Selasa, 3 September 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Church gave direction to Xtron, says businessman


AN Indonesian businessman who helped financed pastor-singer Ho Yeow Sun's music career said City Harvest Church leaders provided the "vision" for a firm accused of helping them to misuse church funds.

Wahju Hanafi (pic) was the director of production company Xtron Productions, which managed Ho from 2003 to 2008. He said in court of Xtron: "The vision comes from the church... They might tell us, what is their plan, when is the next concert (for Ms Ho), and then we see if we have enough finances to do what they want to do. Xtron is basically just like a financier."

However, he said he and his fellow Xtron directors made decisions on the firm's matters such as staff employment, even if various church members were shown in e-mails and minutes of meetings discussing such decisions without him.

"They can plan behind my back but the decision will still come down to me and (fellow director Choong) Kar Weng," he said when shown minutes of a meeting at which several of the accused church leaders discussed – in his absence – who should manage Xtron.

The state has been trying to show that Xtron was nothing more than a puppet for six church leaders accused of misuse of church funds.

City Harvest founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies were charged last year with misappropriating about S$50mil (RM125mil) to finance the career of Ho – who is Kong's wife – and to cover this up.

They allegedly used Xtron and another company to do this. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Minister: Criticise but don't sling mud


AS Singaporeans become more politically engaged, they should feel free to discuss politics and even criticise ministers and policies, provided they do not make spurious allegations they cannot substantiate, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Responding to law students' questions about Singapore laws and their impact on free speech at a dialogue organised by students from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, Shanmugam signalled that the government was not about to soften its stance on defamation laws, even as he said the laws do not curtail political discussion.

Defamation laws, he said, are not there to stop people from criticising the government, but exist to protect personal reputations.

"If you make a personal allegation of fact, if you say I took money, I am corrupt, I will then sue you and ask you to prove it.

"But if you say I am a stupid fool who doesn't know what I'm talking about, and the government comprises ministers who don't know what they're talking about and you criticise every policy of the government, no one can sue you," he said.

"By all means challenge my competence, by all means challenge my policies, by all means put forward alternate policies. By all means argue it, no problem. That's not defamation."

For public debate to be honest and meaningful, he added, political discussions should not descend into mudslinging.

Admitting that defamation laws do impact free speech though, Shanmugam said they have to be balanced against protecting people's reputations.

During the two-hour question and answer session, Shanmugam, who is also the Foreign Minister, was asked about the government's responsiveness to popular opinion.

He observed that the government governs by popular mandate and so has to be responsive to popular opinion, but it cannot afford to be populist in order to win elections. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

BMW Shorties is back


Calling all budding filmmakers! Here's a chance to show off your short films and win a grant.

One of Malaysia's most prestigious short film competitions is back!

This year's BMW Shorties competition, which is now in its seventh year, was launched yesterday with the theme "Inspiration".

Similar to previous years, winners stand a chance to win film grants of up to RM75,000.

The panel of judges this year include commercial filmmaker Lina Tan, feature film producer Nandita Solomon, actress Sharifah Amani, film editor Wong Hui Lynn and director Sharad Sharan.

Other awards include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Editing and Best Sound Engineering and the People's Choice Award.

Chief executive officer of BMW Group Malaysia Dr Gerhard Pils said, "We see Inspiration as a guiding principle in innovation and design as it enables us to bring life to our imaginations."

The event launch was in conjunction with the premiere of Pizza, the winning film from last year's competition, by Dick Chua. Pizza is based on a real-life kidnapping case that took place many years ago. Chua, 30, who hails from Kelantan, thanked his parents for allowing him to venture into the film industry after the premiere of his movie.

Deadline for submission of entries is Oct 31, 2013. For more information, visit

JJ Abrams works on a classic


The Star Trek and Star Wars VII director is set to recreate the robots of Westworld for HBO.              

The director of Star Wars VII, JJ Abrams, is working on an adaptation of a 1973 science fiction film directed by Michael Crichton.

In his first collaboration with HBO, Abrams will provide a modern take on Michael Crichton's Westworld. The original film is set in a futuristic theme park, where a cast of androids allows visitors to take a virtual trip to the time and place of their choosing.

For two friends and businessmen who visit the park and travel to the Far West, a fun day out turns into a nightmare when a technical malfunction allows the machines to take control.

Written and directed by Crichton, the film starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Dick Van Patten. The upcoming adaptation will be written and created by Jonathan Nolan, who created the CBS series Person Of Interest – produced by Abrams – and who wrote the screenplay for the last two Batman films directed by his brother, Christopher Nolan.

Abrams seems to have taken up a particular fascination with robots this season, having produced Almost Human, a series on a joint force of robots and police officers, which will air in the US on FOX from Nov 5.

In addition to new seasons of Person Of Interest and Revolution, the former Lost producer will present Believe in 2014 on NBC.

TV audiences are familiar with the work of Michael Crichton, who created the long-running series E.R. The writer and director also penned the novel that inspired Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. — AFP Relaxnews


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Moving to the small screen


ROBERT Rodriguez's (pic) first film will be adapted into a TV series.

For the time being, the made-for-TV version of El Mariachi is destined for Latin American markets.

Sony Pictures Television is teaming up with Teleset, a Colombian production company, to adapt the American director's first film, which launched his career in the early 1990s.

Filmed in Spanish on a very small budget, El Mariachi is set in a small Mexican village where a mariachi player comes looking for work.

A local crook's henchmen mistake the musician for their former partner, who they think has come back for revenge.

Sony Entertainment Television has ordered 70 episodes of the TV series, which will be filmed in Spanish, with Ivan Arana in the title role.

Known in Mexico for his role in the series Soy tu fan, the actor will play Martin Aguirre, a musician who stands up to the local drug cartels.

Robert Rodriguez is currently working on the TV adaptation of his film From Dusk Till Dawn for El Rey Network, the channel he will launch in 2014.

In the meantime, the director will present his latest film, Machete Kills, which arrives in theatres this fall. – AFP Relaxnews

Pop goes Montgomery


The affable Poppy Montgomery is one actress who gives memorable performances time and again.

WHILE Unforgettable actress Poppy Montgomery doesn't share her character's unique ability to remember every single detail of every single moment of her life, she does make it hard for audiences to forget her.

There is just something about her freckled face, pouty lips, cascading hair, toned figure and husky voice that stay in our minds.

This would also explain why – like any good actresses in demand – she has been a constant on our small screen for more than a decade.

For seven years, we knew her as the super serious FBI agent Samantha Spade on Without A Trace.

In her years as a TV actress as well, she has portrayed two other unforgettable characters – in the 2001 miniseries Blonde, she played Marilyn Monroe and in the 2011 TV movie, Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story, she was in the shoes of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Currently, Montgomery stars in another procedural, Unforgettable.

Her character on the show – Carrie Wells – is a former police detective who becomes a consultant with the New York Police Department thanks to her amazing memory.

Forget about snapping photos at a crime scene to record everything, because Carrie can do this so much better – anything she sees, even the smallest detail stays in her head forever, allowing her to revisit the moment in her mind, anytime she wants. Neat ability.

As Carrie, the 38-year-old Australian wears her hair flaming red (Montgomery's natural hair colour is red, but a shade less striking than Carrie's) and is often attired in simple yet sexy outfits.

Besides looking the part, Montgomery also read the book The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story Of Living With The Most Remarkable Memory Known To Science – A Memoir by Jill Price, as research.

She also watched the 60 Minutes documentary titled Superior Autobiographical Memory featuring actress Marilu Henner (Taxi) – who is one of the six people in the United States with this ability called Hyperthymesia.

Henner now serves as the series' consultant and guest stars as Carrie's free-spirited aunt.

Montgomery, the mother of two children, is currently filming the second season of Unforgettable in New York.

Here, the Los Angeles resident takes time to answer some of our questions via e-mail.

What attracted you to this character?

I love Carrie for a number of reasons – she's smart, she's tough, she's got so many layers and dimensions. I kind of fancy her as a modern-day superhero!

You played an FBI agent on Without A Trace for seven seasons. Did you have any initial doubt when the role of Carrie was offered to you?

Absolutely. I was conscious about going from one procedural to another, but the concept of the show was so fun, and the character really drew me in. I knew I could make her completely different from (Without A Trace's) Samantha Spade.

The look Carrie has is not your typical detective look. Was that a conscious decision?

Oh yes! There has been a lot of collaboration with the wardrobe department, and I have had a lot of say in Carrie's overall "look." I wanted her to be tough and sexy – and a little bit of a rebel. She sort of defies the system, by refusing to wear a uniform (and it means that I have a lot more fun getting dressed for work!).

Since you started playing this character, have you consciously tried to develop your memory skills? What do you do and how is that coming along?

Horribly! Especially after having a baby. I really do think there is a condition called "Pregnancy Brain," where you just forget things! I will say I am a diligent schedule keeper, and I update my calendar with every little thing, so I can prevent anything from falling through the cracks.

How do you think you would cope if you had Carrie's ability?

Truthfully, I think it would be very difficult. I could imagine carrying a lot of anger – if anyone ever did or said anything unkind to me. There is a lot to be said about the human ability to forgive and forget!

Carrie's mother is suffering from Alzheimer's, that's like the polar opposite to how Carrie is. Is there a purpose for the introduction of this?

It's really the ultimate irony for Carrie – that her mother is suffering from Alzheimer's. I think it's a gentle reminder to Carrie that not everything is in her control. It's also a reminder to cherish moments with the important people in her life.

I read that you like doing stunts. Can you tell us some of the stuff you'd like to do on the show and where this love for physicality comes from?

I love doing stunts! It forces me to push the boundaries, and gives me extra motivation to work my butt off in the gym. For stunts, I need to be strong and in great physical shape. I love that Carrie is chasing down suspects while wearing four-inch heels. I would love to learn how to ride a motorcycle, and have a fast and furious chase while riding on the back of a bike! I just got a motorcycle (a Harley) for my boyfriend Shawn (Sanford). I think they're sexy.

At the end of Season One, you were told that Unforgettable was cancelled, only to have it renewed later. How did you react to both the news?

I was shocked! I had made peace with the idea that the show was cancelled, and I got pregnant! And then – SURPRISE! – it was coming back! I was very excited to pick up the storyline though, because I adore playing Carrie.

What is it like filming in New York?

I am in love with this city! It's so much fun to film here – everything is so alive and full of character. I think the city brings a whole separate dimension to the show.

You had great chemistry with Anthony LaPaglia on Without A Trace. And now, you have great chemistry with Dylan Walsh. What is your secret?

Haha, I have this special perfume…(teasing). I don't know if I have a great secret – I just genuinely have lucked out in the co-star department. Both Anthony and Dylan are the consummate professionals, and just all-round amazing guys! I love working with Dylan – he is sexy, smart and cool!

 Unforgettable airs every Monday at 9pm on Lifetime (Astro Channel 709).

Life after Friends


For a decade, they were our best friends on television. It is time to get reacquainted with our pals from Central Perk.

FRIENDS left an indelible mark in sitcom history during its 10-year run on the small screen.

Now, nine years after the show ended, we find out what the friends have been up to. It appears that life outside the walls of Central Perk coffeehouse hasn't exactly been rosy for the world's most famous group of friends.

Matthew Perry

Who would have thought that the bubbly man who played the sarcastic and witty Chandler Bing had a dark secret? Earlier this year, Perry opened up to People magazine and revealed that he was abusing alcohol and drugs during Friends' successful run.

Matthew Perry post Friends.

Now clean and sober at 43, Perry is still very much active in the acting circle. However, the man's spending most of his time these days advocating drug courts where non-violent drug offenders are given a chance to be rehabilitated through treatment (as opposed to serving jail time).

After Friends ended, Perry went on to star in The Ron Clark Story which garnered him a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for his performance. Perry's last big outing on the big screen was with Zac Efron in 2009's 17 Again.

His latest show, Go On, was cancelled after just one season. The series suffered a similar fate to his 2011 series Mr Sunshine, which got axed after nine episodes.

David Schwimmer

Unfortunately for David Schwimmer, his acting career has been stuck in second gear after the end of Friends. After the series finale in 2004, Schwimmer played the titular character in 2005's Duane Hopwood. The film was featured in the Sundance Film Festival.

Other notable film roles include the dark comedy Big Nothing and the thriller Nothing But The Truth. His big-screen break came with a voice role in the animated movie Madagascar franchise where he played Melman the giraffe.

David Schwimmer post Friends.

In recent years though, the actor has been honing his live-theatre acting skills. He made his London stage debut in 2006 with the leading role in Some Girls and, in 2006, his Broadway debut in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.

Apart from that, he also had a guest appearance on several TV shows such as 30 Rock and Entourage.

He's also stepped behind the camera to direct a handful of indie films such as Run Fatboy Run and Trust.

Matt LeBlanc

Immediately after the end of Friends, Matt LeBlanc sought to prolong the screen time of his character Joey Tribbiani in the ill-fated spin-off Joey. The show was cancelled after just one season in 2006.

Four years later, LeBlanc might have just found another recipe for success with Episodes, a new comedy series created by one of the producers of Friends. In Episodes, the now 46-year-old actor plays a fictionalised version of himself.

Matt LeBlanc post Friends.

While the critics' responses to Episodes have been mixed, LeBlanc's stint on the series nabbed him a Best Actor win at the 2012's Golden Globes Award and several Emmy nominations.

On the personal front, though, things haven't exactly been rosy for the actor. His marriage to British model Melissa McKnight failed around the same time that Joey did. LeBlanc also made tabloid headlines after he admitted to groping a stripper at a Canadian nightclub.

Jennifer Aniston

There's no doubt that she's the most high-profiled "friend" on the show. After ending her run as fashion enthusiast Rachel Green, the actress continues to make appearances on the big screen and on the pages of tabloids and magazines.

On the professional front, the response to Aniston's film career has been mixed. Her filmography includes Rumor Has It ..., Friends With Money and He's Just Not That Into You where she usually takes on the girl-next-door role. The Break-Up was a commercial success. Despite being panned by critics, the film grossed over US$203mil (RM677mil) worldwide. Aniston managed to silence the critics when she played the man-eating Dr Julia Harris in Horrible Bosses.

While she found professional success, the same can't be said about Aniston's love life. The whole Brangelina issue aside, Aniston has been linked to men such as Vince Vaughn and John Mayer. Both relationships were heavily scrutinised by the media. The actress is currently engaged to actor Justin Theroux whom she met on the set of Wanderlust.

But if anything, Aniston has lasting star power as evident from her appearance on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list (based on "earnings and fame") every year since 2011.

Courteney Cox

Family was the sole focus of Courteney Cox following the series finale of Friends. Cox had been trying for so long to conceive and when she was finally pregnant with daughter Coco, she had to decline the role of Susan Mayer (which went to Teri Hatcher) in Desperate Housewives.

The actress bounced back to TV a few years later when she played a tabloid editor in the comedy series Dirt. The show was cancelled after two seasons due to low ratings. More heartbreak ensued when Cox separated from her husband David Arquette in 2010.

Cox didn't take long to make another break on television, though. The actress is currently playing the role of a divorced real estate agent who's jumping right back on the romance wagon in her 40s in Cougar Town.Courteney Cox post Friends.

While Cougar Town has been a fan favourite, the ratings for the show have not been particularly favourable.

Cox also managed to clinch some screen time in the Scream horror movie franchise.

Lisa Kudrow

Everybody loves Phoebe, the quirkiest of the gang. Post-Friends, Lisa Kudrow embarked on a variety of projects for the small and big screens, and even online.

Lisa Kudrow after Friends.

Kudrow dabbled in a number of indie films, but it was comedy that eventually put her back on the map.

In The Comeback, Kudrow stars as Valerie Cherish, an insecure and desperate actor. She scored an Emmy nomination but the show was cancelled after only 13 episodes, much to the chagrin of fans.

Kudrow later won acclaim for her improvised online series Web Therapy, but the transition of the series to the small screen was greeted with a somewhat lukewarm response. Apart from that, Kudrow has also appeared in a string of movies from PS I Love You to the hit comedy Easy A.

That said, Kudrow's most notable work would have to be as executive producer for the US instalment of the British genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? Kudrow traced back her family tree during the first season of the show.

Up next, Kudrow is set to guest-star in the hit series, Scandal.


The Star Online: World Updates

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U.S. Senate panel reaches deal on military authorization for Syria


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they reached an agreement on Tuesday on a draft authorization for the use of military force in Syria that was much narrower than the request made by President Barack Obama, paving the way for a vote by the committee on Wednesday.

Among other provisions, the draft, which was obtained by Reuters, sets a 60-day limit on U.S. military action in Syria, with a possibility of a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.

Obama is asking Congress to back his call for limited U.S. strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians during a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

The compromise deal reached by Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican, includes a provision banning any use of U.S. armed forces on the ground in Syria, according to the draft document.

It requires Obama to consult with Congress and submit to the Senate and House of Representatives foreign relations panel a strategy for negotiating a political settlement to the Syria conflict, including a review of all forms of assistance to the rebels fighting to oust Assad.

This is a provision requested by several senators, including the influential Republican John McCain.

If Obama wants to extend the authorization, he can request a single 30-day extension if he certifies to Congress, no later than five days before the authorization terminates, that an extension is necessary, and if Congress does not pass a resolution disapproving the extension.

"Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the president the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime's criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorization is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria," Menendez said in a statement.

If the draft is approved by the committee on Wednesday, it will be sent to the full Senate for a vote after members return on September 9 from their August recess.

The House of Representatives must also pass its own version of the military authorization and the two must be reconciled before they can be submitted for Obama's signature.

The House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on Syria at noon on Wednesday. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will all testify.

The three testified at a similar hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Kerry opens door to 'boots on ground' in Syria, then slams it shut


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry briefly opened the door on Tuesday to authorizing U.S. ground troops in Syria, but quickly slammed it shut and told Congress that any resolution approving military force would prohibit "boots on the ground."

The exchange during the first public hearing in Congress on possible military action in Syria highlighted the worries of many lawmakers about authorizing U.S. military strikes to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons on civilians.

Kerry initially told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would prefer not to bar the use of ground troops in Syria to preserve President Barack Obama's options if Syria "imploded" or there was a threat of chemical weapons being obtained by extremists.

"I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country," Kerry told the committee.

But when Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the committee, told Kerry he "didn't find that a very appropriate response regarding boots on the ground," Kerry quickly, and repeatedly, backtracked.

Kerry said he was simply "thinking out loud" and raising a hypothetical situation, but he did not want to leave the door open to sending ground troops to Syria.

"Let's shut the door now," Kerry said. "The answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress or the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war."

The exchange came as Kerry, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Capitol Hill as part of the administration's push to persuade Congress to back Obama's plan to launch limited strikes on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons last month.

Obama has asked Congress, which does not return in full from summer recess until next week, to authorize action in response to what the administration says was a sarin gas attack by the Syrian government that killed more than 1,400 people, hundreds of them children, near Damascus on August 21.

Significant opposition to military force remains in Congress, where many lawmakers, including Obama's fellow Democrats, have said they are concerned the president's draft resolution is too open-ended and allow possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed Obama has failed to convince most Americans of the need for a military strike in Syria. Some 56 percent of those surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria, while only 19 percent favoured action, the online poll found.

The hearing was interrupted several times by shouting protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink who were escorted away by Capitol police.


"I don't think there are any of us here that are willing to support the possibility of having combat boots on the ground," Corker said.

The resolution proposed by the administration authorizes Obama to use military force as necessary to "prevent or deter the use or proliferation" to or from Syria of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons

One of the leading hawks on Syria in Obama's cabinet, Kerry assured lawmakers it would be easy to word a resolution on military force to reassure Congress and the public that the door in Syria was not open to ground troops.

But Kerry also urged senators not to limit U.S. authority to strike Syria to "one specific moment," saying the military had follow-on strike options should Syria's government use chemical weapons again.

Senators Robert Menendez and Corker, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee, announced late on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on a draft resolution authorizing force, paving the way for a committee vote on Wednesday.

Among other things, the resolution sets a 60-day time limit for any engagement and bars the use of U.S. armed forces on the ground in Syria for combat operations.

Two members of the House of Representatives, Democrats Gerald Connolly and Chris van Hollen, offered their own version of the legislation, which would also prohibit U.S. "boots on the ground" and limit any engagement to 60 days.

The House must pass its own version of the authorization for the use of military force and the Senate and House versions must be reconciled before Obama can sign it.

During their appearance, Kerry and Hagel told the committee that any military operation would be limited and specifically designed to degrade President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons capability.

Hagel added that a failure to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons would damage U.S. national security interests and American credibility.

"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said. "The word of the United States must mean something."

As Kerry and Hagel pressed their case for limited military strikes in Syria, Obama won support for action from two top Republicans in the House of Representatives - Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

"Only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behaviour is not going to be tolerated," Boehner told reporters. "I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action."

Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey are due to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Susan Heavey, Vicki Allen, Arshad Mohammed, Phil Stewart, Tom Ferraro, David Lawder, Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Alistair Bell and Philip Barbara)

Fukushima radiation readings hit new high near contaminated tanks


TOKYO (Reuters) - Radiation readings around tanks holding contaminated water at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have spiked more than 20 percent to their highest level, Japan's nuclear regulator said, again raising questions about the clean-up of the worst atomic disaster in 27 years.

Readings just above the ground near a set of tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant showed radiation as high as 2,200 millisieverts (mSv), the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said on Wednesday. The previous high in areas holding the tanks, 1,800 mSv, was recorded on Saturday.

Both levels would be enough to kill an unprotected person within hours. The NRA has said the recently discovered hotspots are highly concentrated and easily shielded.

The tanks sit on a hill above the Pacific Ocean at the Fukushima plant, which was devastated by a tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in March 2011, triggering the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier.

The disaster created fuel-rod meltdowns at three reactors, radioactive contamination of the air, sea and food and resulted in the evacuation of 160,000 people in the area, north of Tokyo.

The rising radiation levels and leaks at the plant have prompted international alarm and the Japanese government said on Tuesday it would step in with almost $500 million (321.2 million pounds) of funding to fix the growing levels of contaminated water at the plant.

The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, also known as Tepco, said last month water from one of hundreds of hastily built tanks was leaking.

The NRA later raised the severity of the leak from a level 1 "anomaly" to a level 3 "serious incident" on an international scale for radiation releases.

Tepco, Japan's biggest utility, has been criticised for a series of mishaps including its admission, after repeated denials, that contaminated water was flowing into the Pacific from another area of the plant.

That was followed by the leaks from above-ground tanks used to store contaminated water after its is flushed over the melted uranium fuel rods to keep them cool.

Tepco said on Wednesday the new readings taken at the plant were not related to a 6.9 magnitude earthquake off southern Japan.

(Editing by Paul Tait)


The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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JJ Abrams works on a classic


The Star Trek and Star Wars VII director is set to recreate the robots of Westworld for HBO.              

The director of Star Wars VII, JJ Abrams, is working on an adaptation of a 1973 science fiction film directed by Michael Crichton.

In his first collaboration with HBO, Abrams will provide a modern take on Michael Crichton's Westworld. The original film is set in a futuristic theme park, where a cast of androids allows visitors to take a virtual trip to the time and place of their choosing.

For two friends and businessmen who visit the park and travel to the Far West, a fun day out turns into a nightmare when a technical malfunction allows the machines to take control.

Written and directed by Crichton, the film starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Dick Van Patten. The upcoming adaptation will be written and created by Jonathan Nolan, who created the CBS series Person Of Interest – produced by Abrams – and who wrote the screenplay for the last two Batman films directed by his brother, Christopher Nolan.

Abrams seems to have taken up a particular fascination with robots this season, having produced Almost Human, a series on a joint force of robots and police officers, which will air in the US on FOX from Nov 5.

In addition to new seasons of Person Of Interest and Revolution, the former Lost producer will present Believe in 2014 on NBC.

TV audiences are familiar with the work of Michael Crichton, who created the long-running series E.R. The writer and director also penned the novel that inspired Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. — AFP Relaxnews


The Star Online: Business

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KLCI slips in early Wednesday trade, Tenaga down


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's FBM KLCI fell in early Wednesday trade on concerns about a US military action against Syria, mirroring the cautious key Asian markets.

At 9.03am, the KLCI was down 0.34 of a point to 1,723.87. Turnover was 53.21 million shares valued at RM19.29mil. There were 70 gainers, 46 losers and 100 counters unchanged.

BIMB Securities Research said although foreign funds outflow have had receded somewhat, it feared they may be waiting for the local bourse to go higher before initiating another wave of selling. 

"Yesterday, we saw another RM181mil worth of foreign net outflow and was surprised by the uptrend. We expect the index to consolidate today at around the 1,720 level," it added.

Tenaga fell 14 sen to RM8.80, giving up about half of the previous day's gains when it advanced on hopes of a tariff hike. 

KL Kepong fell the most, down 20 sen to RM21.20 and Kulim 11 sen to RM3.37. However, PPB Group rose 28 sen to RM13.40 with 100 shares done, Sime Darby and IOI Corp added four sen each to RM9.44 and RM5.41.

Other decliners were UMW, down 14 sen to Rm12.44, Bursa four sen to RM7.36 and Muhibbah three sen to RM7.36.

RUBBER-Tokyo Futures Move Higher As Weaker Yen Boosts


TOKYO: Benchmark TOCOM rubber futures rose to a more than three-month high early on Wednesday as a weaker yen continued to bolster the contract that sets the tone for Southeast Asia tyre grade prices.


* The key Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM) rubber contract for February delivery <0#2JRU:> was up 0.9 percent at 286.9 yen per kg at 0034 GMT, its highest level since May 23. The futures contract settled 2.1 percent higher on Tuesday.

* The U.S. dollar was quoted around 96.55 yen in early Asian trade, with the greenback higher after stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data lifted expectations the U.S. central bank will start scaling back stimulus this month.

* Japan's central bank will consider further monetary easing if the country decides to raise its sales tax as planned to 8 percent from 5 percent in April, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday.

* Top rubber consumer China bought nearby physical cargoes this week to replenish stockpiles, with protests by Thai farmers barely causing a ripple in physical trading, dealers said late on Tuesday.

* For the top stories in rubber market and other news, click , or


* Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average dipped 0.6 percent in early Wednesday trade, as investors took profits after the benchmark closed near a three-week high the previous day.

* The 19-commodity Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index rose 0.6 percent on Tuesday after 11 of the 19 futures markets it tracked ended in positive territory. - Reuters


NEW YORK: Eastman Kodak Co, the photography pioneer which invented the digital camera, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, with plans to continue as a smaller digital imaging company.

The new Kodak will focus on commercial products such as high-speed digital printing technology and printing on flexible packaging for consumer goods.

"You can't imagine how much I have been waiting for this moment ... This is a totally new company," Chief Executive Antonio Perez told reporters.

Kodak, founded in 1880 by George Eastman, was for years synonymous with household cameras and family snapshots. It filed a $6.75 billion bankruptcy in January 2012, weighed down by high pension costs and a years-long delay in embracing digital camera technology.

The new company expects to have $2.5 billion in revenue this year, Perez said.

Kodak once employed more than 60,000 people and was one of the largest employers in Rochester,New York, where it is based. Perez told reporters his most difficult task at the helm of the bankrupt company was dealing with hefty pension costs.

"I would not recommend anyone to file for Chapter 11, but if you have to deal with legacy costs, in my opinion, that's the only way you can do it," Perez said.

The company in April resolved a crucial dispute with its British pension fund, which dropped a $2.8 billion claim against Kodak. The fund also bought the company's personalized imaging and document imagingbusinesses, to be named Kodak Alaris, for $650 million.

The company said it has repaid its debtor-in-possession lenders and will receive about $406 million in new financing.

Perez, in charge since 2005, had been trying to steer the company towards consumer and commercial printers but was unable to stem the cash drain. The company has not posted an annual profit since 2007.

Chief executives are commonly ousted through the bankruptcy process, but Perez remains top boss atKodak, a result he attributed to his ability to do "what I needed to do" during the restructuring.

"When I came here, the previous board ... gave me three tasks - restructure the film business, create a completely new company that would have a future, and ... eliminate or settle the very large legacy costs that we had from the old company," Perez said.

Kodak had hoped to fetch more than $2 billion through its bankruptcy process for about 1,100 patents related to digital imaging, but drew only $525 million for the portfolio, which experts said was a crucial reason it had to sell core businesses and reinvent itself.

"We're not the largest competitor in the market, but we're offering the biggest differentiation in the market," Perez said.- Reuters


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Out of toon with the times?


Hollywood studios can't seem to get enough of animated films, even though they seem to be reaching saturation point with audiences.

WHEN it comes to computer-animated movies, studios seemingly can't get enough of talking animals, planes, cars, monsters, cavemen, snails and little blue creatures who live in mushrooms.

But there are signs that the abundance of animated movies may be nearing a saturation point as family audiences confront a growing number of choices over what they choose to spend their movie dollars on.

"We're all sitting at a very delicate point," said Chris Meledandri, chief executive of Illumination Entertainment, which produced the hit Despicable Me films. "Everybody has been able to survive so far, but as more films are planned, it's inevitable that there will be more acute cannibalisation off each other."

This year will see the wide theatrical release of 11 animated movies – up from six a decade ago – including six studio movies in the summer alone, making it one of the most congested periods ever for computer animated movies.

Turbo was a surprise disappointment at the US boxoffice, but DreamWorks bosses expect it will still be profitable after international takings are counted. 

Turbo was a surprise disappointment at the US boxoffice, but DreamWorks bosses expect it will still be profitable after international takings are counted.

In total, 75 animated movies have been released since 2008, according to, and an additional 13 movies are slated for release in 2014, not counting films released in fewer than 500 theatres.

"There's a huge number of animated films coming out," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office division of "There's no question studios are going to commit huge resources to animation, but I think there's a learning curve about how audiences react to films and how often they are released."

The flood of computer-animated movies is reminiscent of the late 1990s, when Disney blockbusters such as The Lion King spurred others to jump into the business – only to fail with a string of box-office clunkers such as Iron Giant, that led to widespread layoffs.

Most of the recent movies, however, have fared well at the box office, some hugely so. Universal scored a massive hit with Despicable Me 2. Since its release on July 3, the Universal sequel, produced for US$76mil (RM253mil), has raked in more than US$750mil (RM2.5bil), making it the most profitable movie in the studio's history.

Disney also produced a hit with Pixar Animation Studios' Monsters University, which has pulled in more than US$658mil (RM2.2bil) in ticket sales since its release in June.

But there also have been some high-profile stumbles.

DreamWorks Animation, one of the industry leaders, had an unexpected misfire this summer with its computer-animated release Turbo, released just two weeks after Despicable Me 2.

The film made US$21mil (RM70mil) in its opening weekend, less than half what the Glendale studio pulled in for the opening weekend of its prior movie, The Croods. Just five months earlier, DreamWorks took a US$87mil (RM290mil) write-down on its holiday movie Rise Of The Guardians, which helped trigger the first-ever layoffs at DreamWorks this year.

Chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has cited market overcrowding in explaining the weak opening for Turbo.

"We just ran into a perfect storm of way too many movies," Katzenberg recently told analysts. "We've never experienced this level of animation congestion in a period of time."

Katzenberg, however, said he expects Turbo will be profitable because of international ticket sales. Upcoming releases, he noted, won't face such problems next year and in 2015 because they will be spaced further apart from rival animated films.

DreamWorks, Disney and Pixar used to dominate the animation movie industry but now face growing competition from other studios. Sony, Paramount, Universal and Fox, which owns Ice Age creator Blue Sky Studios, each have animation divisions with several movies in the pipeline.

In addition, Warner Bros. announced this year it would return to the animation business, producing one animated feature a year starting in 2014, including an animated movie based on the LEGO toys.

Disney's latest animated release, Planes, had a soft landing at the box office during its opening weekend this month. But the movie, originally intended to go straight to DVD, cost only about US$50mil (RM167mil) to make and the studio already has approved a sequel.

Some of the newer studios have been squeezed by the animation crunch.

Sony had a weaker-than-expected opening for Smurfs 2, a hybrid of live action and animation that earned just US$17.5mil (RM58.3mil) in its opening weekend – less than half what the first Smurfs movie grossed in its opening weekend. Still, the movie has made up ground overseas and the studio expects the film will generate a healthy profit. A sequel is planned for 2015.

Since its launch more than a decade ago, Sony's animation unit has had a mixed track record, with costly misfires such as Arthur Christmas, along with hits such as last year's 3D movie Hotel Transylvania. Next month the unit will release a sequel to the 2009 movie Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.

Some industry veterans say Hollywood may be saturating the market with too many animated movies, with characters and storylines that begin to look too familiar.

"As things go in Hollywood, something is seen as successful and everyone jumps onboard," said Wade Holden, an analyst with research firm SNL Kagan. "When there are more choices and families only have a certain amount of dollars, they're going to throw their money behind one film or the other and that's why we're starting to see some of these big (computer-generated) films miss."

But Holden says the genre is here to stay, noting that animated films typically outperform other types of movies at the box office. In an analysis of average box-office grosses by genre, SNL Kagan found that animation consistently ranked second behind action movies in each of the last five years. Animated movies also are appealing because they generate more revenue from DVD and toy sales than any other genre.

"Despite the fact that some movies fail, overall the animated genre is one of the most consistently performing," said Dergarabedian of "It's been a pretty mighty profit centre. As long as families keep making kids, studios are going to keep making these movies."

Industry pioneer John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney's and Pixar's animation studios, isn't worried about overcrowding.

"The pool is big," Lasseter told the Times in April. "The water's warm. The more the merrier. Some come in and make a bad movie. I like healthy competition. I'd much rather be in a healthy industry than be the only player in a dead industry." – Los Angeles Times / McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Wong Kar Wai, the grand director


The renowned director ventures into new territory with martial arts epic The Grandmaster.

Released in the spring of 2008, My Blueberry Nights was expected to be the big American breakthrough for the esteemed Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar Wai – the first English-language movie from a director whose previous work (In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express, Happy Together, 2046) had earned him an international fan base on the arthouse and film festival circuits.

But despite a starry cast (Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz) and a healthy promotional push by The Weinstein Co, the movie was a critical and commercial failure in the United States, grossing less than US$1mil/RM3.2mil (the film fared much better overseas, earning nearly US$22mil/RM70.4mil).

So, Wong turned his back on Hollywood and went back to his roots. Six years later, he emerged with one of his best films to date.

The Grandmaster is a sweeping epic that uses the life of Ip Man (played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai), the kung fu master who trained Bruce Lee, to recount two tumultuous decades in China's history.

Packed with elaborate, eye-popping fight sequences choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill), The Grandmaster is the most action-intensive film Wong has made. It is also among his most personal. The movie incorporates his recurring theme of romantic longing (Ip has an unspoken, unfulfilled love affair with Gong Er, another martial arts master played by Zhang Ziyi) into a recreation of Japan's invasion of China in 1937 – an event that forever changed the country's culture.

Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung Chiu Wai had to do all the fight scenes in The Grandmaster themselves.

"The Grandmaster was new territory for me, because I knew nothing about martial arts," Wong says. "This is also the first time I've made a film about China in the 1930s. But when I was writing it, I wasn't conscious of the love story elements.

"The immediate attraction between Ip and Gong is more than just man and woman. They are both martial artists. They are more like comrades. When they're forced to say farewell, they're not just saying goodbye to a friend or a lover. They're also saying farewell to an era, which will probably turn out to be the best times of their lives."

Wong spent three years researching The Grandmaster before a single frame was shot. He travelled to various cities in China and Taiwan in the company of martial arts coach Wu Bin (who trained the action-film star Jet Li) and met with a number of masters who shared their philosophies and differing fighting styles. Wong wanted to make sure he got even the smallest details right, because he felt a responsibility to pay homage to a past that was on the verge of being forgotten.

"I didn't want to make a kung fu film," he says. "I wanted to make a film about the history of kung fu. It's a film about that world at that precise time. In the 1930s, people like Ip Man and Gong Er were not typical martial artists. They weren't street-fighters. They came from very wealthy families with their own banners and rituals. That is a class that doesn't exist any more."

The Grandmaster was shot in 22 months over a period of three years, allowing time for the actors to becomes experts in the various schools of kung fu they were representing. Wong insisted that Leung and Zhang perform all their own fighting (no stunt doubles were used), and the action sequences were so elaborate that they would take weeks to film (the opening setpiece, in which Ip fends off hordes of kung fu students under a rainstorm, took a month).

Born in Shanghai in 1956, Wong moved to Hong Kong with his parents when he was seven, and his childhood memories were part of the motivation that led him to make The Grandmaster.

"I grew up on a street where there were several different martial arts schools," he says. "Some of them were from northern China and some from the south. I was curious to know where they all came from and what happened to their past. When you spoke to an established master in Hong Kong, their best stories were all about their younger days.

"The year 1936 was one of the golden years for Chinese martial arts. It was right before the Japanese invasion, and after that happened, all these martial artists wanted to do their part. They had a platform to be noticed and do something other than challenge each other, so they joined forces to help defend their country."

One of the pleasures of The Grandmaster is learning about the multitude of kung fu styles. Ip practiced Wing Chun, which consists of only a few basic but critical moves. Gong was the daughter of a master of Bagua, a more complex form of kung fu that was sometimes referred to as "64 Hands".

"I had to understand the differences between all the various schools so I could film them properly," Wong says. "I spent a lot of time attending demonstrations and meeting martial artists. One master said something to me that I never forgot. He said 'When you go into a fight, it's almost like kissing the other person'. I (asked) what that meant and he said 'First, you have to get close to your opponent. And when you kiss someone, you can feel it throughout your whole body. Your reaction is very concentrated. It's almost like a reflex'. That was his way of describing kung fu."

Wong clearly remembered that description while shooting the face-off between Ip and Gong: In one beautiful, slow-motion shot, the two warriors hover in the air, their faces just inches apart, like two lovers about to embrace. The sensuality of the moment is so subtle that some viewers may not even notice it. And even though the film's third act takes on the dreamy, gorgeous aura that is Wong's trademark, The Grandmaster is categorically an action movie first.

However, some of Wong's stylistic flourishes have been lost. The version of The Grandmaster being released in the United States by The Weinstein Co runs 108 minutes; the cut released in China was 130 minutes.

"We had an obligation to release the film here (the US) under two hours," Wong says. "But I didn't want to just cut and take out entire scenes. The structure of the original version is extremely precise: If you removed certain things, the movie's structure would collapse. So I decided to make a different version for American audiences that tells the story in a more linear way."

Eugene Suen, a Chinese-American filmmaker and producer of the coming drama Abigail Harm, has seen both cuts of The Grandmaster and strongly prefers Wong's original edit, which may still get a DVD release stateside.

"The differences are very noticeable, to the extent that I feel they are different movies," Suen says. "Many of Wong's previous movies dealt with Western preoccupations and a heightened sense of romance, so they could travel the world without any re-editing. This one is a great reappropriation of his prominent themes – the passage of time, unfulfilled love, romantic longing – as a survey of contemporary Chinese history."

Suen also says the references to Bruce Lee in The Grandmaster are much more overt in the US version (including a title card preceding the end credits that spells out the connection). "There are a couple of scenes of Ip Man training his students and there's this little kid there practicing, but there's no strong hint as to who he is," Suen says.

But in the same way Lee helped popularise martial arts movies in the US in the 1970s, his aura may help attract audiences who might have not otherwise noticed The Grandmaster. And this sumptuous, spectacular movie merits attention. — The Miami Herald/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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Sales of mineral water go up by 300% over weekend


PETALING JAYA: Hypermarkets and convenience stores saw a surge of up to 300% in sales of mineral water bottles over the weekend in areas affected by water cuts.

KK Group founder and chairman Datuk Dr Chai Kee Kan said his company, which operates 104 KK Supermarts throughout the country, had not marked up the price of the mineral water bottles despite the surge in demand.

"Within a short period of time, after the announcement of the water cut, most of our hypermarkets went out of stock," he said yesterday. '

"We replenished the stocks from our warehouse in Cheras Jaya."

Dr Chai added that the company had to order additional supply of mineral water bottles to cope with the demand.

"We would like to assure the people that we have enough in our stores. They do not need to rush or panic," he said.

Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd managing director Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin said the firm saw a 250% increase in sales of mineral water bottles over the weekend.

He added that all Mydin outlets in the affected areas had restocked its mineral water supply to ensure that there would be enough for the coming week.

A spokesman for 7-Eleven Malaysia Bhd, however, said they were running low on supply during the weekend.

"However, we have taken several steps to ensure that there is enough mineral water bottles for all consumers," he said.

Restaurants operating in the affected areas, meanwhile, reported huge losses due to the water cuts.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Noorul Hassan Saul Hameed said their outlets here saw profits drop by 40% .

"Some restaurants had to use mineral water for cooking and this is very costly," he said, urging the authorities to focus on resolving the issue instead of "playing the blame game".

Conduct fresh polls, Umno branches told


JELI: Several branches in the Rantau Panjang and Kubang Kerian Umno divisions have been ordered by the party's election committee to hold fresh polls due to conflicts in the branch elections.

Announcing this, Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the delegates' meetings held by the branches failed to adhere to required procedures.

He said the two divisions were placed under the scrutiny of the committee to avoid Umno members in the branches involved from being victimised.

"Umno branches, which have valid complaints, will have to hold their delegates' meetings again to ensure transparency and fairplay," Mustapa said at an undergraduate gathering at the Jeli campus of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan here yesterday.

Mustapa, who is International Trade and Industry Minister, said Umno members should abide by the selection committee's decision to avoid controversies and conflicts.

"Branch and division leaders will be instrumental in Umno's foray at the next general election," he pointed out.

"We have to choose leaders who are clean, committed and hard-working," Mustapa said. "And not those who clamour for positions purely out of self-interest." — Bernama

CIJ: Penang government's attitude worrying


PETALING JAYA: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has taken the DAP-led Penang government to task over the Chief Minister's attitude towards the screening of Tanda Putera.

This follows an advisory by the state government to cinemas in Penang not to screen the movie, which Lim Guan Eng considered a tool to "malign and demonise" the Chinese community.

In a joint statement here yesterday, CIJ coordinator Ahmad Fuad Rahmat and programme officer Simitha Singam said while Lim had claimed he merely advised against the film's screening "it is evident the initial letter from the legal adviser had directed cinemas in the state against screening the film".

"CIJ views the ambivalence of the Penang government's attitude towards the film 'Tanda Putera' with much worry," they said, reacting to Lim's objection to the screening of the movie that depicted the May 13, 1969 racial riots.

CIJ also hit out at the police for seizing an artwork by painter Anurendra Jegadeva (Anu J) at the M50 Happy Malaysia Day art exhibition on Aug 29, for allegedly insulting Islam.

The artwork, among others, featured a flag with red and white stripes, skull, crossbones and Quranic words.

The artwork also had the inscription "I for Idiot" and depicted a chimpanzee in a helmet and a jacket riding on a bicycle against the backdrop of a military pilot with the words "Mission Accomplished".

CIJ said Anu J's work was not insulting to Islam and that the artist had clarified the features on his artwork were creative references to the Iraq war waged by the United States.

CIJ also questioned why the M50 organisers rejected works by landscape artist Ng Sek San, the brainchild behind a so-called Malaysian Spring street art campaign in the run-up to the 13th general election.


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