Isnin, 19 Mei 2014

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

‘Godfather’ cinematographer Gordon Willis dies

Posted: 19 May 2014 03:05 AM PDT

The iconic cinematographer is known for his ground-breaking work with Francis Ford Coppola.

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer who worked on director Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather film series, has passed away. He was 82.

Willis was well respected in the film world for his work and has cast his magic on many of Hollywood's top films including Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Stardust Memories, Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men and Klute, as well as Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven.

Born in New York in 1931, Willis made his debut as a cinematographer in 1970 with four movies. Two years later, his career received a big boost when he was chosen to work on Coppola's mafia classic and 1972's Best Picture Oscar winner, The Godfather.

Willis went on to work on the movie's two sequels, receiving an Oscar nomination for the third film in 1990. Unfortunately, Willis has never won any award for his top-billed work, although the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences in the US did give him an honorary Lifetime Achievement award in 2009.

Willis' final work was Pakula's 1997 film The Devil's Own, which starred Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. He retired soon after.


The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

‘Godfather’ cinematographer Gordon Willis dies

Posted: 19 May 2014 03:05 AM PDT

The iconic cinematographer is known for his ground-breaking work with Francis Ford Coppola.

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer who worked on director Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather film series, has passed away. He was 82.

Willis was well respected in the film world for his work and has cast his magic on many of Hollywood's top films including Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Stardust Memories, Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men and Klute, as well as Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven.

Born in New York in 1931, Willis made his debut as a cinematographer in 1970 with four movies. Two years later, his career received a big boost when he was chosen to work on Coppola's mafia classic and 1972's Best Picture Oscar winner, The Godfather.

Willis went on to work on the movie's two sequels, receiving an Oscar nomination for the third film in 1990. Unfortunately, Willis has never won any award for his top-billed work, although the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences in the US did give him an honorary Lifetime Achievement award in 2009.

Willis' final work was Pakula's 1997 film The Devil's Own, which starred Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. He retired soon after.


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Halle Berry looks for answers in new 'Extant' trailer

Posted: 16 May 2014 10:35 PM PDT

The upcoming TV series will see the Oscar-winning actress playing an astronaut.

After presenting a few short videos, CBS has uploaded a more extensive trailer for its new summer series Extant produced by Steven Spielberg. The footage provides new details into the mysterious supernatural forces at work in the life of Molly Woods, played by Halle Berry.

In her first TV role, the Hollywood star plays an astronaut returning to Earth after a 13-month solo mission in space. As Molly attempts to reconnect with her husband John and their son Ethan after her extended absence, she must also cope with a series of mysterious events related to her latest mission that threaten to change the course of history. In particular, Molly finds upon her return from space that she is pregnant, although she was previously told she could not bear children.

Goran Visnjic (ER) and Grace Gummer (American Horror Story) also appear in this science-fiction series produced by Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. CBS will air the first episode of Extant on July 9 in the US. — AFP Relaxnews

Trailers for new TV shows 'Public Morals', 'The Librarians', 'Proof'

Posted: 16 May 2014 10:10 PM PDT

US television network TNT presents a list of new programmes for its upcoming season.

Before premiering the new series in 2015, the cable network has unveiled the first footage from Public Morals, produced by Steven Spielberg. The official trailers have also been released for TNT's other new shows, The Librarians and Proof.

Set in 1960s New York, the new police drama will follow a team of officers in the NYPD Public Morals Division. Public Morals is headlined by Ed Burns (Mob City), who plays an agent trying to stay on the straight and narrow in a job full of temptations, all while raising his young sons.

Also coming to TNT next year, Proof is a medical drama starring Jennifer Beals, who broke through in the 1980s in Flashdance and was seen more recently on The L Word. The actress will play Kathlyn Russo, a brilliant surgeon whose defining characteristic is her skepticism.

Proof Trailer from TNT on Vimeo.

Following the death of her son and in the face of a series of family problems, the character develops an interest in cases of reincarnation, out-of-body experiences and ghosts. True to her scientific mind, she sets out for hard proof of the existence of life after death.

The series will be produced by Kyra Sedgwick, the former star of the TNT series The Closer. The pilot was helmed by Alex Graves, the director known for helming multiple episodes of The West Wing and more recently Game Of Thrones.

In a follow-up to the TV movies of the 2000s, Noah Wyle (Falling Skies) will reprise the role of Flynn Carsen in The Librarians, a new series slated to premiere this winter. While his job as a librarian may seem boring on the surface, the protagonist is actually responsible for safeguarding a special collection of powerful sacred objects. This mission leads Flynn on a series of wild adventures far beyond the library's walls.

The Librarians

For his next adventures, Flynn Carsen will be assisted by four new recruits. The new "librarians" will include Eve Baird, a former counter terrorism agent, Jack Stone, an oil worker with an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history, Cassandra, a young woman with the gift of hallucinations linked to memory retrieval, and Ezekiel Jones, a tech expert and mystery novel buff.

To play Eve Baird, who is responsible for protecting the rest of the group, TNT has chosen Rebecca Romijn, the actress known for playing Mystique in the X-Men movies before the role was taken over by Jennifer Lawrence. Christian Kane (Leverage), Linda Booth (Kick-Ass 2) and John Kim (The Pacific) play the other members of the team. — AFP Relaxnews

The Librarians Trailer from TNT on Vimeo.

'Two And A Half Men' will end its run next year

Posted: 15 May 2014 10:20 PM PDT

The comedy's 12th season will be its last, CBS announced when presenting its line-up for the 2014-2015 season.

Two And A Half Men will wrap up in spring of 2015 at the end of its 12th season, which will premiere this September. The series will maintain its previous slot during CBS's Thursday night comedy line-up in the United States, airing ahead of the new show The McCarthys.

Among the network's most beloved comedies, Two And A Half Men has nonetheless seen its popularity decline in recent years, long before leading man Charlie Sheen left the show in 2011. At its peak, the series was followed by some 16.5 million Americans, making it the most watched comedy in the US at the time.

Although its ratings have remained decent since the arrival of Ashton Kutcher, standing at 10 million viewers on average during its most recent season, Two And A Half Men has fallen far behind America's other favourite comedy, The Big Bang Theory. — AFP Relaxnews

Two And A Half Men star Angus T. Jones and guest star Miley Cyrus in the show's 10th Season.


The Star Online: World Updates

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No budget, no elevators: political crisis gums up Thai government

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:05 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Bangkok's Government House, the seat of power in the heart of the Thai capital, has stood empty for six months, except for the troops guarding it from protesters who want to oust the administration and overhaul Thailand's democracy.

Last week, as if to illustrate just how dysfunctional Thai politics has become, leaders of the protests were allowed to move into a building in the sprawling compound. The prime minister's office, cabinet meeting room and the rest of the premises housing the apparatus of government remained shut.

Thailand has been without a properly functioning government since December, and the strain is starting to show, from a failure to draw up a state budget to civil servants' complaints of an inability to fix ministry elevators.

Bangkok has all but withdrawn from the international stage, with the country led by a caretaker prime minister unable to take foreign policy decisions, travel on state business or officially receive international leaders.

The crisis, the latest instalment of a near-decade-long power struggle between ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the royalist establishment, has already pushed the economy to the brink of recession.

And things could worsen if there is no budget in place for the coming fiscal year, which starts in October.

"The new budget from Oct. 1 may be only partially processed, and mainly for fixed expenditure such as payrolls," said Manas Jamveha, comptroller general at the Finance Ministry. "There'll be no new investment for certain, except for projects carrying over from the previous budget years."

Ministers should have sent a budget to parliament in May - but parliament was dissolved late last year when then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, called a snap general election.

The vote in February was disrupted and later annulled and her caretaker government had to limp on with limited powers.

Last year the budget for 2013/14 was passed on Aug. 23. This year Thailand will be lucky to have a parliament by August.


The Finance Ministry's Manas reckoned it would take a new government five or six months to start discretionary spending under a new budget.

There is little sign, however, that a new government is close to being formed. The Election Commission has backtracked on plans to re-run the general election on July 20.

Yingluck herself was ousted by the courts this month, and the farce threatens to descend into tragedy if the "acting caretaker prime minister" appointed by her party finds his already feeble authority contested by an alternative premier that the anti-government protesters want installed.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, from his new base amid the Venetian Gothic splendour of Government House, promised at the weekend to launch a "final push" to sweep away the remnants of Yingluck's administration.

The finance department does not even have a full-time minister: Kittirat Na Ranong was removed by the courts along with Yingluck. Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan will keep the seat warm but will be spread thin, as he has also kept his old job as commerce minister.

The Revenue Department is functioning normally, said Suttichai Sangkamanee, its director general, noting taxes from individuals were holding up but revenue from some businesses, such as importers of machinery, was down, reflecting a slowdown in industry due to the grim political and economic outlook.

As elsewhere, however, policy decisions are frozen.

Suttichai said the government had to roll over a cut in the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, otherwise it would lapse at the end of December, and it needed to extend the 7 percent value-added tax before it reverted to 10 percent in September.

"We can try to get approval from the Election Commission, as needed, if there's still no new government. It's crucial for businesses to plan ahead and they need to see if the tax cuts will remain in place in the coming year," he said.


By law, a caretaker government can only embark on new spending with the approval of the Election Commission and it cannot initiate projects that commit the next government.

"Our everyday work hasn't been affected but, of course, budgets have," said Sophon Mekthon, director of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention at the Ministry of Public Health. "We can't think ahead, we can't plan and decisions such as human resources allocation have been difficult."

Yingluck failed to secure funds for a ruinous rice-buying scheme, angering her traditional supporters in the northeast, and the government has found itself powerless to help other farmers as rubber prices have fallen to 4-1/2-year lows.

"We can't do anything. The Thai government itself has no right to borrow money or allocate any budget to intervene in the market," said Chanachai Plengsiriwat, head of the Rubber Estate Organisation, the state body overseeing the industry.

As the region's second biggest economy, Thailand considers itself a big hitter in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but finds itself hamstrung on the international stage.

"The Thai government doesn't sign international agreements because that would need parliamentary approval," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wanamethee.

Yingluck was a frequent traveller - she spent more time abroad than in parliament, the opposition mocked - apparently undeterred by the fate of her brother, who was toppled by the military in 2006 whilst on a trip to the United Nations.

But her globetrotting dried up when the protests started, as did visits by foreign dignitaries.

Surong Bulakul, chief financial officer at top energy company PTT, noted a hold-up on several major projects.

A planned initial public offering for its Star Petroleum Refining Co (SPRC) was awaiting approval from a committee that is chaired by the prime minister.

PTT wants the government to raise the retail price of gas used for cooking and fuelling vehicles.

"No one is in charge of this and it needs a new government to make a decision," Surong said.

For civil servants, frustration at such policy inertia is compounded by the everyday irritation of having no one to sign off on spending.

"There are several trivial problems ... We need approval for a budget to fix the elevators at our building since officials can't get to their office," said Theerapong Rodprasert, deputy permanent secretary at the Transport Ministry. "This has to be delayed as we can't get the money to pay the contractor."

(Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong, Pisit Changplayngam, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Kitiphong Thaicharoen, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Simon Webb and Alex Richardson)

'This is not a coup' says Thai army, as martial law declared

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but denied that it was staging a military coup.

While troops patrolled the streets of Bangkok, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was still in office, military and government officials said. Ministers were not informed of the army's plans before the surprise announcement on television at 3 a.m. (2100 BST on Monday).

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.

"We are concerned this violence could harm the country's security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law," Prayuth said.

"I'm asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis."

Prayuth had invited government leaders to a meeting at 2 p.m. (0800 BST), an army spokesman said.

Both pro- and anti-government protesters are camped out at different places in Bangkok and the army ordered them to remain where they were and not march anywhere to prevent clashes.

The army also called on media not to broadcast material that would affect national security.


The caretaker government, wary of the army given its past interventions on the side of the establishment, welcomed the move to restore order. It said it had not been informed about martial law in advance but it was still running the country.

"The government doesn't have a problem with this and can govern the country as normal," caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri, told Reuters.

Thailand has been stuck in political limbo since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, and nine of her ministers were dismissed on May 7 after a court found them guilty of abuse of power. An acting prime minister has since taken over.

The crisis, the latest instalment of a near-decade-long power struggle between former telecoms tycoon Thaksin and the royalist establishment, has brought the country to the brink of recession.

The military, which put down a pro-Thaksin protest movement in 2010, has staged numerous coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The last one was in 2006 to oust Thaksin, a billionaire who has lived in self-exile since 2008 but commands huge support among the poor.

The United States, which cut aid to its military ally after the 2006 coup, said it was monitoring the situation in Thailand closely.

"We expect the army to honour its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a statement.

Army chief Prayuth had warned last week, after three people were killed in a gun and grenade attack on anti-government protesters in Bangkok, that troops might have to be used to restore order if the violence continued.

"The army chief was moving towards imposition of martial law ever since his announcement last week that the army would use full force if things get out of hand," said a senior army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"He now feels that the police cannot handle security and is alarmed by grenade attacks and other incidents and the fact neither side looks like it will back down."

The army tried to mediate in the crisis late last year, bringing together then premier Yingluck and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. It has played down fears of a coup, stressing that politicians must resolve the dispute.


Troops stopped some traffic from entering the city and placed sandbags outside a city centre police headquarters, witnesses said. Soldiers had also secured television stations.

"We need cooperation from them to announce to the people 'do not panic, this is not a coup'," an army general said.

Ten satellite television channels, including stations run by pro- and anti-government groups, were ordered to stop broadcasting to "preserve peace and order".

The baht fell against the dollar in early trade but steadied later and dealers suspected that was due to intervention by the central bank. At 0346 GMT the baht was quoted at 32.48/50 per dollar after earlier trading at a low of around 32.64.

The stock market fell around 1 percent.

Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan on Monday ruled out resigning as a way out of the crisis that is stunting economic growth, as the anti-government protesters stepped up their pressure to remove him and install a new administration.

Six months of turmoil, including a disrupted general election and violence on the streets, is dragging down Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, which shrank 2.1 percent in the first quarter of the year.

Andrew Colquhoun, Head of Asia-Pacific Sovereigns at ratings agency Fitch, said the imposition of martial law was not necessarily negative for Thailand's government debt, and might even help break the political deadlock.

"The key factors for the ratings are whether Thailand can avert more serious and bloody political disorder, and whether we see a return to a fully functioning government that is able to make policy and pass a budget for the next fiscal year starting in October," he said.


While the anti-government protesters want a "neutral" prime minister appointed to oversee electoral reforms aimed at ending Thaksin's influence, the government views an early general election as the best way out - the ruling Puea Thai Party would be well placed to win. But a vote tentatively scheduled for July 20 already looked unlikely to take place.

Opposition supporters disrupted a Feb. 2 election which was later declared void by the Constitutional Court. The protesters say they reject any vote before electoral reforms.

Jatuporn Prompan, leader of pro-government "red shirt" activists, said he and his followers would keep up their protest in Bangkok's western outskirts until the restoration of "democratic principles" leading to an election.

"That's fine," Jatuporn told Reuters when asked about his reaction to martial law. "We will stay here and continue our protest until the country is back to democratic principles, which will lead to an election and getting a new elected prime minister."

The anti-government protesters said they still wanted the caretaker government out.

"We will not march today but we will stay and continue the protest until we achieve our goal," anti-government protest leader Sathit Wongnongtoey told Reuters.

Weak exports and the political mayhem have damaged the economy, prompting the state planning agency to cut its forecast for 2014 growth to between 1.5 and 2.5 percent, from a range of 3.0 to 4.0 percent.

(Reporting by Bangkok Bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel and Dean Yates; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)

Thai army tells TV stations run by rival political groups to shut down

Posted: 19 May 2014 08:30 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's army said on Tuesday that 10 satellite television channels must stop broadcasting, including stations run by pro- and anti-govt groups, in order to "preserve peace and order".

The army declared martial law earlier on Tuesday to restore order after six months of anti-government protests.

"The army asks that satellite television channels stop broadcasting in order to prevent the distortion of news, which creates misunderstanding," the army said in a televised statement.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould and Simon Cameron-Moore)


The Star Online: Business

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AirAsia X shares up on higher revenue

Posted: 19 May 2014 07:56 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Shares of AirAsia X rose at mid-morning on Tuesday after posting a 40% jump in its first quarter revenue.

At 10.47am, its shares rose six sen to 81.5 sen with some 24.14 million shares traded between the prices of 75.5 sen and 83.5 sen.

The FBM KLCI was down 1.44 points to 1,885.63. Turnover was 751.92 million shares valued at RM409.27mil. There were 260 gainers, 293 decliners and 296 counters unchanged.

AirAsia X saw its revenue for the first quarter ended March 31, 2014 jump 40% year-on-year to RM749.5mil from RM535mil, but still ended up recording losses of RM11.3mil.

The company's loss before tax in the quarter came to RM48.1mil compared to a PBT of RM34.8mil previously.

However, it enjoyed a net tax allowance of RM36.8mil versus RM15.4mil previously, which translated to the reduced loss of RM11.3mil.

Credit Suisse escapes worst as it pleads guilty to US charges

Posted: 19 May 2014 07:27 PM PDT

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: Credit Suisse on Monday became the largest bank in 20 years to plead guilty to a US criminal charge, and will pay a US$2.5bil fine to authorities for helping Americans evade taxes, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

But the Swiss bank escaped the worst for its business – its top management stayed in place, and the New York state bank regulator said it had decided not to revoke the bank's license in the state.

US prosecutors said the bank helped clients deceive US tax authorities by concealing assets in illegal, undeclared bank accounts, in a conspiracy that spanned decades, and in one case began more than a century ago.

"This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law," Holder said at a news conference in Washington.

The Justice Department has not frequently pursued such convictions of financial companies, especially large ones that could become destabilized following an indictment, but US politicians have pushed for tougher punishment for big banks in response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Credit Suisse will pay financial penalties to the US Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Reserve and New York's banking regulator, the New York State Department of Financial Services, to settle the matter. It had already paid just under US$200mil to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement," Credit Suisse Chief Executive Brady Dougan said in a statement. "We have seen no material impact on our business resulting from the heightened public attention on this issue in the past several weeks," he said.

The bank will take an after-tax charge of 1.6 billion Swiss francs (US$1.79bil) in the second quarter, it said, adding it will reduce assets, sell real estate and take other actions to keep its capital at strong levels.

Credit Suisse is the largest bank to plead guilty to a criminal charge in 20 years, Holder said.

Dougan, who has come under pressure from Swiss politicians to resign, and Chairman Urs Rohner would both stay in their jobs after the settlement, a person close to Credit Suisse said on Monday.

Credit Suisse declined to comment.


The US has been trying to wrest client data from Swiss banks in a long-standing spat with Switzerland and its strict bank secrecy laws. The standoff has already forced Wegelin & Co, the oldest Swiss private bank, to close shop after a guilty plea to charges of helping US clients evade taxes.

Credit Suisse, which has a large business managing rich clients' money, helped them withdraw funds from their undeclared accounts by either providing hand-delivered cash to the US or using Credit Suisse's correspondent bank accounts in the US, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors said Credit Suisse had around 22,000 US client accounts worth around US$10bil, which included both declared and undeclared accounts.

The bank was forced to plead guilty not only because of its complicity in tax evasion, but also because of its poor cooperation in the investigation, prosecutors said. It did not begin an internal probe until early 2011, and did not preserve some evidence of the wrongdoing, documents showed.

New York's banking regulator said it would place a monitor of its choosing inside Credit Suisse, while the Fed said it was investigating whether other individuals should be subject to actions such as fines or bans. It did not name the individuals.

Lloyd Blankfein, who heads Goldman Sachs, has warned that guilty pleas from banks such as Credit Suisse would have an unpredictable effect on markets, the Financial Times reported last week, though he would try to keep trading with such banks.

Financial markets had been calm in the face of potentially stiff penalties against Credit Suisse. There had been no indications other banks have stopped doing business with the Swiss bank. It was still obtaining short-term funds in the repo and commercial paper markets, analysts said.

New York bank regulators expressed concern about management during the talks, and discussed replacing Dougan and others, a source familiar with the negotiations said. But in the end, the option was not made a condition of the deal.


Christoph Blocher, vice president of the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), this weekend called for Dougan and Rohner to step down, joining similar appeals from Social Democrat and Conservative Democrat politicians.

Some on Credit Suisse's board were also unhappy with how Dougan had handled the case, another source familiar with the matter said last week, though it was not clear who the board members were, or what consequences, if any, this would have.

They were blaming Dougan for the fact that the bank's US woes were dragging on for far longer than the case of rival bank UBS, this person said, which settled a similar probe in 2009 by paying a US$780mil fine.

The last major international bank to plead guilty was France's Credit Lyonnais, which admitted in 2004 to lying to US regulators about its role in the takeover of a failed California insurer. The bank was acquired in the year before the agreement by bigger rival Credit Agricole.

Mary Jo White, chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, on Monday said no bank was immune from criminal charges, and Holder earlier this month expressed a similar view, saying prosecutors are working closely with other regulators to address potential consequences before taking action.

Still, negotiations overall had not gone well for the bank, the second source familiar with the situation said.

Credit Suisse's legal team had initially tried to keep the fine below US$600mil or US$800mil, and was to be paid accordingly in an incentive scheme, but the numbers quickly outstripped that target, this source said. – Reuters 

S'pore Q1 growth tops expectations

Posted: 19 May 2014 07:14 PM PDT

SINGAPORE: Singapore's economy grew faster than initially estimated in the first quarter, handily beating expectations, with solid manufacturing activity and a recovery in developed markets set to underpin growth over the year.

The latest numbers released on Tuesday by the Ministry of Trade and Industry were complied after rebasing effects, with the base year for the national accounts now set to 2010 instead of 2005.

The data showed the trade-dependent economy expanded an annualised and seasonally adjusted 2.3% in the January-March period from the previous three months.

That compared with a 1% growth forecast in a Reuters poll and the government's earlier estimate of a 0.1% expansion.

"I don't think there would be any change in policy stance due to this; the economy is pretty much in a healthy shape," said DBS senior economist Irvin Seah.

In April the central bank stuck to its tight monetary policy stance, saying core inflation will remain elevated as a sustained recovery in advanced economies supports growth.

"The year-on-year number surprisingly came down, that comes on the back of a massive revision in last year's figures, which saw every single figure adjusted."

On a year-on-year basis, the economy grew 4.9% in the first quarter, missing a market forecast of a 5.5% growth in a Reuters poll. In April, the government had estimated the first quarter annual growth at 5.1%.

The rebasing also counts research and development expenditure as investment in the data, which the government said will raise the level of nominal gross domestic product.

The first quarter growth was boosted by solid performance in the manufacturing sector, helped by recovery in global demand.

The sector saw annualised quarter-on-quarter growth of 11.9%, while year-on-year growth accelerated to a 9.8%, from a 7% rise in the previous period.

Despite signs of a pick up in global demand, and expectations it will hold up Singapore's economy, some analysts raised worries about the financial sector.

"Manufacturing will benefit little bit from a global recovery story," said Selena Ling, head of treasury research at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.

"We may see momentum slowing in the financial sector. If we get bearish news like Fed rate hike expectations, we are going to see EM and Singapore being impacted," said Ling adding growth may slow down in the coming quarters.

The finance and insurance sector grew 3.5% in the first quarter from the previous quarter. That compared with a 26% growth in the fourth quarter

Singapore's economy has been growing at a steady pace in recent quarters on solid manufacturing output with a pick-up in demand from developed economies such as the US. Service sectors including finance have also propped up the wealthy South-East Asian country.

In April Singapore's non-oil domestic exports rose more than expected, but some economists maintained a cautious view on overseas shipments, given sustained weakness in the electronics sector which is a key link in the global supply chain.

Last year, the manufacturing sector made up roughly 19 percent of the local economy. The electronics sector accounts for 30% of total manufacturing activity.

Over the course of 2014, the Singapore economy is seen benefiting from an expected pickup in US and European growth, even though a slowdown in the Chinese economy poses downside risks for growth in the city-state.

The government expects Singapore's economy to grow 2%-4% in 2014, and economists generally tip full-year growth to come in near the upper end of that official forecast.

The median forecast among 22 economists surveyed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore was for the city-state's gross domestic product to expand 3.8% in 2014, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in March. – Reuters


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MH370: Flight steward’s wife gives birth to baby boy

Posted: 19 May 2014 05:20 PM PDT

PUTRAJAYA: Intan Maizura Othman, the wife of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 steward Mohd Hazrin Hasnan, has given birth to a baby boy.

Muhammad was born at 4pm Monday, 73 days after Mohd Hazrin went missing together with 238 others on board the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Born at the Putrajaya Hospital, Muhammad is the second child of Mohd Hazrin and Intan Maizura,34.

Flight MH370, with 239 people on board including 12 crewmembers, left the KL International Airport at 12.41am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea.

The Boeing 777-200ER aircraft was supposed to land in Beijing at 6.30am on the same day.

A multinational search was launched to trace the aircraft, initially in the South China Sea, and then in the southern Indian Ocean when it was determined to have deviated from its original path. – Bernama

61 NS trainees display Influenza-like symptoms

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

ALOR SETAR: National Service trainees based at the Dusun Minda Resort in Kuala Nerang with Influenza-like Illness symptoms have risen by seven to 61.

All the 61 students, including the four tested positive for the H1N1 virus on Sunday have symptoms such as fever, flu, cough and sore throat.

NS director Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said parents should not be unduly worried as the "medical team has everything under control and the trainees are safe".

"All of the affected trainees are in an upbeat mood and our camp's medical team together with those from the district Health Department are monitoring their situation closely," he said when visiting the camp yesterday, adding that the cause of the virus was still unknown.

Abdul Hadi clarified that the trainees are not quarantined but "separated from the other healthy trainees".

"The affected trainees are separated and placed in dorms within the camp that are about 200m away from the other trainees."

He said the camp would be closed for a four-day semester break from May 30 and the state Health Department medical officers would assess the affected trainees before deciding if they would be allowed to go home.

"Classroom activities for the healthy trainees will carry on as usual but physical activities will be limited to prevent the trainees from falling sick."

It was reported earlier that the number of trainees who were affected by the symptoms were 54.

Meanwhile, Chai Chee Keong, 48, is concerned over the well being of his daughter after he learnt that she has been sick since Thursday.

"When we wanted to visit her on Saturday, we were initially not allowed to see her," said Chai, a Sungai Petani resident.

However, after several requests, Chai was eventually allowed to meet his daughter.

"She told me that her fever fluctuates and feels okay during the day but the fever will spike at night."

Camp authorities refused Chai's request to take his daughter out for treatment when he showed up at the camp yesterday.

"I was told that this was to control the virus from spreading," he said.

In June 2012, many trainees at the Dusun Minda NS camp were affected by the H1N1 virus, all of whom recovered.

Pope's Jordan visit to unify faiths

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Pope Francis 1's upcoming visit to Jordan underscores the deep co-existence of Jordanians of different faiths.

The May 24 visit will be the fourth papal visit of its kind.

The Jordanian Embassy here said the country was proud to welcome the pope on his "pilgrimage to the site of Jesus' baptism at Bethany Beyond the Jordan."

It said the visit would emphasise the biblical importance of sites around Jordan as well as illustrate the depth of co-existence between Jordanians of different faiths.

The embassy noted the Catholic Church had designated five sites around Jordan as pilgrimage sites for the year 2000.

In this regard, it welcomed all press and media members to go to Jordan and cover the visit.

Many Malaysia Christian pilgrims to Jordan visit the Moses Memorial Church at Mt Nebo, Tell Mar Elias (St Elijah's Hill), Bethany Beyond the Jordan where Elijah's ascension to heaven in a chariot of fire is believed to have taken place and Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and to cross into Israel.

The embassy said the pope would meet King Abdullah II on May 24 before heading to Amman Interna­tional Stadium to give a mass sermon open to the public.

"Afterwards, His Holiness will head to the Baptism site before meeting with sick and disabled people and Iraqi and Syrian refugees."

The embassy said the visit underlined Jordan's religious significance for Christian pilgrims as well as reiterate the message "about the co-existence in the diverse cultures and faiths around Jordan that is reflected in our varied historical and religious sites spanning millennia, civilisations and religions."

"His Holiness Pope Francis I will come to the holy site of Jesus' Bap­tism to be blessed by the waters of the Jordan River and bless his disabled and refugee guests in the same waters where Jesus Christ was baptised."

The majority of Jordan's 4.4 million people are Arabs descended from various tribes that have migrated to the area over the years. (

More than 92% are Sunni Muslims with small groups of Shi'ite and Druze.

About 6% are Christians who live mainly in Amman, Madaba, Karak and Salt.

While the majority are from the Greek Orthodox Church, there are also Greek Catholics, a small Roman Catholic community, Syrian Ortho­dox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and a few Protestant denominations found mostly in Amman.


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Modi in with India’s Hindu hardliners

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

NAGPUR: Young men gaze reverently at the flame-shaped memorial to a Hindu supremacist in the grounds of India's biggest grassroots religious organisation, which prime minister-elect Narendra Modi joined as a boy.

In the city of Nagpur, opposite a black-painted statue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Keshav Hedgewar, the solemn tribute to his successor Madhav Golwalkar is a reminder of what critics say is the group's deep-rooted religious prejudice.

Back in 1938, Golwalkar said India's non-Hindus must adopt Hindu culture, language and religion – "they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment".

Across India, thousands of RSS followers campaigned for Modi ahead of his victory last week, which saw his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the first parliamentary majority in 30 years.

That effort, as well as longstanding ties with the BJP, raises questions about how much the group will influence its most famous alumnus.

"Since a person from RSS is going to be prime minister, we expect he will work not only for the nation, but also for RSS," said Rajeev Varma, a 23-year-old engineering student who campaigned for Modi.

But experts say Modi could disappoint the group and its four and a half million members, aware that his prospects depend first and foremost on meeting pledges of growth and development.

"He (Modi) has to win on the economy, and that's the thing on which he will be judged," Christophe Jaffrelot, a long-time expert on the Hindu nationalism movement said.

"What if he fails to relaunch the economy? The Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) plank is the plan B," added Jaffrelot, a professor from Sciences Po university in Paris and King's College London.

The RSS, whose members wear a uniform of khaki shorts and black hats, describes itself as a cultural outfit devoted to the betterment of the nation and upholding Hindu values.

Critics decry it as a pseudo-fascist organisation that has fuelled religious tensions.

After helping out as a boy, Modi became a full-time volunteer as a young adult – taking the requisite vow of celibacy – for more than 15 years before he joined the BJP.

He recently said the RSS "should be appreciated for their good work".

The group is widely described as an ideological parent of the BJP, although volunteers in Nagpur were wary of discussing the elections.

"When the RSS says we are a cultural organisation, it actually is," said Sameer Gautam, 39, who runs a software company – although he joked about "the wall" that comes down on inquiring journalists.

AFP was not allowed to film at the RSS headquarters, a closely-guarded compound in Nagpur, nor at one of the city's daily "shakhas" – a combination of physical training, yoga and religious chanting.

"Their approach is extremely secretive. Most of their communications are verbal," said Kumar Ketkar, a political analyst in Mumbai.

M.G. Vaidya, a prominent 91-year-old RSS activist, said it was difficult to understand the group "because it does not fit into the existing models of social, political or religious institutions".

"One basic value of Hindu culture is appreciation of the plurality of faith. Not only tolerance but appreciation," he said.

Critics such as Rupa Kulkarni Bodhi, a converted Buddhist academic, believe a more sinister agenda is at hand. She says the "dream" of the RSS and BJP is "to convert this nation into a Hindu nation".

At a rare post-election press conference in Nagpur, RSS general secretary Suresh Joshi denied his organisation would be a "remote control" over the new government, although he hinted at an advisory role.

The RSS has been banned three times since its inception, including after a former member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 and the 1992 demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya.

Members have spoken out against concessions to religious minorities, homosexuality and the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir. They favour a uniform civil code, the protection of cows – sacred to Hindus – and building a temple on the disputed Ayodhya site.

Jaffrelot said Modi would avoid building the temple and provoking tensions, but that he would probably use his power of patronage to pacify hardliners.

Poornima Joshi, who has written extensively on the RSS and BJP, said Modi might prove to be something of a let-down but the group would still welcome his elevation after the secular Congress party's 10-year rule.

"He may disappoint the RSS in some ways but they are a pragmatic bunch," said Joshi. — AFP

Sonia and Rahul offer to quit over Congress polls fiasco

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

NEW DELHI: Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, leaders of India's defeated Congress party, offered to resign after last week's election debacle, but colleagues rejected their gesture, a senior party figure said.

"They both offered to resign but the party rejected it unanimously," member of parliament Amarinder Singh told reporters yesterday after a meeting of the Congress's top committee in New Delhi.

The Press Trust of India reported that the Congress Working Committee passed a unanimous resolution "expressing full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gan­dhi".

About a dozen supporters gathered outside the party's Delhi headquarters, shouting slogans – "Rahul-ji, continue to struggle, we are with you" – during the 150-minute-long meeting.

The mother and son, members of South Asia's most famous political dynasty, are facing unprecedented pressure from grassroots party workers and defeated ex-MPs over their failed campaign tactics.

Congress slumped to its worst poll result ever last Friday, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament – less than a quarter of its tally in 2009 – as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power with a landslide win.

Sonia, the 67-year-old Congress president, entrusted campaigning to vice-president Rahul, whose lacklustre performance failed to convince voters that the party deserved a third term in power. The defeat has raised questions over whether the dynasty can retain its grip over the left-leaning party. — AFP

Fingerprinting of foreign visitors may start in 2017

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

SINGAPORE may soon join a small number of countries worldwide that ask visitors to have their fingerprints taken when they arrive.

The immigration authorities are considering setting up self-service kiosks to capture the fingerprints of foreigners arriving at Changi Airport's new Terminal 4 when it opens in 2017.

The move will speed up immigration clearance and strengthen border security, according to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's (ICA) new operational plan.

The ICA confirmed the move, saying it "constantly reviews and refines" its processes to use technology to make immigration clearance faster and more efficient.

At least three countries scan the fingerprints of visitors: the United States started doing so in 2004 after the Sept 11 terror attacks of 2001.

Japan introduced fingerprint scans in 2007 and South Korea in 2012.

The ICA plan did not say how much the kiosks will cost or whether they would be implemented at other airport terminals or land checkpoints.

To prepare for the move, it approached contractors last week to retrofit an existing airport immigration counter for a trial.

Under the ICA plan, foreigners arriving at the new airport terminal will need to scan their completed immigration cards and fingerprints at self-service kiosks as soon as they arrive.

They then present their passports to immigration officers for checks.

Besides fingerprinting, foreigners could also have their photos taken or irises scanned at the kiosks.

Security expert Rohan Gunaratna supports the move to use fingerprints and other biometrics to cut down the use of stolen and forged passports or those that have been tampered with.

"In order for biometric technology to be effective, each traveller must be scanned every time he enters or exits the country," said the professor of security studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

Others, however, warned that it is important to ensure the new system works well and leads to shorter, and not longer, waits for visitors to Singapore.

The founder of local customer service consultancy Wow! Academy, Bentley Williams, said the system has to be fast and efficient. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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S. Korean subway accident injures 11

Posted: 19 May 2014 06:45 AM PDT

SEOUL: Eleven people were injured Monday evening when a electrical insulator exploded on a South Korean subway train just south of the capital Seoul, national news agency Yonhap said.

The explosion happened as the train was entering Geumjeong station at Gunpo, causing some of its windows to break and injuring 11 people on the platform, Yonhap reported.

"It appears that the accident occurred as an insulator connecting the train to the electric supply equipment suddenly exploded," the agency quoted an official from train operator KORAIL as saying.

All passengers got off at Geumjeong and the train was taken out of service.

The accident happened less than three weeks after two subway trains collided in Seoul, lightly injuring 200 people.

The May 2 accident was blamed on a malfunctioning automatic stopping system. -AFP

China violates 'Declaration of Conduct', says Philippine leader

Posted: 19 May 2014 04:02 AM PDT

MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday accused China of violating the "Declaration of Conduct" it signed in 2002, after it allegedly began reclaiming land on a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

Manila last week publicly accused Beijing of large-scale reclamation activity at Johnson South Reef, which is also claimed by the Philippines. Filipino officials fear this could lead to China building its first airstrip in the disputed region.

"In my view... what they are doing now, this is all seemingly in violation of what we agreed in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," he told reporters.

He stressed that China, along with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the declaration in 2002 in a bid to ease tensions over the South China Sea, but this agreement was not binding.

Aquino said the statement effectively called on all parties to refrain from building new structures in the disputed area until the conflict is settled.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich waters, parts of which are also claimed by ASEAN members, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam and non-member Taiwan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying would not confirm Manila's claim over the Johnson South Reef activity, but asserted the outcrop was Chinese territory.

Aquino said the problem was that the Declaration was non-binding, adding that the incident showed the need for a binding "Code of Conduct that would stop these actions that have a potential of causing violence and unrest".

The dispute over the reef, which the Chinese navy seized from Vietnam in a deadly 1988 skirmish, is among a tangle of maritime rows in the sea involving the Asian superpower and its smaller and weaker neighbours.

The Philippines had asked a United Nations tribunal in March to declare what Manila said was China's claim to 70 percent of the sea as illegal.

The Philippines also filed a separate diplomatic protest against China's reclamation works on Johnson South Reef last month, but Beijing also rejected it on grounds the reef is part of Chinese territory.

In another area of the sea, China moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi, sparking a clash between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels earlier this month.

The dispute has triggered the worst anti-Chinese rioting in Vietnam in decades, targeting Chinese and other foreign-owned factories. -AFP


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‘Godfather’ cinematographer Gordon Willis dies

Posted: 19 May 2014 03:05 AM PDT

The iconic cinematographer is known for his ground-breaking work with Francis Ford Coppola.

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer who worked on director Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather film series, has passed away. He was 82.

Willis was well respected in the film world for his work and has cast his magic on many of Hollywood's top films including Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Stardust Memories, Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men and Klute, as well as Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven.

Born in New York in 1931, Willis made his debut as a cinematographer in 1970 with four movies. Two years later, his career received a big boost when he was chosen to work on Coppola's mafia classic and 1972's Best Picture Oscar winner, The Godfather.

Willis went on to work on the movie's two sequels, receiving an Oscar nomination for the third film in 1990. Unfortunately, Willis has never won any award for his top-billed work, although the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences in the US did give him an honorary Lifetime Achievement award in 2009.

Willis' final work was Pakula's 1997 film The Devil's Own, which starred Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. He retired soon after.

New generation Coppola tackles James Franco's teen tales

Posted: 17 May 2014 04:40 AM PDT

Family tradition: Although she trained to be a photographer, Gia Coppola (above) was compelled to carry on the family's filmmaking tradition, releasing her first cinematic feature Palo Alto, which she wrote and directed, basing her script on James Franco's collection of short stories of the same name. Franco appears in the movie (below), as a physical education teacher who has an affair with a student. He also helped produce the film.

Coppola's family has a history of exploring coming-of-age stories, from her grandfather's 1983 films The Outsiders and Rumble Fish to her aunt's 1999 feature film debut with The Virgin Suicides, all of which Coppola said she referenced during her own debut process.

The film features vivid cinematography influenced by the director's photography training, and follows four characters whom Coppola pulled together from the stories of Franco, who also appears in the film.

April, played by Roberts, is introverted and mysterious, the object of Teddy's (Kilmer) affections but who is seduced by her 35-year-old teacher, Mr B (Franco). Fred (Nat Wolff) is the dangerous rebel without a cause who woos the shy and quiet Emily (Zoe Levin), only for their relationship to take a dark turn.

While Franco's book is set in the 1990s, Coppola sets her film in the present, sprinkling cell phones in lightly, but she said she wanted the film to feel "timeless".

Teen boredom

Franco, 36, wrote Palo Alto as part of his Master of Fine Arts writing degree at Brooklyn College, and while he has delved into writing and directing films, he said he didn't want to adapt his own book as he felt too close to the material.

He chose Coppola, whom he met five years ago, to direct the adaptation after seeing her photography. "The photos seemed to have the sensibility that was similar to the one I was trying to capture with the book," he said.

"They looked like little glimpses at youth that was filled with dreaming, a bit of the mundane, a bit of skepticism about the world around them, but also engaging with the world with a creative spirit," Franco added.

Actress Emma Roberts in a scene from Gia Coppola's movie Palo Alto.

The actor was quick to emphasise that his own childhood growing up in Palo Alto, an affluent San Francisco Bay Area community, was a happy one, but he wanted to capture the boredom he and his peers suffered. "Even though I was in this great place and I was at a really good school and I had friends and people thought I was cute, I still remember feeling more like nothing works out," he said.

Despite Coppola's Hollywood ancestry, Franco said financing the film was difficult due to the darker premise of the teenagers' stories. He said he donated his own salary from a film project to make the movie for a budget of under US$1mil (RM3.23mil) with his production company Rabbit Bandini.

Playing physical education teacher Mr B wasn't easy for Franco, who made his own breakout in Judd Apatow's Freaks and Geeks television series as a brooding rebellious teen. The actor said he "hated" one particular scene in Palo Alto, which didn't make the final cut, in which he reprimands two teenage boys.

"I hated being on that side of things, because my alliance is with the kids in the book, all my feelings align with the kids, so I hated being the bad adult," he said with a laugh. – Reuters


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H.R. Geiger: Dark side of the mind

Posted: 18 May 2014 08:27 PM PDT

Surrealist artist and set designer HR Giger's chest-bursting monster in the 1979 film Alien gained him worldwide acclaim.

Several elements were vital to the effectiveness of the 1979 horror film Alien, which was essentially an old-fashioned haunted house story relocated to deep space. (Its own director, Ridley Scott, called it "a C-movie done in an A-way".) Chief among them was the visceral and disquieting design work by the Swiss surrealist artist HR Giger, who died on Monday aged 74 from injuries sustained in a fall.

Giger's "biomechanical" style was born out of his experience of night terrors and the art therapy in which he partook to combat this sleeping disorder. It is fair to say that he has been responsible in his own way for disrupting the sleep of others.

"People are either thrilled or terrified by Giger's art," said the Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs. "No one else knows how to depict the most horrific nightmares so stunningly beautifully." The novelist and film-maker Clive Barker observed: "Giger seems to be painting aliens but the closer you look, the more you realise he's painting twisted versions of us."

Alien centred on an intergalactic cargo vessel which touches down on a desolate planet in response to a distress signal. The crew inadvertently picks up a carnivorous life form. It later bursts from the chest of one crew member in the most memorable entrance of any film character since Orson Welles stepped from the shadows in The Third Man. The infant monster is smooth, eyeless and bulbous, both foetal and absurdly phallic, with a row of silver milk-teeth and a lashing, segmented tail.

"It was Francis Bacon's work that gave me the inspiration," said Giger. "(It) would come tearing out of the man's flesh with its gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth ... it's pure Bacon."

The alien flees the scene of its birth and is glimpsed at subsequent stages of its accelerated development as it picks off the crew one by one. Still apparently without eyes, it has now grown as tall as a Harlem Globetrotter. Its entire head takes the form of a gleaming, elongated shell that suggests a futuristic crash helmet. Within its vast jaw are rows of teeth emerging like drawers in a filing cabinet. A tendency to drool lends it a lascivious element. All this grotesqueness never quite undermines its allure.

In the final scene, the monster is blasted into space by the only survivor, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Both she and her nemesis returned in three sequels of contrasting flavours: James Cameron's wham-bam Aliens (1986), David Fincher's clammy, intense Alien 3; (1992) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's comic-book-style Alien Resurrection (1997). Giger's designs were central to each of those sequels, as well as two crossovers with the Predator franchise – Alien vs Predator (2004) and Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007).

But his involvement was not always harmonious, or even acknowledged. "With the fourth Alien film, they just took my creations, they used my 'chest-burster' and they didn't even give me any credit. It's offensive." He had a happier experience contributing to Scott's own Alien prequel, Prometheus (2012).

Giger was brought on board Alien at the suggestion of its screenwriter, Dan O'Bannon. Both men had been collaborating in the late 1970s with the cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on an adaptation of Frank Herbert's science-fiction epic Dune, which was never made (though Giger's designs for the abandoned project can be seen in a 2013 documentary called Jodorowsky's Dune). O'Bannon introduced Giger's 1977 book Necronomicon to Scott, who seized in particular upon the painting Necronom IV, and commissioned him to design a creature based on this.

"I was the first one to go see him in Switzerland and persuade him to get on a plane," said Scott. "He wouldn't get on a plane, because he was afraid of flying. And he finally came to Shepperton. Never went into town, stayed over a pub in Shepperton. Very non-Giger, not exotic. He was in a room over a pub and he was happy there."

The artist built a prototype incorporating Rolls-Royce parts, rib bones and reptile vertebrae. His responsibilities expanded also to include the design of a partially fossilised figure (sometimes referred to as the "space jockey") seen when the crew explore the planet, as well as the planet itself (LV-426). Plainly put, his influence permeates Alien. Giger was deservedly part of the team rewarded when the film won the Visual Effects Oscar in 1980.

He was born Hans Rudolf Giger in Chur, Switzerland, which he called "unbearable", characterised by "high mountains (and) bourgeois attitudes". The family home was a place of early terror. He later wrote in Necronomicon of the cellar as "a monstrous labyrinth where all kinds of dangers lay in wait for me" and of "steep and treacherous wooden stairways without banisters (that) led down into the yawning abyss."

Other boys played with toy cars but Giger could usually be seen dragging a skull on wheels behind him; he constructed ghost trains in the garden. His father, Hans, was a chemist who encouraged Giger to study industrial design, which he did along with architecture at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. His mother, Melly, to whom he was close, was more encouraging of his provocative style of painting, drawing and sculpture. An early muse was the actor Li Tobler, with whom Giger had a tempestuous relationship. Tobler, who killed herself in 1975, was the inspiration for the wan, wilted females in his paintings.

Giger worked predominantly in inks and oils at first. His use of the airbrush soon became integral to his art, bringing a slick smoothness to images which oscillated between the grisly and the sensuous, often accommodating both. He prized the airbrush's "tremendous directness" and said that it enabled him to "project my visions directly onto the pictorial surface, freezing them immediately". But he abandoned it near the end of his career when it was adopted by artists with whom he did not want to be associated: "I could damage my reputation, since much of what they do is pure kitsch. I keep myself apart from that. I see myself as a surrealist."

He gained widespread exposure after being featured on the cover of the 1973 Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery. In the early 1970s, he made several short documentaries about his work. His fame increased following the release of Alien, and he took on occasional and usually unfulfilling work on other films, among them Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), the Alien-influenced Species (1995) and the 1996 German horror-comedy Killer Condom (tagline: "The rubber that rubs you out!"). He also collaborated on several Giger bars, including two in Switzerland, which reproduced his aesthetic in a social setting.

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1982. He is survived by his second wife, Carmen, director of the HR Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland, whom he married in 2006. – Guardian News & Media

Fawlty dinner theatre

Posted: 18 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

There is a bellyful of laughs to be had as you experience dining at the iconic Fawlty Towers.

IF Fawlty Towers was a real establishment, you'd be barking mad to voluntarily stay or dine there – unless, of course, you actually enjoy being served (and I use the term very loosely) by a misanthropic hotel owner, his shrill wife and their eager but highly incompetent waiter. For any fan of the 1970s BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, however, the chance to not only revisit the show, but also be in the thick of the action with Basil, Sybil and Manuel, is too good to pass up.

Faulty Towers The Dining Experience by Interactive Theatre International offers just that – the opportunity to become a part of the shenanigans by dining in the "Fawlty Towers" restaurant, where you are served a three-course meal by the trio in typical Fawlty style, with a healthy helping of mayhem! And while John Cleese, Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs may not be on hand to play the roles they made iconic, the cast of this show are so spot-on with their impersonations that it immediately feels like you are in the characters' presence.

Brought in by PJ Live Arts as part of the PJ Laugh Fest, Faulty Towers is a site-specific, fully-immersive and interactive theatre experience, started in Australia in 1997 by Alison Pollard-Mansergh. It has since become an international success that tours the world over, while maintaining a residency in London's West End.

"I love Fawlty Towers, I have a passion for site-specific, interactive comedy, and I know a lot about the hospitality business from owning a restaurant. So the concept of a Fawlty Towers homage jumped out at me," says Pollard-Mansergh, the production's artistic director (she also plays Sybil in some productions).

Unlike a traditional theatre production, however, Faulty Towers comes with its own unique challenges, as the actors are literally performing amidst patrons in a restaurant, and even serving food.

"We perform in the round, so actors must be aware of all the physical angles, as well as sound and sight lines," explains Pollard-Mansergh. "They also need enough physical space to perform the scripted pieces, and the right 'stage wings' to get in and out of the kitchen to serve food. And while doing all this, there's the challenge of convincing the audiences that they're in the original TV series!"

Geoffrey Reczek as Manuel in

Table manners: Geoffrey Reczek as Manuel in Faulty Towers The Dining Experience by Interactive Theatre
International, presented in Malaysia by PJ Live Arts.

Additionally, only one third of the show is actually scripted, as the rest depends on the venue and the audience.

"The actors rehearse intensively with each other for the scripted parts, and we work hard to ensure they know the original TV show backwards! They impersonate the original characters, as played by Cleese, Scales and Sachs, so very well that they can react to any situation as if they were the original characters themselves. Then, for every venue, they work out how the show can be formatted in the space they've been given, and also give a quick training session to the venue staff.

"For the two-thirds of the show that is improvised, the actors draw on their deep knowledge of the sitcom to inform their performances. They must always be ready; audiences delight in becoming guests in the hotel, and love to spring surprises. This means that the entire performance develops naturally, and usually ends up feeling just as anarchic as the original!" says Pollard-Mansergh.

The Fawlty Towers experience begins even before you're seated. Staged here at the Frontera Sol Of Mexico restaurant in Jaya One, guests are greeted by an officious Basil (played by Jordan Edmeades) armed with a guestlist, looking down his nose at those whom he thinks are not up to his standards. After much confusion – thanks to Basil misreading the list and Manuel misunderstanding instructions – we are seated in the restaurant and made party to the most mishap-filled meal of our lives. From Manuel crawling under tables to Basil goose-stepping across the restaurant yelling "Heil, mein Fuhrer!" to Sybil whacking Basil on the head with a tray, it is one riotous joke after another.

Where the show lacks a little is in its plot. While the original TV episodes each naturally had a central plot, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is more a series of gags, albeit side-slittingly funny ones. With no central narrative holding the show together, it sometimes feels insubstantial. The cast, however, almost makes up for this with its brilliant performance.

Jordan Edmeades stars as Basil in the whacky comedy 'Faulty Towers The Dining Experience.'

Jordan Edmeades stars as Basil, the man to handle the guestlist and maintain standards .

Edmeades, with his imposing height and put-upon expressions, is a dead ringer for a young Cleese, and his exchanges with Manuel (Geoffrey Reczek) are a pure delight. Karen Hamilton, meanwhile, gets Sybil's simpering smile and bossy manner down pat, including that classic, high-pitched "Baaasil!" that stops him in his tracks. And as the hapless Manuel, Reczek brings the perfect combination of physical comedy and hilarious word-play. Particularly impressive are their improvisational skills, with each of them making conversation or reacting to the audience perfectly in character.

Thanks to them, Fawlty Towers fans are able to bask in the nostalgic pleasure of dining with these delightful – though not always likeable – characters. Just don't mention the war!

> Faulty Towers The Dining Experience will be playing at PJ Live Arts (PJLA), Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, till June 1. Dinner performances begin at 8pm daily (no shows on Tuesdays) while matinee performances (only Saturdays and Sundays) begin at 1pm. Tickets are priced at RM165 and RM185, with discounts available for groups of six. For tickets, call 03-7960 0439 or 017-228 9849, email, or go to For more information, go to


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