Rabu, 10 Julai 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

‘Todd family’s claims untrue’


LAW and Foreign Minister K. Shan­mugam dismissed allegations from American researcher Dr Shane Todd's parents that Singapore had mishandled the inquiry into their son's death.

After a state coroner ruled on Monday that he had committed suicide, Dr Todd's parents sent a statement to the media alleging that the verdict had been predetermined.

Shanmugam said at an event in Yishun on Tuesday that he understood the Todd family's grief but their allegations "have not stood up to scrutiny and have been found to be untrue".

When asked whether the government would consider taking action against the Todds if they continued to impugn Singapore's justice system, he said: "The facts are there and people can judge for themselves. We will just have to leave it to the people to judge."

He added that Singapore was legally required to hold a coroner's inquiry into the death and had done so, saying: "It was a full, open inquiry and all evidence was presented."

The US Embassy in Singapore said in a statement on Monday that the inquiry had been "comprehensive, fair and transparent".

When told that the Financial Times had stood by its February report which suggested that Dr Todd had been murdered, Shanmugam said: "The responsible thing to do would be acknowledge that the original article was full of inaccuracies."

When asked in a press conference on Monday whether the govern­ment would consider suing the Financial Times if it did not correct the article, Shanmugam said: "I don't think that's a path we want to go down."

On Tuesday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin slammed the Financial Times for standing by its report.

He said in a Facebook posting: "So the FT believes that their irresponsible piece of journalism stands? Creating conspiracy out of nothing... I wonder if their sensationalism led the Todd family down this unfortunate path." — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Record number of marriages in last 30 years


THE number of marriages hit a record high in the last three decades, while divorce rates have gone down, bucking a rising trend in the last 10 years.

There were 27,936 civil and Mus­lim marriages registered last year, up from 27,258 the year before.

On the other hand, there were 7,241 divorces and annulments last year, a decrease from 7,604 previously, a first decline in the past eight years.

Figures from the Department of Statistics released yesterday also indicated that the median age first-time brides and grooms remained the same compared to 2011.

Last year, the median age of first-time grooms was 30.1 while the median age for first-time brides was 28 last year. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Good work-life balance is undergrads’ top priority


EVEN before entering the workforce, university students here are sure of one thing they want from their careers: a work-life balance.

It came out as the top motivating factor in a survey of 6,000 undergraduates, beating job security into second place and dedication to a cause in third.

To be challenged competitively or intellectually was only fourth on the list while being a leader or manager was fifth.

Employer branding consultancy Universum got university students to pick their most important career goals out of a list of nine.

In sixth was to have an international career, in seventh was to be entrepreneurial and creative, in eighth was to be autonomous or independent and last was to be a technical or functional expert.

Most students who took part in the online survey were from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and the Singapore Institute of Management.

The survey was carried out between last December and May.

Human resource experts interviewed said the survey's results explain why many young people have no qualms about taking unpaid leave or "job hopping".

Human resource consultancy Remuneration Data Specialists associate director David Ang said: "Younger workers do not want to compromise their private life for work. If they cannot find that, they will leave."

University students and fresh graduates interviewed said personal interests came first for them as they did not have to worry about supporting their parents – most of whom are financially independent.

Human resource experts said companies needed to do more to design staff retention policies that fit the interests of young workers.

Fresh graduate Alice Zhao, 23, said employers should promote a culture of "working with friends" – as is the case with her employer, a technology company.

"We are trusted to work from home. We also socialise over the meals which are provided. It doesn't feel like we are working because we are enjoying ourselves," she said. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

Days of being Doyle


Acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle has had a crazy life so far.

It's thunderous weather at Straits Quay in Penang, and Christopher Doyle decides to have his next interview indoors. I tell him that we only have about 20 to 30 minutes.

"What the hell can we talk about?" I say.

"I'll talk really fast," Doyle replies. And sure enough, the famed cinematographer keeps to his promise, delivering answers and opinions in rapid-fire succession, sometimes not even finishing his sentences, but always on point.

And of course, there is the ever-present glass of beer in front of him. Some years ago, renowned journalist Dennis Lim wrote an article on Doyle in The Village Voice with the headline "The legend of the Drunken Master." Well, it's not quite accurate, because Doyle remains very much sober throughout all his interviews, even though the beer never stops coming. It seems more like he has OD-ed on coffee, as one notices that his thoughts sometimes overtake his speech as he frantically searches for the right words.

He arrived in Penang at midnight, and held a masterclass in the morning at the Penang Performing Arts Centre under the Tropfest Roughcut banner, part of the ongoing George Town Festival. And after 18 hours, he will be hopping on a flight back to Hong Kong.

Famed for his work with Wong Kar-wai on films such as Chungking Express, Days Of Being Wild and In The Mood For Love, Doyle set up his unique voice in those early films, before going on to various projects from Zhang Yimou's epic Hero to Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence and M. Night Shyamalan's Lady In The Water. He got his first break in film in 1983 with the late Edward Yang's That Day, On The Beach.

But before that, he was a sailor, and had even dug for oil in India and worked in an Israeli kibbutz. One (in)famous story has it that he was a quack medicine man in Thailand.

"Yeah, it's true," Doyle confirms it, straight-faced. "We used to travel around in a station wagon, and I would dress up as a doctor, and I would say (in Thai) 'It's good for your back.' A guy would introduce me as a Western doctor, and I would sell all this bull***t.

"And then I thought, f*** this. I didn't speak a second language. So I went to Hong Kong to learn Chinese. At that time, it was impossible to go into China. I went to a very good school, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and my teacher gave me the name Du Ke Feng."

And with that he went on to commit to celluloid some of the most endearing, powerful, memorable and unique images in cinema history.

From the kinetic, time-bending style of Chungking Express and Ashes Of Time, to the searing images of Argentina in the gay romance Happy Together and the nostalgic memories of Days Of Being Wild. And then there's the masterpiece, In The Mood For Love, in which shadows and light inform a world of languid longing.

He won his first award for his first work on That Day, On The Beach ... and lost the trophy after leaving it in a taxi.

"Which was good," says Doyle. "It was a good sign. That was my first film and I didn't know what I was doing. I remember for my next films, I was really nervous, because I was trying too hard. It was actually counter-productive, because I was not seeing the bigger picture. I was just seeing my own concerns. Once you get to a level of experience, and you feel you know what you're doing, then you can see the bigger picture."

But the Christopher Doyle/Du Ke Feng duality is endlessly fascinating. Here's a guy born in Sydney, Australia who ended up as one of Asian cinema's most iconic figures.

"It's me," he says of Du Ke Feng (which means "Like the wind"). "The name is so Chinese ... It has a very poetic sort of ... you know, it's not like my Japanese name, Kuristofa Doyo. You know it's not a Japanese person, right? But with my Chinese name, you wouldn't imagine that the person is not Chinese."

He feels the name has a lot of obligations with it, as well as resonance and aspirations. "I think it's made me a better filmmaker," says Doyle. "Because I want to be Du Ke Feng. But I'm not there yet. Because I was born like ... this (points to himself and laughs). I'm stuck with this."

He thinks he was born in a wonderful country and had a wonderful childhood and family. That means he has the best of both worlds.

"I have an optimistic attitude towards life, which comes from being born in Australia," he says. "And I have Du Ke Feng, who aspires to more."

But having spent more than 30 years in Asia now, is he still an outsider looking in? Does it still give him a unique perpective on all things Asian?

"As any artist does, you choose to be removed," says Doyle. "Even Jean Cocteau or Hunter S. Thompson. I think we all do in our different ways. You protect that distance, because that is where the perception comes from. That is where you cut through the bull***t. I think I guard that distance quite ferociously, mainly because it helps one not to take oneself too seriously. That's very important. If I really believed what everyone says about me, I'd be a w**ker.

"If I believed all that, I certainly wouldn't tell my mother!" he breaks into raucous laughter.

Doyle says he loves working with young people. He finds great satisfaction in seeing them grow as artists.

"I'm glad people still regard me as a Hong Kong filmmaker, and young people in their 20s come to me to help them make Hong Kong films. And I'm very proud of that. They want to have their own voice. And since they're kids, they're going to have a different voice than Wong Kar-wai or Jackie Chan.

"I'm proud that because it's me, it helps with the money. They use my name ... please, go ahead, what am I going to do with it? (Laughs, turns to the other tables in the restaurant.) Hallooo, do you know who I am? Would you like to buy me a beer? Who gives a f***? (Breaks into more raucous laughter.)"

And despite his now-infamous rant about Life Of Pi's Oscar for Best Cinematography, he is actually optimistic about digital filmmaking. During his masterclass, he explained that he thought Life Of Pi should have been given a technical award for the entire special effects team, and not for the cinematographer.

"I think film will come back, but it will come back in a different way," says Doyle. "For example, like in photography, people are still using cameras from 100 years ago because they want a certain quality. It will become a very specialised thing ... The thing about digital filmmaking is, you see what you get. And then you can change it later. That's a dangreous precedent, because it means that what really matters is often determined by a machine as opposed to the choices of the artist."

He believes that this means the "money people" have more control and it could render someone like him useless. "Filmmaking by committee," as he calls it.

"But I'm not afraid of that," he says. "Because the other way to go is to simplify things and work from within to subvert all this ... to simplify things to a point where we regain control. And because the young kids have so much digital experience, they're going to see the world in a different way than people who come from a more traditional film background. That's what's going to happen.

"The Impressionists saw the world differently than the Pre-Raphaelites. And then the Cubists responded to that. Everything's a response to what came before it. I'm actually quite positive about digital (filmmaking). There are textures that we don't know about yet. And the kids are going to teach us. In other words, it's a different visual experience. So was Impressionism. So was pop. So was conceptual art.

"There is a space of give-and-take where we can enchance each other's work."

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

No love for Joan Rivers


STRIKING Fashion Police writers recently released a video taking the show's host Joan Rivers to task for not standing up for them in their battle to join the Writers Guild. 

The two-minute, 35-second video is titled "Dear Joan: Can We Talk?" and features several of the nine writers telling of their good relationship with Rivers prior to the dispute, and how disappointed they are that she hasn't backed them in their dispute with the E! Network. 

"The fact that she's not just a star, but she's a member of the Writers Guild, and she won't support fellow Writers Guild members is just astonishing," Ned Rice says in the video. "It's just a basic fairness issue." 

The writers have been on strike since April 17, after expressing a desire to organise and join the Writers Guild of America West. The writers want the network to recognise the WGA as their bargaining representative, while the network is insisting that a National Labor Relations Board election be held first. 

The E! Network, which is owned by Comcast, issued a statement in response: "Joan Rivers has been and remains emphatically supportive of the writers. Her company does not produce Fashion Police nor set the compensation of E! Networks Productions' writers. The personal attacks on Joan are grossly unfair and inaccurate." 

The writers maintain that demanding an election before negotiating is a stalling tactic, since they've made their desire to be in the guild clear by signing union cards. "Requiring an NLRB administered election is a fair and important part of the process," the network has said in earlier statements. 

The network reiterated earlier statements, which said it was not anti-WGA, and noted that it airs others shows (The Soup and Chelsea Lately) that employ WGA workers that participated in NLRB elections. 

Weeks before going on strike, the writers filed US$1.5mil (RM4.8mil) in wage and hour claims with the California Division of Labor Standard Enforcement against the network and Rivers' production company, Rugby Productions. They are seeking payment for unpaid regular and overtime hours worked. 

That dispute is moving forward separately from the representation issue. A settlement meeting held at the behest of the state failed to result break the impasse, so both sides are awaiting a date for a hearing on the writers' claims. – Reuters

Joan Rivers with her 'Fashion Police' co-hosts (from left) Giuliana Rancic, George Kostiopolous and Kelly Osbourne. 

Espionage at its best


The Americans is an intriguing new show that blends covert with a little bit of crass, ultimately having you hooked.

THE year is 1981. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union are at a high, and having anything to do with Mother Russia can get you arrested, interrogated (possibly tortured) and thrown into jail.

This setting is what makes the premise for The Americans such a tantalising offering – two KGB agents played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are in deep cover in Washington, DC, trying to be as ordinary and all-American as possible, while carrying out missions for the motherland.

Shown in flashbacks, couple Elizabeth (Russell) and Philip Jennings (Rhys) spend years in training prior to their big move to the United States, learning the language, going through gruelling physical training (an early scene reveals the extent of suffering Elizabeth goes through as a young cadet) and basically, embracing all things American, while maintaining their hatred for the country and culture.

Now seasoned spies, they have spent the last 15 years blending into American culture and trying to remain as stereotypically regular as possible, never even speaking their native language to each other, drinking beer instead of vodka, and indulging in American sports.

A fake marriage, fake jobs, fake (but convincing) accents and two blissfully unaware kids (played by Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) – now that's some job commitment, and so far, the Jennings have managed to fool everyone they've come across.

Juggling this double life gets a little tricky when FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) moves in next door with his wife and son.

The Jennings are friendly enough in their welcome, but Beeman can't shake his suspicions of the seemingly perfect all-American family.

The story is made more interesting with additional plotlines – Beeman's blackmailing of Soviet embassy clark Nina (Annet Mahendru) to spy for the FBI, revelations of other KGB agents and their double lives, and the Jennings' espionage network, contacts the couple have collected over the years.

Later on, the series gives the kids some screen time, an interesting part of the show that definitely demands further exploration.

The Americans starts off so serious and dark you wonder if these people have had any fun at all in the past 15 years. Elizabeth hardly ever smiles, even in the presence of the kids, and she's always brushing off Philip's attempts at humour and intimacy (you wonder how these people ever got down to having the kids in the first place).

When there's work to be done, this duo are cold, calculated and sometimes downright vicious, making it hard for the audience to root for them, a delicate balance the show has yet to master three episodes in.

Russell and Rhys' portrayals of the Jennings are excellent. They're obviously very well trained, focused on the mission and they love the motherland (and miss their caviar and vodka), but there are indications that Philip "likes it here too much" and may consider defecting.

It's a tricky situation, since there is this underlying mistrust between the agents that surfaces every now and then – suspicion, even of each other, keeps them on their toes, with eyes on the bigger picture.

While the premise is engaging and the characters complex and interesting enough to keep you hooked, I do hope the show starts getting just a little more light-hearted – all this scheming and violence does get a little tiring, and it would be nice to see how this grumpy duo managed to make it this far in the always-positive, overly enthusiastic society that is America.

So far, the only things that have made me chuckle have been the costumes and prosthetics, used in abundance throughout the show. We know the 1980s were not known for great style, but sometimes, the disguises are laugh-out-loud hilarious. The hairpieces (especially Philip's) are so unconvincing you wonder how they have anyone fooled, especially when the mission has seduction involved (or maybe government officials just had super low standards back then).

The Americans is an exciting new show and it will be interesting to see how it progresses – will Elizabeth and Philip fully embrace America? Will they fall in love? And ultimately, will they be discovered? What about the kids? So many questions!

The Americans airs every Tuesday at 9.50pm on FOX (Astro Ch 710). The writer can be contacted at entertainment@thestar.com.my.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Burn pit at U.S. Marine base in Afghanistan poses health risk -inspector


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Open-air burn pits at a U.S. Marine base in Afghanistan pose a health risk to the 13,500 military and civilian personnel there and are still in use despite the installation of four incinerators at a cost of $11.5 million, an inspector general said on Thursday.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a letter to two top U.S. generals that burn pits at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province were "potentially endangering" the health of U.S. military and civilian personnel.

Writing to Army General Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, and Marine General Joe Dunford, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Sopko said the burn pits were still being used despite the installation of four solid- waste incinerators at a cost of $11.5 million.

He said the incinerators were being underutilized and as a result, the camp was continuing to use "open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its daily waste" in violation of Defense Department guidance. He said his office reported recently on a similar problem at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan.

"The toxic smoke from burning solid waste each day increases the long-term health risks for camp personnel, including reduced lung function and exacerbated chronic illnesses, ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," Sopko wrote.

He said visits to the camp by inspectors showed its two 12-ton incinerators were being underused, and its two 24-ton incinerators were not being used at all because a contract for operation and maintenance had not been awarded.

Sopko said an analysis by his department showed the camp's waste could be fully processed by operating the incinerators 18 hours a day. He urged the generals to end the use of open-air burn pits at Camp Leatherneck as quickly as possible by ensuring the incinerators were being operated at the required capacity.

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Saudi princess accused of holding Kenyan servant captive in California


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Southern California charged a Saudi Arabian princess on Wednesday with human trafficking and accused her of bringing a Kenyan woman to the United States and holding her against her will as a servant.

The accused woman, Meshael Alayban, 42, brought the Kenyan to the United States in May and paid her $220 a month while holding her passport and keeping her confined to an apartment complex in Irvine, California, where Alayban lived, Orange County prosecutors said in a statement.

The servant, whose name was not released, had to wash dishes, cook, clean, do laundry and iron without a day off, prosecutors said.

Authorities said they found four Filipino women in the Irvine home who also may have had their passports seized by Alayban's family, and an investigation is under way into whether others were involved in the alleged human trafficking scheme.

Police arrested Alayban early on Wednesday at her apartment, a day after the Kenyan woman escaped and flagged down a bus driver, the statement said. Alayban is charged with one felony count of human trafficking.

"The laws of our nation and California do not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labour or services," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement.

The only occasion when the Kenyan woman was allowed to leave the Irvine apartment complex was when she carried the bags of Alayban's family during an outing, prosecutors said.

The Kenyan also attended to other people linked to Alayban who lived in the same complex, according to the statement.

Alayban had first hired the Kenyan woman as a domestic servant in March 2012 in Saudi Arabia in her family's palace, prosecutors said. She is accused of holding the woman's passport then as well and forcing her to work every day for 16 hours.

Orange County prosecutors said the Kenyan woman originally came to work for Alayban by signing a two-year contract with an employment agency that promised her $1,600 a month to labour for eight hours a day, five days a week.

Irvine Police Chief David Maggard Jr. said in a statement that his officers were "gratified to have been able to help" the Kenyan woman "find her freedom."

Alayban is a wife of Saudi Arabian Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the Orange County prosecutors said in their statement.

Alayban's attorney, Paul Meyer, said in an email that "the complaints were about hours worked and wages paid."

"We intend to fully investigate this matter, and expect that the truth will resolve it," he said.

Alayban appeared in court in Orange County on Wednesday and a judge set her bail at $5 million. She remains in custody at a women's jail, according to a website for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Prosecutors have expressed concern Alayban could try to flee if released on bail, and the judge ordered her to wear a GPS device and stay in Orange County if she is let out.

Alayban faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Exiled dissidents claim Iran building new nuclear site


PARIS (Reuters) - An exiled opposition group said on Thursday it had obtained information about a secret underground nuclear site under construction in Iran, without specifying what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out there.

The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2002 exposed Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak. But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda.

In 2010, when the group said it had evidence of another new nuclear facility, west of the capital Tehran, U.S. officials said they had known about the site for years and had no reason to believe it was nuclear.

The latest allegation comes less than a month after the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's new president boosted hopes for a resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West, and may be timed to cast doubt on any such optimism.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and rejects accusations by the United States and Israel that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.

But its refusal to curb sensitive nuclear activity, and its lack of full openness with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, have drawn tough Western sanctions and a threat of pre-emptive military strikes by Israel.

The NCRI said members of its affiliated People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) inside the country had "obtained reliable information on a new and completely secret site designated for (Iran's) nuclear project".

The NCRI which seeks an end to Muslim clerical rule in Iran, is the political wing of the PMOI, which fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The NCRI said the site was located in a complex of tunnels beneath mountains 10 km (6 miles) east of the town of Damavand, itself about 50 km northeast of Tehran. Construction of the site's first phase began in 2006 and was recently completed, it said.

The group released satellite photographs of what it said was the site. But the images did not appear to constitute hard evidence to support the assertion that it was a planned nuclear facility.

A spokesman for the dissidents said he could not say what sort of nuclear work would be conducted there, but that the companies and people involved showed it was a nuclear site. The group named officials it said were in charge of the project.

"The site consists of four tunnels and has been constructed by a group of engineering and construction companies associated with the engineering arms of the Ministry of Defence and the IRGC (Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards force)," the NCRI said.

"Two of the tunnels are about 550 metres (600 yards) in length, and they have a total of six giant halls," its statement added.

Iran said in late 2009 that it planned to build 10 more uranium enrichment sites in addition to its underground Natanz and Fordow facilities, but has provided little additional information.

Refined uranium can provide fuel for nuclear power plants, which is Iran's stated aim, but can also be used to make atomic bombs, which the West fears may be Tehran's ultimate goal.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur and Leigh Thomas; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

New channel for horror fans


Shout! Factory has launched Scream Factory TV, a new YouTube channel that will feature footage and exclusive content from classic horror and sci-fi films like The Fog and The Howling.

In addition to special clips from the films and TV shows, the channel will offer previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew members. The channel is an extension of Scream Factory, a branch of Shout! Factory dedicated to horror and other cult films.

Shout! Factory has made a business out of nostalgia, offering DVDs and Blu-Rays of performances from icons like Mel Brooks and hit shows like Leave It To Beaver.

Yet the company has also begun to move its library of classic footage onto the entertainment portal of the next generation – YouTube. The company launched a channel dedicated to James Brown in collaboration with the James Brown Estate in April.

"Launching Scream Factory TV is just one more way Shout! Factory continues to diversify itself as a media leader while increasing its growing presence within the digital space," Jeffrey Thompson, Shout! Factory's vice president of Digital Strategy & Business Development, said in a statement to TheWrap. 

Shout! Factory will continue to acquire rights to new content and expand what is offered on the channel. Its library already includes the cult classics of famed director Roger Corman. New titles will become available on the channel each week.

"Scream Factory TV is completely fueled by our deep passion and love for the horror genre," Jeff Nelson, Shout! Factor's director of marketing said in a statement. "As we continue to celebrate and curate more amazing content for the site, we look forward to sharing it with horror and sci-fi fans around the world." — Reuters

Sadako calling


Find out why the makers of Sadako 3D 2 are asking moviegoers to check their phones during the movie.

HERE'S an interesting tie-in – while most people frown at others checking their phones during a movie, the makers of Sadako 3D 2 will actively encourage moviegoers to do just that. Fans in the horror sequel's country of origin, Japan, will be able to download a special smartphone app ahead of viewing the film. Then, during each screening, they will be encouraged to whip out their phones at particular points and enhance their "viewing experience".

Flashes, sounds, vibrations and alerts are just some of the features the app will have, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It seems that the app will continue to, well, interact with phone owners long after they have watched the film. Could a follow-up phone call from Sadako be part of the experience? Will she crawl out of your phone screen while you're playing Angry Birds Star Wars in the bathroom? Is this a hidden attempt to also resurrect the One Missed Call franchise? Who knows?

For those who missed it, Sadako 3D was a poorly-reviewed follow-up to the successful Ringu movies, in which a cursed videotape caused the death of anyone who watched it within seven days. Sadako was a ghost girl who would crawl out of the cursed person's TV set and ... we don't know, torture him/her to death by making him/her watch endless reruns of American Idol audition episodes?

Sadako 3D 2 is expected to be released in Japan in August. No word yet whether or not the app will be translated and distributed outside Japan.

Alita in the wings

JAMES Cameron has not given up on that Battle Angel Alita adaptation yet, so fans – don't you do it either. The filmmaker, speaking at Mexico City's TagDF technology forum last week, said he would most likely begin work on the manga adaptation in 2017, after he's done with the back-to-back Avatar sequels, according to thefilmstage.com.

Avatar's theme of "trans-human" exploration would also extend to Alita, which takes place three centuries after the world has been ravaged by war. The movie centres on a damaged female cyborg who is salvaged and repaired, but she has no memory of who she is.

At the forum, Cameron also took studios to task for insisting on 3D conversion of movies that did not need it, for example Man Of Steel and Iron Man 3. "If you spend $150 million on visual effects, the film is already going to (look) spectacular (and) perfect." Hear, hear.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Research house advice to OSK shareholders: CEO's offer not attractive


PETALING JAYA: Hong Leong Investment Bank Research (HLIB Research) has advised OSK Holdings Bhd's minority shareholders not to accept the mandatory general offer (MGO) of RM1.68 per share by chief executive officer and managing director Tan Sri Ong Leong Huat (pic).

"We view the offer price as not attractive, given that it is significantly below its sum-of-parts (SOP) of RM2.45, as well as below the value of its 9.82% in RHB Capital Bhd (RHBCap), which is worth RM2.14," HLIB Research said.

The research house noted that the major shareholder's decision to add to his stake in OSK Holdings "reflects his confidence in the value" of the company.

"Moreover, given the intention of maintaining the listing status, we believe the MGO is more a regulatory issue rather than taking the company private.

"Thus, minority shareholders should not accept the offer," HLIB Research added.

On Tuesday, Ong and parties acting in concert had made an MGO to acquire all the remaining shares in OSK Holdings at RM1.68 each.

The 33% MGO threshold was triggered after Ong and his wife acquired an additional 42.68 million shares in OSK Holdings yesterday through direct deals and open market purchases.

Ong's recent purchases have raised his stake in OSK Holdings, held via OSK Equity Holdings Sdn Bhd, by 4.4% to 36.72% from 32.3%. The takeover has to achieve an acceptance rate of 50%, failing which the shares acquired under the MGO would be returned to shareholders.

After hiving off its investment banking to RHBCap for RM2.09bil last year, OSK Holdings' most valuable asset is arguably its 9.82% stake in RHBCap.

HLIB Research said the catalysts for OSK Holdings were that it was a significantly cheaper proxy to RHBCap at 38%, and the development of the land adjacent to Plaza OSK and/or REIT to unlock value as well as the potential distribution of dividends from RHBCap provided decent yields.

OSK Holdings closed seven sen higher at RM1.70, its highest in three weeks.

China trade outlook grim


BEIJING: China has warned of a "grim" outlook for trade as the world's second-largest economy surprised financial markets by reporting a fall in exports and imports when both had been expected to rise.

The figures, which follow a government crackdown on the use of fake invoicing that had exaggerated exports earlier this year, are likely to raise fresh concerns about the extent of the slowdown in the economy and global demand. The June data, showing that exports fell 3.1% from a year earlier and imports dropped 0.7%, may now reflect the true trade picture, customs officials said.

"China faces relatively stern challenges in trade currently," customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told a news briefing on the June trade figures. "Exports in the third quarter look grim."

The customs agency said exporters were losing confidence in the face of weak overseas demand, rising labour costs and a strong yuan. The Australian dollar briefly fell about a third of a cent after the China data, reflecting worries about Chinese demand for Australia's commodities, such as iron ore and coal.

The MSCI Asia-Pacific ex-Japan index was up 0.5% after gaining as much as 1.2% to a one-week high before the trade figures came out. The export fall was the first since January 2012. Economists had expected exports to increase 4% and imports to rise 8%.

China's trade data is volatile and has been distorted by speculative capital flows across the country's border. Doubts about the accuracy of the figures had abated slightly since the customs office and top foreign exchange regulator launched a campaign in May to crack down on fake export invoices.

Fake invoicing inflated China's official import and export totals by US$75bil in the first four months of 2013, local media reported on June 14, citing an internal review by China's commerce ministry.

The customs data showed that exports to the United States, China's biggest export market, fell 5.4%, while exports to the European Union dropped 8.3%.

"The surprisingly weak June exports show China's economy is facing increasing downward pressure on lacklustre external demand," said Li Huiyong, an economist at Shenyin & Wanguo Securities in Shanghai.

"Exports are facing challenges in the second half of this year. The appreciation of the US dollar and the Chinese government's recent crackdown on speculative trade activities also put pressure on exports."

China had a trade surplus of US$27.1bil in June, the customs administration said, largely in line with the US$27bil expected by economists. China's reform-minded new leaders have shown a tolerance of slower growth, although they still need to avoid widespread job losses that could threaten social stability.

Economists expect data next week to show that annual growth in China for the April-June quarter slowed down to 7.5%. A continued slide in growth could test leaders' resolve to tolerate a short-term slowdown in the economy while pressing ahead with efforts to revamp the economy for the longer term. – Reuters

KKR finds success in Asia, tops rivals with US$6bil fund


HONG KONG: A record US$6bil Asia fund announced by US private equity firm KKR & Co yesterday will be deployed at a time when an economic slowdown and emerging market sell-off has knocked the overall value of Asia-Pacific corporations to historic lows.

While the market volatility should offer KKR opportunities to buy low, the record of the private equity industry in Asia shows that investing in the region is not as easy as it seems.

Regulatory hurdles, cultural obstacles and wild market swings have forced global buyout firms to swallow smaller investment returns than they hoped, with the exception of a few home run deals. But KKR, a storied firm that pioneered the leveraged buyout back in 1976, has managed to find success in Asia even after arriving later than rivals.

The firm has invested and exited China Modern Dairy Holdings Ltd, Singapore tech firm Unisteel, Japanese recruitment firm Intelligence, and remains invested in South Korea beer and baiju spirit maker Oriental Brewery.

That success has encouraged investors to return to KKR's second Asia-focused fund in droves, despite companies across the region facing a shortage of available money amid concerns of credit tightening.

"In private equity, you can make a lot of money in horrible macro environments," said Doug Coulter, head of private equity for Asia Pacific at LGT Capital, which allocates money to private equity funds. He was speaking at a Hong Kong Venture Capital Association event last month.

Most private equity portfolios have a few investments that may prove to be more difficult than expected. For KKR, the stake it purchased in Chinese investment bank CICC looks to be under pressure.

The bank, once China's top investment bank, has steadily lost market share since the KKR deal, hit by tough competition and a steep slowdown in Chinese stock issuance.

The MSCI Asia Ex-Japan index is trading at 1.4 times book value, 25.4% below its 10-year median value, according to data from Thomson Reuters Datastream. The index's price to earnings ratio is also at historic lows.

Investors who allocate money to private equity firms were quick to commit to the last round of Asia private equity funds raised in 2006 and 2007, though the patchy performance of that era has left the investors, known in the industry as limited partners, more selective.

Thus the low prices on offer have not translated to an easy fund-raising climate.

TPG Capital, which started raising a US$5bil fund around the same time as KKR, is still on the road raising money, and is expected to close short of its target, according to people familiar with the matter. Carlyle is also still in the process of raising a US$3.5bil fund that will be its fourth for the region, sources have previously said. – Reuters

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Do more for the good for all during Ramadan, says Muhyiddin


PUTRAJAYA: Muslims should not use the holy month of Ramadan as an excuse to slow down productivity, but rather strive to do more for the good of all, said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

He said fasting, as required of Muslims throughout Ramadan, was not a hindrance for them to continue with whatever work that could help themselves, their families or society as a whole.

"Be it in business, developing the economy, increasing the family income ... all these are noble efforts that are outlined by our faith," he said at the launch of the Putrajaya Ramadan Festival 2013 here yesterday.

Muhyiddin said Malaysia was blessed with the fact that it had been able to maintain peace, harmony and unity among different communities that call the country home.

He said Malaysians of other faiths had joined hands with the Muslims to foster understanding and acceptance, which in turn allowed the country to grow into a successful Islamic nation.

"This is what so special about our country, which we have built together. This is why, when we celebrate Ramadan, we must not forget the major challenges faced by Muslims the world over.

"Muslims are faced with threats to their security and unity, their lives and happiness. Muslims (in Malaysia) should always be grateful for the grace God has granted us all this while," he said.

Meanwhile, residents and visitors to the festival in Putrajaya will have a full 29 days to enjoy the mouth-watering spread of food and bargain buys in preparation for Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Located along Kiblat Walk between the Putrajaya Corporation building and the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin mosque, nearly 300 stalls sell everything from grilled chicken to clothing and goods straight from the factory.

The festival ends on Aug 7 and is expected to be made into an annual event.

Kuala Besut: PAS hopes to overturn BN's large winning margin


BESUT: PAS is hoping voters will return to the party and deliver a win in the upcoming Kuala Besut by-election.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said the party won the state seat several times, with the last one in 1999 thus it was not impossible for it to happen again.

"I am confident the people of Kuala Besut will make the right decision in choosing our candidate

"The seat is crucial to determine PAS takes over the state government," he said.

A newcomer to politics, Azlan @ Endut Yusof, 48, is optimistic of his chances in the by-election to be held on July 24.

"Whenever one goes into a contest, confidence is half of the battle.

"God willing, we (PAS) can win this for the sake of the people," said Azlan, whose business is based in Kota Baru.

The father of six children said his campaign motto is "Sedia Berkhidmat" (Ready to Serve).

The Besut PAS treasurer, who hails from Kampung Baru here, is popularly known as Che Long among the locals.

Azlan said he was grateful for the party leadership for giving him a chance to serve the people.

"The support of my wife Zabiah Mohammad is also instrumental in my decision to accept the candidacy," he said.

Meanwhile PAS by-election director Datuk Husam Musa said the selection of Azlan was based on the party's grassroots sentiments.

"We are confident he will be accepted by the people.

"I feel a win ( in the by-election) will lead to a more interesting political scenario in the state, whereby the number of state seats will be tied at 16-16." he said.

Two suspected carjackers crash in attempt to escape police


JOHOR BAHARU: Two suspected carjackers were injured in a bid to escape from the police when the car they were in skidded and crashed in Skudai Kiri here Wednesday.

The Proton Satria car was reduced to a wreck at a road-shoulder, following a 15-minute chase at about 4.50pm.

Johor Baharu Utara police chief ACP Ruslan Hassan said the duo, in their late 30s, were detained and sent to the Sultanah Aminah Hospital.

"Our initial investigations revealed the vehicle was reported stolen in Majidee in 2011, and the duo are suspected to be car thieves," he said. - Bernama
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Until I Say Goodbye


WHAT would you do if you had only one year left to live?

It's a frightening question. But it was a question that journalist Susan Spencer-Wendel was forced to ask herself when she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) at 44 years old.

Spencer-Wendel was told her health would slowly deteriorate, leading to her inevitable death. Lou Gehrig's disease is irreversible, systematically destroying the nerves powering your muscles, resulting in every movement being difficult and painful.

It would have been understandable to despair. But Spencer-Wendel refused to give up. Quitting her job, the courageous woman decided to spend that last year the way she chose: spending time with her loved ones, discovering her roots, and seeing the world.

Until I Say Goodbye is the bittersweet story of Spencer-Wendel's last year of good health. Profound, moving and inspiring, the book is a poignant reminder of life's ephemerality, and of never taking anything for granted.

Spencer-Wendel worked as a court reporter for twenty years before her illness. She wrote her book on an iPhone – unable to walk or even lift her arms due to the disease, she tapped out her story letter by letter with her right thumb, the last finger she had working.

Until I Say Goodbye is the fulfillment of her final wish: "To make people laugh and cry and hug their children and joke with their friends and dwell in how wonderful it is to be alive."

Spencer-Wendel describes how she took seven trips with the seven most important people in her life, journeying to Hungary, Cyprus, and the Bahamas, among other places. While her travel accounts are delightful, the narrative is most magical when the author expresses her feelings about her companions.

"That's our thing. I realize now," she writes about a cruise she takes with her sister. "Something special between the two of us. The thing fully realized on that trip. Not travelling. Not adventure. But being there for one another, so that we may unburden our hearts. Uncrowd our minds. And hear what our souls are saying."

Family is clearly important to the author; much of her last year is spent bonding with her husband, John, and three children. An adopted child, Spencer-Wendel also manages to track down her family, resulting in several whimsical chapters of reunions and reminiscing in her birth country of Cyprus.

Indeed, certain parts of this story are rather rib-tickling. What is amazing is how well Spencer-Wendel blends honesty and humour, speaking frankly about the pains of her condition, while consistently remaining upbeat.

The most poignant part of the story, however, is undoubtedly when Spencer-Wendel takes her 14-year-old daughter Marina to Kleinfeld's bridal shop in New York, so the author can see her in a wedding dress.

"I simply wanted to make a memory," she writes. "I wanted to see my beautiful daughter on her wedding day. I wanted to glimpse the woman she would be. Maybe I would cry. Mothers cry, right? But I knew I would laugh, too. Because I would be with my Marina. I would be imagining her happy."

Until I Say Goodbye is not a fairytale adventure; there are parts of the story where Spencer-Wendel's plans go awry, once even failing completely. What is inspiring, however, is that at no point is the author bitter about any of these snags, always choosing to look on the bright side of things.

And perhaps that is the main theme of the book. Nothing goes according to plan. Life is an ocean with an ever-changing tide, and no matter how much we struggle, it often overwhelms us, carrying us to strange shores we do not expect.

The trick however, is in enjoying the dip.

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Stepping stone for filmmakers


Tropfest, the South East Asian edition, will be held in Malaysia.

TROPFEST, the world's largest short film festival and competition, will now be a regular feature in Malaysia. This country, Penang in particular, has been chosen to host Tropfest for the South East Asia region.

Not only that, Tropfest will also be partnering with Malaysia Major Events, a division of the Malaysia Convention And Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) under the Tourism And Culture Ministry.

According to Zulkefli Hj Sharif, CEO of MyCEB, the festival and competition is expected to draw 10,000 attendees, with 2,250 international tourists within that number.

"We looked at how Tropfest, as the largest short film festival in the world, could bring tourists into the country," said Tony Nagamiah, general manager of Malaysia Major Events. "From our point of view, we see that it could increase tourism revenues. Because it is not held anywhere else in South East Asia, it is exclusive to us, and it definitely has an appeal for international tourists. Secondly, it is about making Malaysia a hub for entertainment. And it is also opening up opportunities for local filmmakers."

Joe Sidek, managing director of Tropfest SEA, who is also the director of the George Town Festival in Penang, said the George Town Festival was instrumental in convincing the people behind Tropfest to hold the South East Asian edition here. Australian film director John Polson, founder of Tropfest, told Joe he had been following the George Town Festival.

Polson started out as an actor and had been in the Australian TV movie Dadah Is Death, in which he played one of two teenagers who were arrested for carrying drugs at the Penang airport in 1983. So, for Polson, even after so many years, Penang immediately caught his attention.

"My direction for the George Town Festival is, I want art and culture to be accessible," said Joe. "You do not have to be rich or cultured or belong to a social class. Even for films. Why should you be clever or rich to like films? My mission is about people. Tropfest has a similar mission. It's about being accessible. Films for everyone. You don't have to have studied filmmaking, you only have to brave it and try."

Polson started the Tropicana Film Festival (as it was originally called because it was held at the Tropicana Cafe in Sydney) 20 years ago as an informal screening for cast, crew and friends. But as time went on, the attendance grew and Tropfest became a major event, drawing hundreds of thousands from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United States and New Zealand. Today, it is also often graced by the presence of major stars such as Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe.

Michael Laverty, international managing director of Tropfest, thinks the Malaysian film industry and its Australian counterpart are facing a similar situation.

"Particularly for Australia, we are not a very big population, so it's very difficult to make an Australian film and have big box-office figures," said Laverty. "What Tropfest can do is give filmmakers a stepping stone, so they can use it as an entrance. In fact, our 2012 winner, Alethea Jones, has got a feature project now in the US. Hence, if you do well at Tropfest, it's like a calling card."

He stressed that strong ideas are what the Tropfest judges look for in a short film. And of course, good acting.

"Now, with DSLR and new cameras that cost like, a thousand or three thousand dollars, production values are getting higher and higher," said Laverty. "But we've always said that it's not about the budget. We've had films that won Tropfest that were made for less than US$52 (RM165). It's crazy."

The competition is open to all residents of South East Asia. The best entry will be awarded US$10,000 (RM31,658) and the winner will go on a five-day film industry immersion trip to Los Angeles, California, sponsored by the Motion Picture Association Of America. Entry deadline is Oct 28, 2013. A fee of RM50 for each film entry is incurred, which will be waived for the first 20 submissions from each country. The festival will be held in Penang in January next year, and admission to the celebration of short films and music will be free. For further information, visit www.tropfest.com/sea.

Somebody save me (and us)


Is an endless, insanely expensive parade of semi-fascist bores (read: superheroes) strangling the film industry? Do we need saving from the heroes?

TWENTY years ago, after appearing in two phenomenally successful, visually opulent and generally brilliant Batman movies, Michael Keaton decided he didn't want to make any more Caped Crusader films. So he walked away. It was a disastrous move that effectively ended Keaton's career as a leading man, the actor learning the hard way that the only unforgivable crime in Hollywood is to walk away from a phenomenally successful franchise.

The next two Batman films starred Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Batman Forever was not very good and Batman & Robin was terrible. And for the next few years, Batman dropped out of the global conversation.

This was good because it gave society a breather. The Dark Knight thing was played out: the excitement moviegoers felt when Tim Burton made the first Batman film had evaporated under the tutelage of Joel Schumacher. In retrospect, Keaton's catastrophic decision to walk away now seems heroic, because he was the last actor to go through a script, take a cold, hard look at the superhero genre and say: "Enough. These films are starting to suck."

Today's superhero films have not yet reached the point where they flat-out suck. But they are getting there. Iron Man 2 was a huge disappointment, The Avengers an aimless hodgepodge and The Dark Knight Rises a pretentious, incoherent mess. And now, we have yet another Superman movie, Man Of Steel.

Those of us who would like to see an end – or at least an extended pause – to the hegemony of superhero films would be very pleased if Robert Downey Jr, Christian Bale and their costumed brethren would make a similarly audacious artistic decision and walk away.

As Steven Soderbergh recently complained, these films are draining the life out of motion pictures, diverting virtually all of the industry's resources into insanely expensive "tentpole" films that supposedly prop up other projects. It is unlikely that any of these actors will make such a courageous decision as Keaton, though: they saw what happened to him, they saw how Sean Connery's career stalled when he quit 007. But it's still okay to dream, isn't it?

This thing is starting to get old. There are too many superhero films; their storylines are all beginning to run together. It is a genre dominated by the thoroughly unoriginal notion that you cannot trust the government. Even when you can trust the government, you cannot trust all of it. And even the branches you can trust aren't much help, because they are incompetent.

To save humanity, one must rely on a bootstrap operation headed by a dedicated go-getter and self-starter. At heart, all superheroes are Republicans.

In superhero movies, women are almost always accessories. This is true even if they themselves are superheroines. The men do the heavy lifting; the women serve an ornamental function. This is why we are all the way up to Iron Man 3 and Batman 7, but have not seen a Supergirl film since 1984, or a Wonder Woman film ever.

The 12-year-old boys for whom superhero movies are chiefly made are not interested in women. They may not even be interested in girls. They are certainly not interested in girls with superpowers.

Breeding neurosis

Superhero films increasingly rely on a structure where the hero thinks he is fighting one villain when he is actually fighting another. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman thinks he is up against the crypto-fascist Bane, when he is actually locked in a deadly struggle with a mysterious fellow philanthropist played by Marion Cotillard. In Iron Man 3, the hero believes he is going toe-to-toe with a terrorist called the Mandarin, when the villain is actually a mad scientist who bears a striking resemblance to the dead but not forgotten US rock star Warren Zevon.

In Thor, the bodacious nordic deity spends most of the movie worrying about a race of tall, antisocial creatures called The Frost Giants of Jotunheim, and does quite a bit of jousting with the testy emissaries of the US Government, when the person he should really be worrying about is his brother, Loki.

In days gone by, a superhero only had to worry about the Joker or the Silver Surfer or Lex Luthor. Now, he has to worry about mysterious philanthropists. No wonder he's so neurotic.

In fact, the rise of superhero movies signals the triumph of the neurotic over the maverick. In the classic Hollywood movie, whether the hero is cop, cowboy, private eye, rebel or drifter, there comes a moment when this solitary, self-sufficient loner faces the bad guys all by himself. The bad guys are usually trying to destroy a ranch, a town, a portion of the high chaparral, or in some extreme cases, a flourishing ethnic group. They are rarely seeking to destroy an entire planet.

These villains have limited aspirations, and the man in the white hat has a limited arsenal of era-appropriate weaponry: a gun, a bow and arrow, a few grenades, maybe even a tank. He does not have any weapons of mass destruction to fall back on, nor any supernatural powers. He has to rely on brains, brawn and guts, nothing else. Sometimes, this is not enough: more often than we would like to think, he ends up like Spartacus or Braveheart.

In the classic superhero movie, the situation is quite different. Here, the bad guys are trying to destroy entire societies, cities or planets, and the good guy is rarely self-sufficient. Instead, somehow or other, he has come into possession of a preternaturally phantasmagoric suit of armour, complete with zany high-tech accoutrements; or a hammer that can call down lightning from the heavens; or extendable fingernails; or laser eyesight; or implausible (and non-steroid-related) abs; or the ability to change shape.

And these superpowers aren't just good news for all the societies, cities and planets that need saving: most superheroes are nerds or geeks or losers or screw-ups or pixies or marooned orphans from deep space who can't get their personal lives functioning properly – until they come into possession of some mystical power or magical weapon.

Nothing in their pitiful lives works out until they are bitten by a spider, or start sporting a remarkable piece of jewellery, or are handed a large, seemingly radioactive hammer by their father.

Waking up awesome

"Being a superhero is a way of working out your personal problems," my 26-year-old son told me when I asked him about the popularity of the genre among his age group and younger. "You're an ordinary person with no special skills – and suddenly, you wake up one day and you're awesome. So, if you're asking me if the superhero genre is going to fade away soon, the answer is no."

You wake up awesome. Not because you did something special like beat Hitler or cure polio. All you did was wake up. And suddenly, you were awesome. It is the dream of the fame-hungry TV talent contest generation.

If movies are a reflection of society's most cherished hopes and deepest fears, then superhero movies perfectly capture the planet's current mood of uncertainty and dread. Today's global economy is a disaster, unemployment is ravaging the economies of both the developed and the developing world, and the threat of terrorism stretches from Kabul to Moscow, from London to Boston.

Superman arrived during a particularly dark time in the world's history, the 1930s, so it is not surprising that the franchise is being rebooted now, with Man Of Steel directed by the prolific action hack Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen). There is no clearer indication that this is a dark time in the world's history than the fact that the director who made the slovenly, inept Watchmen is now getting to reboot Superman. Is nothing sacred? No.

Superhero movies are made for a society that has basically given up. The police can't protect us, the government can't protect us, there are no more charismatic loners to protect us and the euro is near-defunct. Clint Eastwood has left the building. So, let's turn things over to the vigilantes. Superheroes need not obey laws or social conventions; they go where they please and do what they want. They pose simple – usually violent – solutions to complex problems. Superheroes operate in a netherworld just this side of fascism.

Still, it would be a mistake to say that all superhero movies are the same. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies are dark. The Iron Man movies are funny. The Hulk movies are goofy. The X-Men movies are complicated. Captain America was camp, Thor a bit silly, The Avengers sillier still. The Spider-Man movies are closest to conventional movies, placing ordinary people in difficult situations. They also feature a romance that seems quite believable, unlike Iron Man.

Rebooting and rehashing

Although superheroes are archetypal, each succeeding generation of filmgoers demands a more up-to-date hero. And so, each generation gets its own reboot of the Batman/Spider-Man/Superman franchise. One day, there may even be a Daredevil reboot, though hopefully not soon.

The films reflect the values of the decade in which they appear. The Batman movies of the 1990s were camp and jokey; the Dark Knight movies, appearing a decade later, were not. The Superman movies of the 1970s were over the top, like the comic books they were based on – it was, after all, the era of Nixon, Ford and Carter, clowns to a man.

Iron Man, a more recent creation, is recognisable as a sneering, insincere slacker: nothing heartfelt ever passes through his lips; the very thought of saying something honest and authentic would mortify him. You cannot imagine Iron Man talking like Batman, Wolverine or even Thor. He is the superhero as wise guy. He is Ironyman.

One thing that is puzzling about modern-day superhero movies is that the skill set of the individual hero is often poorly defined. I am not sure what it would take to put Iron Man out of commission. I have not been able to figure out whether the Dark Knight can actually fly: he certainly seems light on his feet. And I have no idea what powers Thor possesses. I know that his hammer has miraculous potencies, but I am still not sure precisely how miraculous they are. I have no idea what it would take to kill Thor; nor for that matter does Loki. In films featuring Dracula, Tony Montana, Orcs or even Achilles, the parameters are more clearly drawn.

The most interesting thing about the popularity of superhero movies is that they are insanely expensive to make, yet they spring from a plebian, populist artform. Comic books, at least until recently, were cheap. They were beautifully drawn and exciting, but they were still basically cheap. That was the point.

Movies are not cheap, especially not in 3D. Comic book heroes, like football players, have lost all contact with their proletarian roots.

Some people will read all this and say: "You're over-intellectualising. You're reading too much into it."

This may be true. But these charges are always made by people who never over-intellectualise anything, who never read too much into things. They are made by people who want you to take the X-Men seriously, as legitimate fiction. And then, when you do, they say that you are over-intellectualising.

After all, they say, it's only a movie. That's exactly right. It's only a movie. But it's the same movie – over and over and over again. – Guardian News & Media

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