminist, Sloan is a strong believer in women's rights. "We may be better off than the older generation but I think there are still many issues surrounding women today, especially those living in third-world or war-torn countries. And we still don't earn as much as our male counterparts," she says.

Nevertheless, Sloan feels optimistic about the future and what it holds for women everywhere. Citing Kathryn Bigelow's success in becoming the first woman director to win an Oscar for her movie The Hurt Locker last year as an example, she gushes: "That was pretty amazing. It shows that society now realises that women can do anything men can do."

Girl power

Appropriately enough, Sloan's first movie endeavour is also creating waves, not just here but abroad. Based on Lisa See's best-selling novel of the same name, the film stars Li Bingbing, Gianna Jun and Vivian Wu and follows the lifelong friendship between two girls who develop their own secret code as a way to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women.

"The book really spoke to me because of my Chinese roots. In essence, it is a history of my ancestors," she says, adding that her own grandfather had arrived from China and, in a typical rags-to-riches story, had struggled for some time before making a name for himself in the construction business.

Sloan, who wanted an Eastern tale that would translate across the globe, finally saw her vision coming true several months ago at different premieres around the globe. "It's not just the Chinese women in Malaysia and China who come up to me to tell me how touched they were by the film but also Caucasian women in New York and London," she says.

Apparently, The Apprentice judge Ivanka Trump attended the show's New York premiere at the Tribeca Grand Hotel and later wrote on Twitter: "Ladies, definitely go see it! I LOVED this movie." But the appeal wasn't gender-specific either: Sir Ben Kingsley praised the film for its importance and authencity.

All this led Harpers Bazaar to tag Snow Flower as the Slumdog Millionaire of Chinese culture, trading special effects for gritty sets and standard indie film budgets.

Nonetheless, the entire filmmaking process wasn't as simple as she or Murdoch had anticipated. While it had been easier for the duo to secure meetings with top Hollywood execs in the initial stages because of their husbands' prominence, Sloan claims they still had to convince cynics that it wasn't merely a pipe dream.

"I think we had a lot more to prove," says Sloan. "Maybe they didn't take us seriously then, but we slowly gained their respect. They realised it's not something we're doing for fun. This film means a lot to us and we are willing to work hard to make it happen."

Once they were given the green light, it was all systems go: Sloan dealt with the legal and creative aspects of the film while Murdoch fretted over finances. With a wry smile, Sloan admits that both Murdoch and her had "strong characters", but this was essentially "a good thing because it help sparks creativity". However, there were also several disagreements along the way.

"We have been friends for over 10 years now but working with someone is entirely different. I would be lying to you if I said we didn't fight. We fought like cats and dogs!" she says, laughing.

So is the Wendi on TV anything like the Wendi in real life? "Yes, that's Wendi. She's fearless. If she thinks something is right, she'll go ahead and do it, regardless of people's opinions," replies Sloan.

Sloan says she values the qualities of "loyalty" and "acceptance" in her friends.

"I also think it's very important for a person to be non-judgemental. I think that's very difficult for women though. I'm learning how to do it myself," she confesses.

She also believes that her friendship with Murdoch is stronger as a result from working together. And, yes, they will be teaming up for a second movie.

"Right now, we're looking at this book called Journey Of A Thousand Miles," she says. "It's about this Chinese pianist called Lang Lang and all the hardships he had to endure during post-cultural revolution China to become one of the most famous classical pianists in the world."

That being said, Sloan doesn't consider herself a commercial movie maker. "We're just doing stories that leave an impression on us. A romantic comedy might be fun one day, but not now," she says.

Whatever happens next, one thing is certain: anything with a ballsy heroine is right up her alley.

> Snow Flower And The Secret Fan is playing in local cinemas.

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PAS: Malaysian film-makers not ready for self-censorship

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 03:07 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian producers and film-makers are not ready for self-censorship as it could lead to movies which are against the country's culture and religious norms, said PAS.

Its Dewan Muslimat deputy head Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud said the Government must review the move to end the role of the National Film Censorship Board.

She expressed opposition to the decision to allow producers and importers to take over the role.

"Most film producers are liberal and they only care about profits.

"They have different moral values and we cannot count on them to practise self-censorship," she said at the PAS headquarters here yesterday.

Last week, Home Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Mahmood Adam said the censorship and control of the film industry would now be a joint decision between the ministry, representatives from the film industry and members of the public.

Dr Siti pointed out that many countries still have a censorship board to monitor the films screened.

"Without it, we will have a growing number of films that promote ideas against the country's cultural and religious norms like homosexuality," she said.

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A Minute With: Jeremy Renner on his "Mission: Impossible"

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 02:15 AM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Jeremy Renner scuffed around Hollywood for a decade before his career took off in 2009 when he was nominated for an Oscar in his starring role in the bomb-disposal war drama "The Hurt Locker."

Renner didn't win the award, although the film earned the best movie Oscar. He followed "Hurt Locker" with another Oscar-nominated role in "The Town" and did a cameo in this year's blockbuster "Thor."

Now he's starring opposite Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," the "MI" franchise's fourth film that is No. 1 at box offices over the holidays.

Renner, 40, spoke to Reuters about how he landed the role, working with Cruise, and rumors he may take over the franchise when Cruise, nine years his senior, tires of it.

Q: Is it true you went in to discuss a possible role in "Super 8" when you were offered "MI4" instead?

A: "It's true. I was discussing 'Super 8' with J.J. Abrams, who directed that and produced ("MI4"), and that was a very secretive project too, and within a few hours I'd met Tom Cruise and ("MI4" director) Brad Bird. I went in for one movie and came out with another!"

Q: Does that happen a lot?

A: "Not to me. It's very strange. I called people and said, 'You won't believe what just happened.' It was crazy and I was shocked to suddenly be in 'MI4.' But it was so easy, sitting down with Tom and Brad. It's this fantastic fun franchise ... And there was no script then. They just pitched me the whole story, where my character was at, and it all made sense. It was very easy to say, 'Yes.'"

Q: You play the uptight analyst. Is there much of you in him?

A: "I can get very nervous about stuff, and I have to do something to relieve that nervousness -- it's not something disgusting or pornographic -- and Tom thought it was pretty funny and he put it in the movie. My character is complicated, and I really liked that. He starts off as this very buttoned-up desk-jockey type, and then things happen and there's more than meets the eye to him, which is always interesting."

Q: Any surprises working with Cruise?

A: "Just how dedicated he is. I think he has 48 hours in a day, compared to our 24. He gets so much done and is so focused. He has this childlike outlook, where he's constantly learning and growing all the time. He has this immense amount of energy because he's so excited about what he's doing. He loves what he does, and that's awesome to be around. It's infectious."

Q: There's a rumor that you may take over the franchise.

A: "I heard that. I hear lots of rumors -- that I'm sleeping with half of Hollywood -- and I'm like, 'who has the time?' No, it's not true about 'Mission: Impossible.' There's no taking over. It's not happening.

Q: Next year you do take over the "Bourne" franchise, though.

A: "Yeah, but I'm not playing Jason Bourne and taking over from Matt Damon. It's called "Bourne Legacy," and it's a sort of continuation of the story, but not based on a book like the others. I'm loving doing it, though it's very different from Mission. It feels very small and contained by comparison. It's action-heavy but not stunt-heavy with big spectacle stunts. It's more hands-on and gritty."

Q: Your career is red hot. Ever been down and out?

A: "Of course! Most of my career's been down, not up."

Q: What was your lowest point?

A: "There's loads of those. I had stretches where I couldn't afford the electric bill, but I was still alive and kicking -- and still smiling. That's the most important thing. Even in my darkest hour, I was still happy doing what I do. I never considered ever giving up. Not once."

Q: What do you do when you're not working on movies?

A: "I'm very active. I love skiing, building houses, and music's still a big part of my life. I used to have a garage band, and now I love writing songs. It's a great outlet as it only needs me. I don't need scripts or a whole film crew. It can happen instantaneously."

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Hasan Ali denies Harakah report he went to Kota Baru to apologise to PAS leaders

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 06:19 AM PST

SHAH ALAM: Former Selangor PAS Commissioner Datuk Dr. Hasan Ali has denied a HarakahDaily report that he went to Kota Baru solely to meet PAS top leaders and to apologise for his remarks against the party.

Hasan pointed out that he had already retracted his comments regarding the welfare state issue during a press conference at his residence on Dec 24 and had apologised to the party leaders at the same time.

In a statement Wednesday night, he said he was disappointed in Harakah which had been reminded many times not to twist facts which could raise confusion and disunity.

He clarified that he had bee invited attend a gathering involving former PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa along with PAS deputy spiritual leader Datuk Dr. Haron Din and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz at his home at JKR 10 Kota Baru.

"The gathering went smoothly and it was pleasant and sincere.

"Among the things touched upon during the gathering were the party's direction, preparation for the 13th General Election and Harakah's path as the party's official voice," said Hasan.

He pointed out that they had all given their views on how to strengthen the party's development and the rakyat's support.

Hasan also stated that he was also moved by the recognition shown by the leadership in his mission to elevate Islam in the country.

Harakah quoted Nik Aziz as saying that Hasan had withdrawn all his statements criticising the party after a meeting with the party's top leaders in Kota Bharu, Kelantan on Tuesday night.

Both Hasan and Nasharudin have been embroiled in a prolonged war of words with party colleagues for questioning the party's direction under the new crop of non-ulama leaders.

Hasan drew even more flak for pushing a revival of unity talks between Pas and arch-rival Umno.

The spat got to a point where some top leaders told him that he was free to leave the party to join the other side.

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MRT Corp signs points of agreement with Jalan Inai landowners

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 04:47 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: MRT Corporation (MRT Corp) has achieved a significant milestone with the signing of a Points of Agreement (POA) with the owners of 21 plots of land in the Jalan Inai area which is affected by the MY Rapid Transit project.

The POA addressed issues such as the withdrawal of land acquisition, access to the land for tunneling works, compensation and the judicial review, which some landowners have brought against the government.

The agreement will form the basis for the mutual agreements which is expected to be signed between MRT Corp and the landowners end-January, said MRT Corp in a statement Wednesday.

The agreements are expected to resolve all issues the landowners have with the MY Rapid Transit project.

The POA was signed Wednesday by MRT Corp chief executive officer Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid and Jason Ng Kau, Yong Cho Joong, Dr Arthur Rajaratnam and Tuan Zuhayati, on behalf of the owners of the 21 plots of land.

In announcing the successful signing of the POA, Azhar said efforts to accommodate the needs of landowners who are affected by the MRT project, while at the same time ensure the MRT project was implemented according to schedule, was his highest priority.

The signing of the POA exemplified MRT Corp's commitment to provide effective solutions to issues which may hinder the implementation of the MRT project, he said.

This important event marks a positive step towards solving similar land issues at Jalan Sultan, Jalan Bukit Bintang and other affected areas, he said.

MRT Corp is currently working with the affected groups on finding an amicable solution to ensure the successful development of the nation's largest public infrastructure project, he said. - Bernama

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Karpal: Up to DAP disciplinary committee to deal with Ramasamy issue

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 04:11 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: DAP chairman Karpal Singh has left it to the party's disciplinary committee to take action in the recent war of words between him and Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P Ramasamy.

Karpal said that he would abide by the gag order imposed by the three-man panel formed to resolve the issue.

However, the Bukit Gelugor MP let it slip that complaints had been lodged with the disciplinary committee, implying that many of them were against Ramasamy.

"There will be complaints, no doubt about it. It is too big a matter to just be dismissed," he said, adding that they were filed by members who attended the Penang DAP convention two weeks ago, when Ramasamy's supporters staged a demonstration against Karpal.

"I am not one of the complainants, but I, of course, have interest in the matter," he said.

"I can assure that certain action will be taken against anyone, however high their position, if they have defied the gag order," Karpal told reporters at his office on Weednesday, referring to the statement that The Star attributed to Ramasamy.

He declined to comment on whether he is rescinding his call for the Deputy Chief Minister II to resign after Ramasamy said he would take legal action against The Star, claiming that he had been misquoted.

"Whatever I said, I went by the press report. If there was a controversy whether he said those words or not, that is between him and The Star," Karpal said.

He also dismissed suggestions that the Indian leaders in the party were more supportive of Ramasamy as shown by their presence at the Deputy CM's press conference on Monday.

"I don't give press conferences with a show of might. Godfathers don't do that," Karpal quipped to laughter among reporters.

He also denied that the legal action by Ramasamy against The Star could tarnish DAP's image and be construed as an attack on press freedom.

"Only in an extreme situation where your personal integrity is questioned must you or politicians go to court. If not, freedom of the press must be given utmost priority," he said.

The high-powered three-man panel - comprising DAP lifelong advisor Dr Chen Man Hin, parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and secretary-general Lim Guan Eng - had announced that the godfather-warlord spat was over.

However, Ramasamy, in an interview with The Star published last Friday, was quoted as saying there was a plot to oust him from office.

Karpal demanded his resignation from office because of his allegation, which Ramasamy has since denied making.

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Rawang folk plagued by traffic congestion

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 03:19 AM PST

TRAFFIC management and the upgrading work on the federal route in Rawang has been a great concern over the year as in previous years.

Frustrated residents and motorists have endured endless traffic jams and to manage congestion, a tidal flow system was initiated.

The traffic tidal flow along Jalan Sungai Bakau-Batang Berjuntai in Rawang, introduced in February last year, is set to be a permanent feature despite a new flyover being built in the area.

It is effective over the weekends from 4.30pm to 8.30pm especially now with the opening of a shopping mall in the area last week.

The tidal flow involving a 3km stretch from the Rawang toll heading to Bandar Country Homes was initiated by Selayang municipal councillor G. Gunaraj.

The move has been well received by the 100,000 residents in the area.

However, the question remains that with so much development earmarked in Rawang, why is the federal road-widening project taking a long time to complete.

Gunaraj said the Federal Government project involving the building of two lanes from Rawang town to Bandar Country Homes had yet to materialise after more than a decade, causing residents to endure traffic madness.

He added that the residents were still waiting to hear from the Works Ministry on the project status.

Gunaraj said although many people had moved out of Rawang due to traffic problems, the area was now booming and there were new housing projects with property prices going up.

"We hope that the Federal Government would immediately take action in addressing the traffic woes in Rawang," said Gunaraj, adding that Rawang assemblyman Gan Pei Nei and Selayang MP William Leong had also given a memorandum to the prime minister's office on the matter.

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Love for the environment

Posted: 28 Dec 2011 03:18 AM PST

It has been an eventful 12 months in the Klang Valley. StarMetro Yearender series continues with spotlights on Shah Alam, Subang Jaya and Selayang.

One of the notable initiatives this year was the Shah Alam Rivers and Trees For Life programme by the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) together with government agencies and several non-governmental organisations.

NGOs such as Eco Warriors, Trees for Life, Sathya Sai Baba centre, Leo Club and public and private institutions of learning planted about 40,000 fruit trees in the city.

The project, which began in April, involved about 1,500 volunteers and covered areas along the Damansara River, Renggam River and the Jelutong Industrial area.

Mayor Datuk Mohd Jaafar Mohd Atan will also be upgrading the 51.7ha Shah Alam Lake Gardens in the next three years to attract more visitors not only from Shah Alam but also those living in the Klang Valley.

Environmentalists and non-governmental organisations gave brownie points to the mayor when he decided to plant fruit tress like guava, soursop, mangosteen as well as ornamental ones like the weeping willows instead of raintrees in parks and the city.

"When we have fruits trees, birds and insects will make the park their home," Mohd Jaafar said.

With a well planned city-within-a park concept in mind, Mohd Jaafar should now look into his other promise of making the city a cleaner one.

Certain areas which were far from towns and those highly populated housing areas like Taman Sri Muda which was once listed as a clean zone is now a far cry from its previous state.

Roads and other public amenities such as food courts, football fields, markets and the public halls should also be given the same attention as these areas are common meeting areas for residents.

The indiscriminate dumping of rubbish by factories in the Klang river has caused much anger among Taman Sri Muda residents.

This ongoing problem was apparent especially during high tide and rainy weather when the rubbish from Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur is washed up in Shah Alam and Klang.

The dumping of rubbish in upstream areas is affecting residents living downstream.

One can see the huge amount of rubbish including styrofoam boxes and bags of unwanted material floating in the river near Taman Sri Muda.

MBSA public relations officer Shahrin Ahmad said the council had been monitoring the river's condition on behalf of the Drainage and Irrigation Department which was responsible for the cleaning up process.

"Such incidents only happen during a downpour. So far we have not received any complaints from the public since the one that took place early this year," said Shahrin.

In December, Mohd Jaafar introduced yet another green initiative with a landscape design competition for its 28 roundabouts in the city.

The contest, which is open to public, was aimed at drawing a new image and identity for Shah Alam.

Among the popular roundabouts were Bulatan Kayangan, Bulatan Megawati, JVC roundabout and UiTM roundabout.

'The mayor had said that the roundabouts should be the identity of Shah Alam so that they would leave a lasting impression on visitors and tourists.

"The designs could also reflect the city's culture and tradition," he said, adding that people often related Shah Alam to roundabouts.

The council also bought iPads for all its heads of department and council's branch offices to reduce the use of paper.

"We have meetings every other day and these officers have to print a stack of documents,

"By enforcing that they have to bring the iPads for meetings, we hope to reduce the usage of paper," he said, adding that councillors who attend the monthly full board meeting had also been going digital this year.

Senior citizens and the disabled had a pleasant surprise when the council launched its community vehicle to cater to their needs.

The van provides free transport from their homes to health clinics in Section 7, Section 19 and Bukit Kuda in Klang as well as the Sungai Buloh Hospital, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre and the Univesiti Kebangsaan Hospital in Cheras.

The daily service available from 8am to 5pm was an initiative by the council to help the old folk and the disabled to seek medical assistance.

There is no hospital nearby and the nearest government hospital is either in Klang or in Petaling Jaya,

Travelling in a taxi can cost a lot and the free service was to help them save money.

Five months after being appointed mayor in May, Datuk Mohd Jaafar Mohd Atan faced a boycott against him.

Several councillors protested in the usually quiet council meeting after they failed to secure contracts for themselves and their cronies.

The councillors were apparently unhappy that Mohd jaafar did not entertain their request for contracts.

The councillors had approached Mohd Jaafar for favours by asking for on-the-spot maintenance jobs that were below RM20,000. The mayor stuck to his decision in ensuring that good governance was upheld within the council.

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