Ahad, 16 Jun 2013

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Talent show Arab Idol brings unity into sharp focus

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 09:04 PM PDT

The fresh voices of the Middle East have elevated Arab Idol into much more than a TV reality show.

IT took Mohammad Assaf two days to get from his home in Khan Younis, Gaza in Palestine, to Egypt for the Arab Idol auditions. The 23-year-old Palestinian literally had to beg Hamas officers and bribe the border guards to let him pass through the border to attend the auditions, according to a report on online media monitoring network, The Middle East Monitor.

When he finally stepped into the hotel in Cairo where the auditions were being held, he realised he was a little too late. There were no more audition tickets left.

Disappointed but not willing to give up just yet, Assaf burst into song right in the hall where the other hopefuls were waiting.

Upon hearing him sing, Ramadan Adeeb Abu Nahel, another Palestinian youth at the auditions, decided to give his ticket up to Assaf telling him, "I know I won't reach the finals, but you will."

Ramadan Adeed made the right call.

Assaf – the first contestant on the show from Gaza – has made it to the finals of the second season of the reality singing show, a version of the original British show Pop Idol created by Simon Fuller.

In Palestine, Assaf has become somewhat of a national hero. Each week, millions of Palestinians switch on their televisions or log on to YouTube to watch the handsome, dark-haired youth with a megawatt smile (who is a college student moonlighting as a wedding singer in his hometown) belt out songs – mainly patriotic folk songs and romantic ballads – on the reality show which began broadcasting from Beirut, Lebanon, in March.

His strong, rich vocals along with his gutsy determination (evident by his struggle to get to the auditions) has inspired not only ordinary Palestinians – who apparently convene at restaurants and coffeehouses to watch the show – but also the judges of the show.

"You are the authentic Palestinian voice. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!" commented judge Ragheb Alama, a prominent Lebanese singer, after one performance. The judges then surprised the young performer by asking him to release his new song, Ya Rayt Riyyi Khabiha, as a duet with him.

Assaf also reportedly received a telephone call from Mammoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, who expressed support and encouraged the youth to keep at it.

But it isn't just Assaf's voice and swagger that have captivated millions. It's the spirit he embodies in all his performances. His Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Mohammad AssafArabIdol2013) is filled with comments from fans – largely Palestinians from all corners of the world – proclaiming their support and adulation for the young singer.

"Palestine and the world is so proud of you. God protect you," said one fan, Jamal Hilmi, on the fan page.

Majida Abu Almeaza, a 45-year-old mother of five from Gaza, said that Assaf is showing the world that Palestinians are "humans who have a deep and beautiful culture".

The Arab incarnation of the hugely popular Idol franchise, into its second season now, has given the non-Arab world an alternative view of the region which has been unfortunately blurred by stereotype for decades due to politics in the region: the sectarian strife in Syria, the West Bank and Gaza division and the ongoing dispute between Iraq and Kurdistan over land and oil.

On the Idol stage, however, you see none of this. It's entertainment, first and foremost. And plenty of melodrama, a hallmark of what the show is about in the first place.

If the series is past its glory days in the United States – what with the ever-revolving line-up of judges and the all-too formulaic nature of the show – in the Middle East, Arab Idol is bursting with a robust energy.

The show is forcing the world, particularly the Western world, to view unseen perspectives of the Middle East: music (which dates back to the ancient civilizations, to even pre-Islamic times), culture, youth and fun.

The show features four judges and 12 finalists from countries in the Middle East. Contestants sing live each week and viewers get to vote for their favourite singers after listening to feedback from the judges.

The four judges – Alama (who is known as the Lebanese Elvis) who heads the judging panel, the two glamourous female judges, Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram and Ahlam Ali Al Shamsi, a singer from the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egyptian composer Hassan Al Shafei – are feisty and fun. The two women are as glamorous as their counterparts in Hollywood and are quite unlike the view of Arab women (veiled and oppressed) that is held by the Western world.

And the contestants, youth from all corners of the Arab world, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Suadi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, are no different from their counterparts on the British or American versions of Idol.

The show is down to the final stages now and competition is rife. While Assaf may be the crowd favourite, he faces stiff competition.

Syrian songstress Farah Youssef is said to be his main adversary. Like Assaf, she too faced enormous challenges to get to the competition - her bus from Syria to Cairo was ambushed. And like Assaf, she is bursting with talent and symbolizes hope for her nation. Other finalists are Faris Al Madani from Saudi Arabia, AbdelKarim Hmdan from Syria (a student of opera who, during one performance, made the studio audience break down in tears), Ahmed Jamal from Egypt, Ziad Khoury from Lebanon, and Yosra Saouf and Salma Rachid from Morocco.

The hopefuls will vie for the Arab Idol title in the finale which will air on June 21.

The spies among us in The Americans

Posted: 17 Jun 2013 01:22 AM PDT

The enemy is next door in the drama series, The Americans.

On a bone-rattlingly cold winter morning, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are sitting in a Lincoln sedan the size of a small barge, adjusting Walkman-era fashion accouterments and whispering about the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. Russell and Rhys are not oddball nostalgists. The actors are shooting a scene for The Americans, a Cold War thriller set in the early 1980s.

Created by former CIA officer Joseph Weisberg, the show stars Elizabeth (Russell) and Phillip (Rhys) as KGB agents who are sent to live in the United States, start a family and blend in as the all-American couple next door. The couple's task is dangerous: They must feed information to the motherland while covering their tracks so that their neighbours – including a suspicious FBI agent – don't catch wind of their Kremlin ties.

"Some of the younger people on set have been asking me 'What was it like back then?'," Rhys said to a reporter between takes. "And I'm thinking 'back then'? This wasn't the 1800s. Lincoln wasn't president. We had indoor plumbing."

You can forgive the millennials their naivete. Thirty years since the Reagan administration and The Day After-like fears that went with it, the Cold War seems far removed from today's concerns of Chinese economic dominance and Islamic radicalism.

On television though, such fears don't ever go away; they simply get rehabilitated for prime time. The Americans seeks to revisit them, playfully piecing together bits of Cold War entertainment (The Manchurian Candidate, Mission: Impossible, No Way Out).

Yet, where most TV and film from that era blurred the lines between the Cold War superpowers to up the dramatic stakes, The Americans turns the Soviets into the good guys to explore issues of identity and values.

"This is a show where the enemies are the heroes, with all the questions that come with that," Weisberg said. "You couldn't do that right after the Cold War. But you can do it 30 years later."

Weisberg didn't set out to become a go-to Hollywood writer on covert affairs. Coming of age in Chicago during the late 1970s and early 1980s, he wanted to be in on the action. He bought the Reagan talk of evil empires and strategic defensive initiatives and, shortly after college, enlisted in the CIA.

Weisberg spent four years with the organisation in the early 1990s, largely at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, then left to write novels and freelance scripts inspired by his experiences. Now less of an ideologue, he mixes CIA recollections with the conventions of espionage thrillers.

The idea for The Americans came about because he thought it was time to address the personal costs of a career in espionage.

"One of the things that struck me about the CIA is that parents don't tell the truth about what they're doing to their kids," he said. "It's such a painful and difficult thing, but it's not portrayed much on screen."

Though the past year has seen a number of entertaining spies – Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall were box-office hits, while Homeland has won numerous awards – The Americans largely rode a separate track. The show was developed as a pilot before Homeland was even on the air and was green-lighted to series status about a year ago when the programme was a niche hit.

"The thing that interested me was the notion of a show about family, marriage and fidelity, but in a very heightened context," said FX chief John Landgraf. He and others felt The Americans was similar to The Shield, only with geopolitics instead of police-department corruption.

Perhaps the most difficult choice in crafting The Americans, creators say, was casting. Elizabeth's character was more unadorned ideologically than Phillip and less attracted to an American way of life – "an icy automaton" in the words of David Madden, president of lead production company Fox Television Studios – which required a friendly face to take the edge off.

Enter Russell, who as the likable, soft-spoken star of the series Felicity and the movie Waitress would give viewers license to sympathise with a character bent on undermining the US.

Weisberg and co-creator Joel Fields wanted the cast to capture the sense of paranoia that existed at that time, on both the Soviet and American sides. The period setting, they thought, could help.

"The thing that makes it so exciting to me is there was no technology," Russell said. "If you wanted to find out what someone was up to, you had to drive by several times and leave a message under a rock."

As the director yells "action!", Russell and Rhys get out of the Lincoln parked on a street and walk briskly up to the suburban home of a nurse who treated the president after he was wounded in an assassination attempt. Their characters are trawling for information on the president's condition – it wasn't clear at that moment, to them or the world, that the Kremlin wasn't behind it.

Assuming the guise of vice presidential aides, they coax the nurse to admit that Reagan is going to be OK. They then turn on their heels – she in 1980s-style pumps, he in a very Cold War-era trenchcoat – and head back to the car.

The principals say that the issues the show raises aren't necessarily political.

"I see a lot of the spy issues as a metaphor for marriage," Russell, who is married with two children, said of her character. "It sounds funny, but there are similarities to spy work, because you can never really know what your spouse is doing or who they're talking to."

Madden calls it "a show about trust. At a personal level, it's about how two people can trust each other, and at a global level, it's about whether two countries can trust each other."

Those behind the show, which shoots in New York for Washington, DC, say they hope that by drilling down into the two main characters and their relationship issues, it can avoid the obvious pitfall.

"The stakes of the show are not whether America will survive the Cold War," Landgraf said. "We know it will. It's whether these two people will survive the Cold War." – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The Americans starts tomorrow night at 9.50pm on Fox (Astro Ch 710).

Jennifer Love Hewitt, sexy and loving it

Posted: 17 Jun 2013 01:21 AM PDT

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays against type in The Client List.

The billboards are impossible to miss. There she is: Olive skin glistening, leg arched seductively, virtually naked save for flesh-coloured lingerie that barely contains her ample cleavage.

Jennifer Love Hewitt has towered over fast-food joints and gas stations in the United States for months to sell the actress' new show, The Client List, which premieres on the new Lifetime channel in Malaysia tonight. On the show, she plays a Texas single mother who works at a full-service massage parlour to make ends meet.

The series marks a new creative direction for the relatively chaste Lifetime, best known for its ripped-from-the-headlines, made-for-television movies and tacky reality shows like Dance Moms. The move signifies no less of a change for the 34-year-old actress who rose to early fame playing a wholesome girl next door on the long-running 1990s family drama Party Of Five.

But after appearing in a few teen movies – most memorably 1997's I Know What You Did Last Summer – her big-screen turns weren't as well-received. It wasn't until the 2005 launch of Ghost Whisperer that Hewitt regained her stride. The series, about a woman able to communicate with spirits, earned solid ratings and ran for five seasons.

"I think people were expecting me to go play another network show and play the same girl I've been playing for a long time," she said, sitting at a booth at Corky's diner in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, where The Client List crew members were preparing for a scene in the show's sixth episode. "But now starting my 24th year in the business, I needed a little bit of a re-creation. I looked at my career and thought, 'Let's shake it up a little bit. Let's have butterflies in our stomach'."

The Client List grew out of a movie of the same name, also starring Hewitt, that ran on Lifetime in 2010. Lifetime executives, who've struggled with ratings in recent years, were encouraged by the film's strong numbers.

"This is a bold series for us, there's no doubt about it – and we want to bring in new viewers," acknowledged Rob Sharenow, Lifetime's executive vice president of programming. "We're proud of our Lifetime movies, but we are trying to evolve the mother ship and do things that are more accessible to the general public. And with this show's marketing campaign, I've definitely had a lot of anecdotal comments from men who have never noticed Lifetime in quite the same way."

Hewitt, too, has heard from men intrigued by the risque advertisements. But by now, she says, she has become accustomed to public commentary about her body. In 2007, some unflattering bikini shots made the rounds on the Internet, prompting the actress to appear on the cover of People magazine under the headline "Stop calling me fat!"

"Because my body has certainly been talked about in a negative way, the fact that people are talking positively about it now makes me feel good," said Hewitt, who is also an executive producer on the new series. "It would be great if there was an equal amount of 'Wow, she really gave us a great performance' as 'She has big boobs'. They're not always equal. ... I always try to remember that it's Hollywood, and part of our job as actors is to be eye candy – so it's fine."

Playing up her sexuality hasn't always come easily to Hewitt. Harry Elfont, who directed the actress in 1998's Can't Hardly Wait, said the studio initially had reservations about casting her as the "prettiest girl at school" when her image was more the "cute, supporting best friend".

"She was figuring out the balance of how sexy she should be," recalled Elfont, who noted, "she was still girlish and innocent, but at the same time – she knew she looked good."

It's partly that sexy-but-sweet reputation that has endeared Hewitt to audiences. While she realises the importance of her sex appeal, she also believes there's a "best friend vibe" about her: "a dorky, throw-my-hair-in-a-ponytail-and-pillow-fight-with-my-friends kind of girl," as she puts it.

Hewitt isn't shy about using social media and has been exceedingly open on her Twitter account. She shares pictures from The Client List set, muses about her desire to become a Victoria's Secret angel and re-tweets saccharine love sayings, like "come live in my heart and pay no rent". She has also been candid about her relationship struggles, most notably in the 2010 self-help book The Day I Shot Cupid: Hello, My Name Is Jennifer Love Hewitt And I'm A Love-aholic. (Hewitt and fiancé Brian Hallisay are currently pregnant with their first child)

"She's enormously approachable," said Cybill Shepherd, who plays Hewitt's mother on the new show. "I loved the experience of working with her so much that I'd probably do the phone book with her. And she looks gorgeous on those billboards. They'll get people to tune in, and then they'll see her wonderful acting."

Indeed, Hewitt's TV movie role earned her a Golden Globe nomination – an honour that still leaves her dumbfounded.

"It was like, 'Wow, somebody noticed something else'," she said with a laugh.

"I'd like to find some more parts like that that could offer a different side or a different conversation piece. I have not been offered those yet," she said. After pausing for a moment reflectively, she tried to regain her optimism. "But, hey, I've only got a few years left before I'm a character actor, anyway, so might as well work it." – Los Angeles Times/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The Client List premieres tonight at 10pm on Lifetime (Astro Ch 709).

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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China pressured U.S. university to make him leave, dissident says

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 06:40 PM PDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who fled his home country to become a visiting scholar at New York University, accused the school on Sunday of asking him to leave because of "unrelenting pressure" from China.

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks to journalists following an appearance in New York May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks to journalists following an appearance in New York May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NYU denied the claim, saying that it had said last year before the blind dissident arrived that his fellowship would last up to a year and end sometime this summer.

Chen sparked a diplomatic crisis between the United States and China after he fled house arrest last year and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. NYU helped Chen come to the United States after he expressed fears for his family's safety if they were to remain in China.

In a statement, Chen thanked NYU for its hospitality and "good support," but accused it of giving in to the Communist Party of China.

"In fact, as early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us," he wrote.

Chen, who was born blind and taught himself law, was a campaigner for farmers and disabled citizens. He exposed forced abortions in China before he was placed under house arrest in Shandon province.

He has continued to be critical of China's human rights record since his arrival in New York in May 2012 with his wife and two children.


Chen said he believed the Chinese government wanted "to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don't have time for human rights advocacy, but this is not going to happen."

NYU pointed to a PBS television interview in May 2012 with Jerome Cohen, an NYU law professor and friend of Chen who helped broker his departure from China. Cohen said Chen would be at NYU for a year at most while he adjusted to a new country.

Chen could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, described Chen's claims as "both false and contradicted by the well-established facts."

"Mr. Chen's fellowship at NYU and its conclusion have had nothing to do with the Chinese government. All fellowships come to an end," Beckman said in a statement.

NYU said Chen had received offers from two other academic institutions. Fordham University Law School in New York said on Friday it was in talks with Chen, and the identity of the second institution has not been made public.

Beckman said NYU had started talking with the Chens about changes in living arrangements months ago. The school has provided them services that include housing, food, insurance and healthcare, English lessons and family support, he said.

NYU has been building a campus in Shanghai, and received final approval from China's education ministry to begin construction and student recruitment last autumn.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

State Department to name lawyer Cliff Sloan to close Guantanamo

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 06:14 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department on Monday is expected to announce the appointment of Washington lawyer Cliff Sloan to oversee the closure of the controversial Guantanamo detention camp, sources familiar with the decision said on Sunday.

Sloan is a partner with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, who has served in all three branches of government and litigated cases in state and federal courts.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sloan possessed the "intellect and skill as a negotiator respected across party lines."

"I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge," Kerry said. "Cliff and I share the president's conviction that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in our security interests."

The Guantanamo tribunals were established by the Bush administration and revised by the Obama administration to try suspected al Qaeda operatives and their associates on terrorism charges.

More than 100 of the 166 prisoners in the camp have joined a hunger strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after more than a decade of detention.

In January, the State Department reassigned the special envoy who had been in charge of trying to persuade countries to take Guantanamo inmates approved for release, Daniel Fried, and did not replace him.

"Our fidelity to the rule of law likewise compels us also to end the long, uncertain detention of the detainees at Guantanamo," Kerry said in the statement. "We can do it in a way that makes us more secure, not less. It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff."

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Obama, Putin face tough talks on Syria at G8 summit

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 04:01 PM PDT

LOUGH ERNE (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will seek the help on Monday of Russia's Vladimir Putin, Syria's most powerful ally, to bring Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table and end a two-year civil war.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin leaves Downing Street, in central London June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Russia's President Vladimir Putin leaves Downing Street, in central London June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

At their first private face-to-face meeting in a year, Obama will try to find common ground with Putin on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland after angering the Kremlin by authorising U.S. military support for the Syrian president's opponents.

During talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London on the eve of the summit, Putin renewed his criticism of the West's position in startling tones, describing Assad's foes as cannibals.

"I think you will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines, in front of the public and cameras," Putin said at a joint news conference with Cameron.

"Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons?"

Cameron conceded London and Moscow remained far apart.

Russia does not buy the West's assertion that Assad's forces have used chemical weapons and crossed a red line in doing so, saying U.S. military support for Syrian rebels would only escalate violence.

Washington said on Saturday it would keep F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles in Jordan at Amman's request, prompting Moscow to bristle at the possibility they could be used to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria.

Putin's rhetoric has become increasingly anti-Western since he regained the presidency last year but he appeared upbeat in London, stressing several areas of cooperation between Russian and Britain.

At the Lough Erne golf resort in Northern Ireland, Cameron will bring together leaders of the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, Germany, France and Italy - representing just over half of the $71.7 trillion global economy.

Syria will inevitably dominate the Monday-Tuesday talks but persistent worries about the global economy will also be central to the discussions.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders will likely discuss the role of central banks and monetary policy.

They are likely to say they are not content with progress so far in fixing their economies in the wake of the global financial crisis, according to a draft communiqué seen by Reuters.

Japan's Abe will use the opportunity to explain his cocktail of fiscal and monetary stimulus known as 'Abenomics' to the leaders as investors try to absorb the implications of a signal by the U.S. Federal Reserve that it may start to slow its money-printing.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke will not attend. He and his colleagues hold a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Bond yields have climbed and share prices have sagged globally since Bernanke shocked investors on May 22 by saying the bank might ‘take a step down' in the pace of bond purchases - a blow to a global economy still growing well below trend due to the after effects of the great financial crisis.

"Japan's decisive moves to reflate its economy will support growth in the near term, but it will need to manage the twin challenge of providing near-term stimulus and achieving longer-term sustainability," the draft communiqué said, although the version circulated by Britain and seen by Reuters was put together before the recent market turmoil.

The leaders of the European Union and United States are likely to announce the start of formal negotiations on a free trade deal that could be worth more than $100 billion a year to each economy.

EU and U.S. negotiators aim to finish their work by the end of next year.


Cameron has made tackling tax avoidance - which campaigners say costs about $3 trillion a year - one of the key parts of the formal agenda at the summit.

He has turned up the pressure to clamp down on secretive money flows by pressing Britain's overseas tax havens into a transparency deal and announcing new disclosure rules for British firms.

"It is important we are getting our house in order," Cameron said on Saturday after representatives of overseas tax havens linked to Britain agreed to sign up to an international transparency protocol.

Aid campaigners said Britain's action will count for little if the rest of the G8 does not follow suit.

G8 leaders will probably shy away from adopting a measure aimed at curbing tax avoidance by highlighting when companies channel profits into tax havens, and will include a watered-down alternative, according to the draft communiqué.

Tackling corporate tax avoidance has become a political goal internationally following public anger about revelations over the past year that companies like Apple and Google had used structures U.S. and European politicians said were contrived to minimise the amount of taxes paid.

But the draft summit text suggested there will be no agreement on a rule that would force companies to publish their profits, revenues and tax payments on a country-by-country basis.

Global tax evasion could be costing more than $3 trillion a year, according to researchers from Tax Justice Network while as much as $32 trillion could be hidden by individuals in tax havens.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina, editing by Mike Peacock)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Alliance Research maintains "Overweight" on glove sector

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 07:02 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Alliance Research is maintaining its "Overweight" call on the glove sector, with Hartalega and Kossan being its top picks.

Alliance reiterated its "Buy" rating on Hartalega with a target price of RM6.80 as well as "Buy" on Kossan with a target price of RM4.85.

"We like Hartalega as a medium to long term investment (one to three years), as we are convinced that it will emerge as the industry's game-changer in two years' time, once its NGC plants kick start in August 2014," it said.

Alliance added over the short term of 12 months, it continued to favour Kossan although its share price has already outperformed over the past six months.

"We believe that Kossan is still trading at an attractive valuation, less than 10 times price P/E for financial year 2014, as it moves up its value chain and improve its profitability," it said.

Alliance added it retained its "Neutral" call on Top Glove with a target price of RM5.90 and Supermax at RM2.04 as it believes the strong nitrile migration wave could put both companies in a less favourable position such as margin compression, as both companies have less than 40% nitrile glove capacity currently.

"To recap, we upgraded the glove sector from "Neutral" to "overweight" on Dec 3, 2012, as we foresee the latex cost to stabilise between RM5.50 petr kg to RM6.50 per kg due to weak global demand, strong US dollar against the ringgit in the run up to the 13th General Election and improving supply and demand dynamics.

"Since then, the sector appreciated by 17.4%, outperforming the FBM KLCI by 7.8 percentage points. Among our top picks, Kossan and Hartalega outperformed both Top Glove and Supermax, generating a handsome profit of 31.9% and 33.1% respectively since Dec 3, 2012," it said.

Moving forward, Alliance said it anticipates global glove demand to stabilise with 10% to 15% growth on-year in the second half of 2013 after a strong 15% on-year growth in the first half due to global influenza trend which had peaked in the first quarter.

"Based on the latest indicators from World Health Organization, the global influenza trend, particularly in the high-glove-consumption countries such as US and EU, has already eased in 2QCY13. While we do not rule out the possibility of virus mutation that could result in viruses such as H7N9 turning into a global pandemic going forward, we opt to be conservative by assuming structural demand growth, which is skewing towards nitrile glove segment," it said.

KLCI opens 3.17 points lower

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 06:22 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI inched lower on Monday from its 19.3 point gain on Friday, spurred by the weaker Asian equities and losses from Genting-related stocks and Tenaga.

At 9.07am, the KLCI was down 3.17 points to 1,759. Turnover was 62.11 million valued at RM23.087mil. There were 87 gainers, 76 losers and 123 unchanged.

HwangDBS Vickers Research said Wall Street ended in the red last Friday. Leading US equity indices were down between 0.6% and 0.7% at the closing bell amid renewed concerns of a premature withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve.

"The negative vibes may spill over to Asian equities today. Back home, the key FBM KLCI could surrender parts of its 19.3-point gain chalked up last Friday. However, from a technical perspective, we reckon the benchmark index will likely find intermediate support at the 1,750 level," it said.

Reuters reported Asian shares inched lower and the dollar remained defensive on Monday as investors settled in to wait for the US Federal Reserve meeting outcome later in the week - and some long-awaited clarity on its intentions for monetary stimulus.

It said Wall Street fell on Friday for its third negative week in four as investors took profits, and the dollar posted its worst week in almost four years against the yen as data showed the US economic recovery still lacked strength to warrant an imminent change in the Fed's current accommodative policy.

At Bursa Malaysia, blue chips were among the losers, with Genting Plantations down 21 sen to RM9.19, Genting Bhd eight sen to RM10.42, Tenaga nine sen to RM8.20, MISC five sen to RM5.03 and HL Cap five sen to RM6.95.

Among gainers, Sunway rose four sen to RM3.65, UMW four sen to RM14.58, United Plantations 10 sen to RM 28.80 and Armada three sen to RM3.79.

Asian shares track Wall St lower as Fed meeting looms

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 05:58 PM PDT

TOKYO: Asian shares inched lower and the dollar remained defensive on Monday as investors settled in to wait for the US Federal Reserve meeting outcome later in the week - and some long-awaited clarity on its intentions for monetary stimulus.

Wall Street fell on Friday for its third negative week in four as investors took profits, and the dollar posted its worst week in almost four years against the yen as data showed the US economic recovery still lacked strength to warrant an imminent change in the Fed's current accommodative policy.

Still, investors were likely to remain wary ahead of the Fed policy meeting over Tuesday and Wednesday, where the central bank may conceivably taper its massive bond-buying program as long as the economy is showing some improvement.

"We expect the (Fed) chairman to reiterate that conditional on the outlook and sustainability of the recovery, the committee could reduce the pace of purchases in the coming months," Barclays Capital said in a research note.

"That said, we expect he will balance this by saying monetary policy will remain accommodative and (stimulus) will be withdrawn only at a measured pace, signaling that the Fed is in no hurry to shrink the balance sheet or raise rates," Barclays added.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.2% after advancing 1.6% on Friday for its best daily gain since January 2, but ending the week down 1.3% after tumbling to its lowest since September on Thursday.

South Korean shares opened little changed, hovering near a recent seven-month low. Australian shares opened up 0.9% after rebounding 2%t for their biggest one-day gain in 18 months on Friday.

"Everyone will be keen on what the Fed says," said Kim Hyoung-ryoul, a market analyst at Kyobo Securities in Seoul. "There is no doubt that the market is cheap at current levels below 1,900 points...but appetite to buy is not very strong for now."

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei stock average opened down 0.8% after closing up 1.9% on Friday.

The latest sell-off in the Nikkei, sparked after the Bank of Japan took no action to quell highly volatile domestic bond market last week, erased the gains made since the central bank's big-bang stimulus unveiled on April 4, which had helped propel the index up to a 5-1/2-year high last month.

The dollar was up 0.3% at 94.32, sticking near a 10-week low of 93.75 yen hit on Thursday, leaving it down about 9% from last month's 4-1/2-year peak of 103.74 yen. The dollar ended last week down 3.4% for its biggest weekly loss since July 2009.

The dollar index measured against a basket of six major currencies, was down 0.1%, hovering just above a four-month low of 80.50 hit on Thursday.

The euro was at 125.96 yen, also near an eight-week low of 125.345 yen touched on Thursday. Against the dollar, it was steady at $1.3352.

Data on Friday showed May industrial output was unchanged, below a 0.2% forecast rise, while Thomson Reuters and University of Michigan index of U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly fell from a near six-year high in early June.

The US economy may not be picking up much steam but it was also not facing deflationary pressure, with the producer price index up 0.5% last month, above a 0.1% gain forecast.

US crude futures were down 0.2% at $97.68 a barrel.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Rose out-duels Mickelson to capture US Open

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 04:57 PM PDT

ARDMORE, Pennsylvania: Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 with a tension-packed par-70 final round Sunday that delivered a two-shot victory at historic Merion.

Rose, who is England's first major champion since Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters, used a hybrid to tap the ball from the back edge of the 18th green to an inch from the cup and tapped in for par to finish 72 holes on one-over 281.

Phil Mickelson, the three-time Masters champion who sought his first US Open title after five runner-up efforts, then came to 18 needing a birdie on his 43rd birthday to force an 18-hole Monday playoff with Rose.

No player in the third or fourth rounds had managed a birdie at the fiendish finishing hole and US left-hander Mickelson did not help his chances when his tee shot found the left rough.

Mickelson was short of the elevated green and when his third shot sped past the cup inches to the right, Rose had won his first major title.

Mickelson took a closing bogey and finished in a share of second with Australia's Jason Day on 283 after a closing 74, his result giving him a sixth runner-up finish at the US Open after 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009.

Rose, 32, produced his best prior major finish of third at last year's PGA Championship, although he might have been best known for his share of fourth at the 1998 British Open as a teen amateur.

Over the final holes at a course where Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones collected historic triumphs, the back-nine title hunt came down to Mickelson, Rose, Day and American Hunter Mahan.

Rose missed a 13-foot par putt at the 16th and fell into a share of the lead at one-over with Mickelson and Mahan with Day only one shot back.

At the 15th, Mickelson botched a wedge and he and Mahan each missed long par putts. Mickelson made a two-footer for bogey but Mahan missed from three feet and made double bogey.

Day, the 2011 US Open and Masters runner-up, missed a four-footer for par at the 18th and that left him with a final-round 71 in the clubhouse on 283, level with Mahan but one back of Mickelson and two adrift of Rose, waiting in the fairway behind him.

Rose went just over the back of the green and with a hybrid left the ball one roll from the cup, setting up a tap-in for par to finish a par-70 round and stand atop the leaderboard on one-over 281.

Mahan took a bogey at 17 and only Mickelson could deny Rose from there, but instead, he found only heartache once again.

Mickelson, who led by a shot when the day began, had fallen back early with double bogeys at the third and fifth around a bogey at the par-5 fourth, but he reclaimed the lead at level par with a stunning eagle at the 10th.

The left-hander grabbed a 64-degree wedge from 76 yards away in the right rough and fired the ball into the air. It landed on the green and bounced eight feet from the hole and rolled into the cup.

Mickelson raised his arms upward and jumped into the air in celebration.

But Rose responded with a two-foot birdie putt at the 12th and a 17-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th to reclaim the lead at one-under, one in front of Mickelson with Mahan another stroke back and Day three adrift.

Rose found a bunker at 14 and missed a 30-foot par putt to fall into a share of the lead with Mickelson, but "Lefty" went over the 13th green on the way to a bogey to put Rose back in front by one shot over the US duo and two over Day, setting the stage for the closing drama.

South Korean-born American Michael Kim, five off the pace at 54 holes, fired a 76 to finish as the low amateur on 290.

World number one Tiger Woods, 10 strokes off the pace after 54 holes, began with a birdie but followed with a triple-bogey 8 on the way to a 74 to finish on 13-over 293 - his worst 72-hole US Open score over par as a professional.

"It was a very good week overall," Woods said. "I'm just sorry the golf was not where I would have liked it to be."

England's Luke Donald hit a woman with his tee shot at the third hole on his way to a bogey and was undone after that. Then he took off his right shoe at the fourth to step into a creek only to chip into a bunker on his way to another bogey on his way to a front-nine 42 that took him out of contention.

American Steve Stricker, who at 46 could have become the oldest champion in US Open history, went out of bounds off the tee and shanked his approach on the way to a triple-bogey eight at the second hole, a career worst one-hole score that helped doom his dream. - AFP

Khairy plans to develop Mixed Martial Arts

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 04:28 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Some call it a blood sport, but the local Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community is set to receive a huge boost following Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin's promise to help develop the sport further in the country.

Khairy, who was the guest of honour at the inaugural Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) Championships at Stadium Negara on Saturday, said he was very impressed with the strong turn-out at the championships.

"Besides the Philippines, we're probably one of the most vibrant MMA communities in South-East Asia. I hope to lend my support (to MMA) as a growing sport in Malaysia."

For starters, Khairy wants the local MMA organisers to set up an MMA association and register themselves with the Sports Commissioner.

"I've asked Jason Lo, one of the organisers of the MIMMA, and the others involved in the sport to come together and set up an association. They have to make it official first.

Then, we can start the ball rolling and start channelling some assistance ... especially funds for development," said Khairy.

Meanwhile, it was an exciting affair at the MIMMA Championships as home grown talent Keanu Subba proved he was a class above his opponent in the featherweight category.

The 18-year-old from Kuala Lumpur kept to his promise on only needing one round to beat Muhd Ikram. He took the title by beating the Negri Sembilan fighter in 29 seconds.

In the One FC Superfights, Malaysia's Peter Davis was stopped by Costa Rica's Ariel Sexton in four minutes and 50 seconds in the first round via a technical knockout.

Compatriot Saiful "The Vampire" Merican fared better in the catch-weight category. He beat India's Aditya Deshpande by a unanimous decision in round five.

World No. 1 thumps German Zwiebler in just 40 minutes

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 04:25 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei was fast and furious on the way to his fifth Indonesian Open men's singles title in Jakarta yesterday.

The 30-year-old underlined his supremacy as the king of the Super Series with a 21-15, 21-14 win over world No. 22 Marc Zwielber of Germany in a 40-minute final to add to his earlier triumphs in 2007 and 2009-2011. The Malaysian took home US$52,500.

It was Chong Wei's 37th Super Series title and the fourth of the year, having won in Malaysia, South Korea and India.

Most importantly, the victory on Father's Day has put him in the right mood for the World Championships in Guangzhou in August.

"I am delighted. It is great to see so many fans throwing their support behind me in Jakarta. I will surely come back for more at next year's Indonesian Open," said Chong Wei, who became a father two months ago.

Chong Wei also paid tribute to Indonesian hero and good friend Taufik Hidayat. The former world and Olympic champion called it quits at the age of 31 after losing in the opening round on Wednesday.

During the prize presentation ceremony, Chong Wei donned a T-shirt with the words "We love Taufik".

"I'm going to miss him. I hope Indonesia will produce more players like Taufik," said Chong Wei.

National singles coach Tey Seu Bock was full of praise for Chong Wei.

"He keeps on winning and it all boils down to his commitment and discipline in training. He is a hardworking player and he never takes training lightly. Now he is reaping the fruits of his labour," said Seu Bock.

Seu Bock said Chong Wei would now focus strictly on training in his bid to win his first world title.

"Chong Wei knows what he wants and that is important. He has done well to maintain his form for years. I believe all his hard work will culminate with a good showing at the World Championships," he added.

Meanwhile, Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan sent the Indonesian fans into a delirium with a 21-14, 21-18 upset win over world No. 1 Lee Yong-dae-Ko Sung-hyun of South Korea to clinch the men's doubles title.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Celebration of words

Posted: 15 Jun 2013 11:57 PM PDT

A three-day word fest promises writers and readers a literary feast.

SINCE time immemorial, language has been linked to civilisations and societal development.

Whether spoken or written, words give shape to a language and make it beautiful. They also transcend mediums – from books to films and poetry – in versatile ways that connect people, bring to life heartwarming tales, as well as inspire and fascinate readers and viewers.

Indonesia's Bali and Singapore host regular writers' festivals of international repute, so what about Malaysia, which has no shortage of talent? While there are many small book-related events (such as the long-running Readings in KL), those that bring in international authors are few and far between.

But we are getting there, it seems, beginning perhaps with #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival, organised in partnership with the British Council, MINI and Borders Malaysia to celebrate words.

The three-day festival – which takes place from June 21 to 23 at MAP@Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur – comes at a time when Malaysia's literature industry is ripe with potential and promise.

It is a "dream come true" for festival director Umapagan Ampikaipakan, who has been wanting to organise something like this for a long time.

"You can say I have this crazy obsession for words and books," Umapagan, or Uma as he is known, enthuses during a recent interview.

"Organising a literary festival was, for me, the next level of progression for publishing works in Malaysia, whose book scene has become a lot more vibrant than it was say 10 years back.

"The prospects are exciting, too, as we wanted to have our own local writers mingle with international authors, a chance they don't often get. Where festivals would usually be headed along the route of attendees meeting authors and getting book autographs, we wanted to offer a platform for writers to engage in fruitful collaborations through meaningful discourses or projects among themselves," explains Uma, a radio presenter and literary critic. "Even with the numerous readings being held from time to time, there is still no real connection between the authors specifically."

He says while there was a literary festival organised several years back by Silverfish Books, sustaining it in subsequent years had not been possible.

"We hope we can turn this around by making #Word sustainable. Our plan is that starting next year, the festival will be expanded into an all-encompassing multi-arts fest – which will include theatre and music, among others – with words being the centrestage element.

"For this year, we have divided the programmes into five separate venues (all within Publika) to cater to different tastes. We reckon that people might be put off if it is curated solely as a literary fest, so it was important to ensure the sessions would be as diverse as possible."

The festival will gather reputed local and international writers together, including award-winning author of teenage novels Nicola Morgan, novelist Benjamin Markovits, journalism professor Janet Steele, as well as poet and broadcast journalist Lourd de Veyra from the Philippines. On the local front, there is writer, photographer and filmmaker Bernice Chauly; publisher and independent filmmaker Amir Muhammad; prominent journalist and writer Rehman Rashid; and writer, columnist and activist Marina Mahathir.

"I think it's very important for us to promote and encourage local authors, something that Singapore has done really well," says Uma. "There is a growing number of Malaysian writers who are making their mark internationally, and we should strive to keep them writing and see value in their work."

A closed-door full-day journalism campus will be held on Friday before the festival proper kicks off at night. From then, it will be a packed schedule consisting of lectures and workshops, film screenings, and even a ghost story-telling session at midnight!

Currently, one can already participate in the mini-fiction tweeting competition called #MINIfiction, organised in partnership with MINI, with weekly winners walking away with a new Amazon Kindle.

Uma adds that #Word will also play host to the only South-East Asian segment of the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference (EWWC), the world's largest travelling conference on the state of literature. The KL conference will have three panels – covering the topics of "Censorship Today", "Should Literature Be Political?" and "A National Literature" – that will address critical questions affecting literature and society.

"We are thankful to both the British Council and EWWC for contributing to this festival's seed funding," he says.

British Council Malaysia arts and programmes manager Grey Yeoh says coming onboard for a project such as this is was a "no-brainer" as the organisation is committed to bridging culture and relations in English and the arts, while engaging society in a cross-country exchange of collaborative projects.

"We have previously participated in the George Town Literature Festival, which was slightly more cerebral in context, the arts festival Urbanscapes, and now #Word: The Cooler Lumpur," says Yeoh.

"Looking at the quality of the programmes, we are confident the festival will do well, as it caters to readers from all age groups and interests. What's also interesting is that we are enabling livestreaming for the event so that countries of different time zones can also participate instantaneously, in real-time."

Uma says the take away for him from having organised this festival would be the engagement between people that he seeks to build.

"It is important that people talk, connect and learn from each other, not just merely show up at these programmes. We are keeping as many of the sessions free so, hopefully, that becomes an incentive.

"With Malaysians reading ever more voraciously now and picking up alternative materials, we know they are ready for a festival like this."

#Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival will take place from June 21-23 at MAP@Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur.

For programme details go to coolerlumpur.com/word.

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What they're saying

What they’re saying

Posted: 15 Jun 2013 11:55 PM PDT

AWARD-winning British author and professional speaker Nicola Morgan says she will be part of a panel on censorship and free speech at #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival. It will see her imparting tips on writing for teenage fiction; she will also talk about her fascination for the reading brain.

"The workshop will be for writers wanting to write for teenagers, since my own novels are mostly for this age group and I have written much about the teenage brain."

Morgan's book Blame My Brain published in 2005 was shortlisted for the prestigious Aventis Prize; she's also won two Scottish Art Council prizes for her other work.

"I'll also conduct a lecture that touches on digital reading and the differences between fiction and non-fiction in terms of reading and the brain," Morgan says in an e-mail interview.

She is especially excited to be at the festival, as she has never been to Asia and considers it an honour to be invited to another country.

"I'm really looking forward to experiencing different people, ideas, food and climate. And to be at the very first #Word is hugely exciting," she adds.

With some 90 books and a slew of awards to her name, Morgan has this advice for budding writers hoping to get published: that they must be writers first and only think about being published later.

"Writers need to practise using their talent. When you think about becoming published, understand the market and the industry. Publishing is easy but selling books at a profit is hard.

"I had many years of rejection before I had my first novel published – and the reason was that I hadn't yet written the right book or written it well enough.

"So, be businesslike, be determined, be brave, be aware, but first be a writer. Write the first draft with your heart and the second with your head," she shares.

Morgan opines that the first draft is a combination of inspiration and perspiration, but the rest requires an attempt at objectivity by the person about his/her own work.

Having written both fiction and non-fiction stories, Morgan says the two genres are totally different.

"I like writing non-fiction because it's easier, while fiction is more satisfying and special," she says.

Her current projects include a (non-fiction) guide to teenage stress, to be published next year, and two novels for children.

Meanwhile, prominent local publisher Amir Muhammad says this festival, if anything, creates a nice excuse for authors to come out and party, especially as most of them are solitary individuals who work in isolation.

"Given that this is its inaugural year, I don't really know what to expect.

"But I'm definitely excited, and hope it can become bigger next year.

"It's always hard starting out and staying consistent after that," says Amir, who will be part of a panel on publishing.

He adds that he will be launching his six short series online called Futura, as well as a newly-published book by one of his writers.

"I hope and look forward to meeting nice people at the fest."

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Celebration of words

Judging the awards

Posted: 15 Jun 2013 11:58 PM PDT

How exactly does a book qualify for Malaysia's only local literary awards?

IN just seven days, voting closes for the Popular-The Star Readers' Choice Awards. The 20 wizards of words up for consideration authored the top sellers last year in Popular and Harris bookstores nationwide. These are the books that you liked enough to buy. And, again, you will decide which six out of the 20 will emerge as the top three in the fiction and non-fiction categories.

From the time the Readers' Choice Awards (RCA) were mooted, in 2008, they have been about giving the Malaysian public a voice in deciding what they like to read. It has also always been about spotlighting the local publishing industry and giving Malaysian authors a platform for visibility.

But then, how do you explain a name like Paul Callan on the list of nominees? Doesn't sound very Malaysian, does it? So what exactly defines a "Malaysian" book? Does it have to be authored by a Malaysian? Must it be about or set in Malaysia? we asked the awards organiser.

Apparently, there are three criteria that define eligibility for the RCA and a book only has to meet at least one of them, explains Chew Cheong Tat, the Popular Book Co's English & Malay department's senior merchandising manager.

"The first criterion is that the book's author is a Malaysian but the content does not necessarily have to touch on anything Malaysian and the author doesn't have to be residing in Malaysia. For example, Chan Ling Yap who wrote Bittersweet Harvest," Chew says, referring to one of last year's nominees who was living abroad when she wrote her book about the May 1969 riots in Malaysia.

"Secondly, the book is locally published but the content does not necessarily touch on anything Malaysian. A good example of this is Tiger Isle by E.S. Shankar (whose book is set on a fictitious island).

"And lastly, the book itself focuses on Malaysia, regardless of the origin of its author, and the best example of this is Paul Callan's book (Shadows Beneath The Fronds, which is set in Malaysia)."

(Irishman Callan, by the way, is married to a Malaysian and has for several years shuttled between Malaysian and London homes.)

Does it matter that there are non-Malaysian authors contesting against Malaysian authors?

Chew feels it doesn't, since it is the readers and not the organisers who determine the winners.

"Readers will vote for the book of their choice as long as the book appeals to them, regardless of where it was published and what its content is. For example, if the book is published internationally but the story does not really appeal to the readers, naturally the readers will not vote for it, right?"

However, E.S. Shankar – nominated in the fiction category for his political satire, Tiger Isle: A Government of Thieves – says, "They should verify that all writers are Malaysian citizens at the time their book is written and published. And there could be an open category for the international writers."

Prolific author, columnist and activist Marina Mahathir disagrees with that idea, though, as she believes there should never be different standards set for local books. They must, Marina claims, fight it out with the big guys.

"I think it is good that we are judged alongside books and authors that have international recognition like Tan Twan Eng (fiction nominee for his Man Asian Literary Prize-winning The Garden Of Evening Mists).

"I wouldn't like there to be a 'local' standard and an 'international' one because the local one would seem inferior," Marina says, adding, "I wouldn't want to be a jaguh kampung (village champion)." Her book, Telling It Straight, is a contender in the non-fiction category.

Dina Zaman, author of King of The Sea, a nominee in the fiction category, says the RCA definitely has "room for growth", considering that it is relatively new and believes that the "competition is good as it will make writers work hard at their books."

While agreeing with Chew, Cheeming Boey, whose book, When I Was A Kid is a non-fiction nominee, says that the scale is still skewed when one considers the popularity of some of the authors, whose fame go beyond the literary scene.

"Some of them are politicians or famous sports figures and they already have a huge fan base outside of literary circles. They are privileged with all the publicity and media coverage. When you factor this in, the gap is unfair. The minute they put anything about themselves out there, their supporters will definitely vote for them. The scale is skewed," Boey laments.

Boey believes, though, that since voters are required to vote for the top three books, this may shrink the gap.

What of the RCA's judging mechanism; ie, with winners decided entirely by a popular vote?

Marina opines that for the fiction category, there could be a "more literary award where (books) are judged for their literary merit and not just popularity, which is what a readers' choice award is.

"I think that might be a bit harder to do with non-fiction books, though. But we don't really have a culture of literary criticism in this country anyway."

Dina says Malaysia should have other literary awards, perhaps modelled on Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize and "judged by a discerning panel of judges. There are different types of awards for different reasons."

Asserts Shankar, "Some kind of 'weight' should be given to independent judges versus reader voters, perhaps 65:35, so that merit and not sentiment rules."

When the RCA was first discussed between Popular and The Star, these and other ideas actually came up. However, the decision made was that this would be a popular (no pun intended!) contest decided by the people who buy the product, the readers.

Boey, though, has a word of warning about this: Malaysian authors have a tendency to stick to tried and true formulas that sell.

"It's the same thing all the time, what with ghost stories, gossip, love stories and so on. This pattern is ongoing and it is here the international writers have an edge. Their ideas are often times fresh and original. In Malaysia, I find there isn't much originality.

"I think what we need are books that can stir people's minds and thoughts. If people can relate to it, then it is good," Boey says.

Chew has no problem with this at all, and feels that this is exactly what comes across in this year's books. "I believe that the most important thing is that this year's nominees really wrote from their hearts and the stories mean a lot to them."

He goes on to say that, in the future, more categories might be added to the RCA. "Potential categories that may be included in the future are writings for teens, short stories and so on."

Awards can and do change as they grow in popularity and influence; given its democratic decided-by-readers origins, what is in store for the RCA might well lie in your hands, dear reader. So write to us at star2@thestar.com.my and tell us what you think about the RCA so far and what you might do with these awards if it were up to you.

And don't forget to vote! Because not only will you reward your favourite authors, but you will also stand a chance to win a RM50 Popular book voucher, one year free Popular card membership, and a book hamper worth RM100.

The Popular-The Star Readers' Choice Awards 2013 are a precursor to BookFest@Malaysia 2013, which will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from Aug 3 to 11. Admission is with purchase of the BookFest catalogue (RM2.50 each), which will be available at all Popular and Harris bookstores closer to the event's opening date. Entry is free for students aged 18 and below, and senior citizens aged 60 and above. For more information, visit bookfestmalaysia.com.

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Tour bus crashes into fallen tree, all 15 passengers safe

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 09:06 AM PDT

GEORGE TOWN: A tour bus hit a fallen tree along Batu Ferringhi road on Sunday causing the vehicle to veer into the side railings near the Hydro Hotel here.

The tree was uprooted due to the current spate of bad weather on the island.

The 15 passengers and driver on the bus were reported to be safe.

It is learnt that the 10.30pm incident happened near the Miami Beach in Batu Ferringhi, causing a gridlock.

George Town OCPD Asst Comm Gan Kong Meng confirmed the incident.

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In a class of its own

Posted: 15 Jun 2013 04:41 PM PDT

School is in session at Pixar's latest offering, and it promises to be a monstrously fun time.

Mention Pixar's beloved movie Monsters, Inc. and a few things are bound to come to mind: an endless conveyor belt of coloured doors, the wacky yet wonderful friendship between James P. "Sulley" Sullivan and Mike Wazowski, and of course, the irresistibly wide-eyed Boo (and her adorably unintelligible lispings).

But back before Sulley and Mike became best friends and Monsters, Inc.'s top scaring team, they were just a couple of young college monsters, with dreams of making it big as Scarers… and that is where Pixar Animation Studios takes us with its latest computer-animated offering, Monsters University (MU).

A prequel to the critically- and commercially-successful Monsters, Inc., which came out in 2001, MU introduces us to a whole new aspect of Monstropolis: university life. Within the gorgeously-realised gothic campus, it is all about classes, frat parties and university games, with a monster twist, of course.

And as it turns out, Mike and Sulley weren't always the best buds they are in Monsters, Inc.; Mike is a bookish nerd while Sulley is a self-important jock. How the two put their differences aside and end up becoming inseparable forms the core story of MU.

Back to voice the lead characters are Billy Crystal as Mike and John Goodman as Sulley, whose hilarious back-and-forths provided some of the most memorable scenes in the first movie. Joining them to bring the various monsters to life is a whole slew of famous actors, including Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day and Sean Hayes.

Taking over the reins from Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter is Dan Scanlon, for whom this is the first full-length Pixar feature. With the studio's reputation for producing stellar animated films (Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Up, to name just a few), and the first movie's massive fan base, one imagines there is a lot of pressure on him to deliver.

Speaking during a recent interview at Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville, California, however, Scanlon simply seems like an overgrown kid who has been allowed to play with his favourite toys.

"I love Monsters, Inc.!" he enthuses. "I was excited at the challenge of a prequel. The great thing was that we weren't in any rush to do another Monsters movie, it was only with a great idea that we moved forward. And once we did that, we knew it was important to think of it as a movie in itself."

Part of the process of depicting Mike and Sulley in university was ageing them down, so that while they remain the characters we know and love, they are also believable as 18-year-olds. For this, Scanlon shares that they looked at pictures of themselves in college as a guide.

"We slimmed them down, brightened their colours, and most noticeably, Sulley is not as bulky. The animators also made decisions on how they would move, which makes a big difference. All that, and we also had John (Goodman) and Billy (Crystal) juice up their performances!"

For Crystal, famed for his distinctive voice and fast patter, this was not much of a challenge, particularly since Mike is a character he loves playing.

"Mike has no blood, he has espresso!" he jokes. "I never think of it as me doing a voice-over, but rather, as me playing Mike."

The fact that the 65-year-old comedian was playing an 18-year-old never stood in his way.

"The scenes were so funny that it was easy! However, my favourite parts are actually the tender moments, those moments of bonding and friendship, when I feel that he's an actual 18-year-old kid, not a monster," says Crystal.

Unlike most animated films, where voice actors record their parts separately, Crystal was insistent that Goodman and he record their lines together, a practice they started with Monsters, Inc.

"That's what makes the comedy sing, and the dramatic moments real," he shares.

The shifting of focus to Mike is one of the interesting changes in MU. While Mike was essentially the wisecracking sidekick in Monsters, Inc., MU puts him at the centre of the story.

When Mike and Sulley unexpectedly find themselves members of the Oozma Kappa (OK) fraternity, which houses a collection of college misfits, it is up to Mike to rally them all together to win the annual Scare Games – despite being faced with ridicule from the likes of Johnny Worthington III, president of the prestigious Roar Omega Roar fraternity.

"It wasn't planned (to have Mike as the main character). After a year or so of trying with Sulley, we realised Mike was the heart of the story. We knew then that we had to give it to him," says Scanlon.

The tricky part, of course, is that we know Mike never achieves his dream of becoming a scarer, but rather, ends up Sulley's assistant. But instead of letting this hamper the story of MU, Scanlon and his team used it to their advantage.

"The main thing is that we're telling the story of someone whose dreams didn't quite work out the way he planned. We wanted this to be its own story, because this is Mike's story, and so it had to have a different feel," explains Scanlon.

And what of Boo, a fan favourite? Can there be a Mike and Sulley without her?

Scanlon thinks there definitely can.

"Mike and Sulley are at their best when they are working together to take care of someone else, and while we didn't mean to mimic it, we see a similar dynamic when they are taking care of the OK team," he says.

Made in the tradition of classic college movies like Revenge Of The Nerds and Animal House, MU will strike a chord with anyone who has been in the position of the underdog.

"We watched a ton of college movies (while working on MU), and there are definitely a lot of those familiar tropes in it. And one thing that we didn't plan, but ended up being rather nice, is that a lot of kids who grew up with Monsters, Inc. are in college now, so it fits in well with their own experiences," says Scanlon.

And for all its jokes and roughhousing, MU holds a poignant message at its heart.

"There are times in your life that define who you're going to be. Sometimes, you're not going to get everything you want. We learn that through Mike's journey, and that's a very important lesson," says Crystal.

Monsters University opens in cinemas nationwide on June 20.

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Meet the monsters

Meet the monsters

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 12:11 AM PDT

University just wouldn't be the same without some familiar types. You may just be meeting them, but they are far from unfamiliar. Let's get to know some of the new characters on Monsters University.

Johnny Worthington III
The Big Man On Campus (voiced by Nathan Fillion)

The confident and sometimes overbearing president of the Roar Omega Roar (ROR) fraternity, which prides itself on having the most notable Scarers on campus.

Scott "Squishy" Squibbles
The Mama's Boy (Peter Sohn)

He may be a little tangled in his mother's apron strings, but Squishy is also sweet, naive and one of the nicest kids in school.

Terri and Terry Perry
The Odd Couple (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley)

These four-armed conjoined brothers are bickering opposites in almost every way; Terri is an optimistic romantic while Terry prefers to play the cynic. And when their patter gets started, you can forget about trying to get a word in!

Don Carlton
The Mature Student (Joel Murray)

Formerly a sales monster, Don is back in school to pursue his dream of becoming a Scarer.

The Free Spirit (Charlie Day)

He's that college guy that no one knows everything about, a laidback hippie with a questionable background.

Claire Wheeler
Miss Too-Cool-For-School (Aubrey Plaza)

As student council president, she rallies the monsters' school spirit for the annual Scare Games – despite the I-don't-care exterior.

Brock Pearson
Mr School Spirit (Tyler Labine)

A big, loud jock who is Claire's vice-president and her over-enthusiastic co-organiser of the Scare Games.

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In a class of its own

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