Friday, December 30, 2005

Year In Review: Most Memorable DVDs in 2005

Closing off the year’s list, the following are the list of the most memorable DVDs that I purchased this year. In 2005 alone, I must have purchased about 60 DVD titles from which I’m afraid to total up to find out how much I’ve spent there this year. I’ve noticed that I have been buy more TV shows on DVD season sets this year and less of the movie releases like I did last year. This of course means that I spent more per DVD title this year that I did last year.

I do not include the DVDs that I bought from Low Yat Plaza for obvious reasons. The number of DVDs bought this year would surely double if they were included.

My list of the most memorable DVDs released in 2005 in no particular order is:

Farscape: Starburst Editions
I loved this TV series when it was aired on TV2 two years back but I missed quite a few episodes of the seasons that they did show. They were already selling single disk DVDs with 2 episodes each on for this series but I decided to wait for a full season release even though I really wanted to watch it. It was good that I did that because the re-released the series in their “Starburst Edition” that had around 7 episode in each package. Good audio and video transfers, better price point and fairly decent supplementary material made the wait to get the Starburst editions as good choice.

Twilight Zone: Definitive Editions
These sets were a dream came through for me. I have always wanted to watch all the episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” TV shows and with these sets I finally can in the comfort of my own living room. Like the “Farscape” series, they were previously released in smaller increments in single disks DVD releases but having all of them grouped in season sets is a fanboy’s dream.

East of Eden - Limited Edition & Rebel Without a Cause - Limited Edition
I’ve always been a big fan of James Dean and for his DVDs to be released on the 50th anniversary of his first film, they were a sure bet to be included in my DVD library. I was looking forward in particular for the “East of Eden – Limited Edition” as it was the only of his films never released on DVD before. These two limited edition DVDs in particular were lovingly made and are worth additions to James Dean’s fans the world over.

Lost - The Complete First Season
Love it or hate it, “Lost” is a compelling TV series to watch. On the DVD season 1 set, “Lost” is nigh irresistible to go through. There is a wealth of supplementary material in the box set that would satisfy even the most fanatic of “Lost” fans. With this DVD set, fans of the show would get to scrutinize every detail at their own leisure to find out the clues of what is actually happening to the characters. I have to say that this is one of the best TV shows on DVD set that I’ve seen yet.

The Outsiders - The Complete Novel (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Another personal favorite of mine, I have actually bought a copy of this film on DVD before. While I made it a policy not to support “double-dip” DVD releases, it was hard to resist this one as it had restore deleted scenes reincorporated back into the film. While there were the issues of some ill-advice music changes, a well rounded supplementary material and commentary track made it worth while to get copies of both versions of DVDs.

I guess this will be the last of the list for this year at least. It has been a fun exercise to look back on a few of my favorite things and share the ones that I would recommend to others. I may plan to do this again next year if all goes well.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year In Review: Most Memorable PS2 Games in 2005

Spending almost 2 hours every other day playing games of my PS2 console, I must have gone through about 50 game titles this year. Out of the list of games that I’ve tried out this year, I think that the following 5 are the most memorable and exciting for me. Like the movie list yesterday, this list is by no means the best out there in the market but they are the ones that I enjoyed the most.

My most memorable PS2 games list for 2005 in no particular order are:

God of War
I normally would not really go for action adventure games but GoW was hard to resists. It had a very interesting story line and the battle system was quite easy to learn even for people like myself who have the reaction speed of a drugged sloth. It was hard to stop once you get into the game.

Lego Star Wars
This game combines two of my childhood obsession so it was an easy choice to be in this list. It was a surprisingly well designed game and it was very engaging to spend time with. What was more surprising was how addictive the game was even though none of the characters in the game had any dialogue.

Ratchet: Deadlock
If there is one constant in the PS2 gaming world, it would be the release of a new Ratchet & Clank game in every year. Unlike the previous titles, games only get to play Ratchet in this year’s release but it doesn’t mean that the game was any less fun. The game did felt a bit shorter than previous installments and left me wanting for more.

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
I have to say that the X-Men Legends series has to be the best PS2 game adapted from a comic book. I loved the first installment of this series and the second one they released this year was much better overall. Having more characters, more mutant powers and a whole boatload of skins to choose from made this game a fanboy’s favorite.

Digital Devil Saga
I have not actually completed this game but I have spent about 20 hours on it to date and it gets better the further in I got. This game has a fairly unusual premise that includes elements of Hinduism that I have never seen before in any game I played on the PS2. The monster encounter level in the came could be a bit on the high side compared to games of the same genre but most of the encounters were well balanced and rewarding to slog through.

The final list and blog entry for 2005 will follow soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Year In Review : Most Memorable Movies in 2005

It’s nearing the end of 2005 which means a lot of site out there are putting out their best of the year or year in review lists. Since I don’t really have much else to write about from the rest of the week, I guess that I could start off a list of my own.

For my first list, the following is my list of the most memorable movies that I’ve watched this year at the cinema. This is not exactly my best movies of the year list but more of the movies that I still get excited about when I think about them. I don’t think that I watched enough movies this year to pick the best.

So, my picks for most memorable movies of 2005, in no particular order:

King Kong
Definitely the mother of all movies for 2005. It’s big, loud and destroys everything in it’s path – I’m talking about the movie itself not the big monkey. If you can stand to sit in a cinema for 3 hours without any toilet breaks then this is definitely one of the movies to watch in 2005.

Batman Begins
This comic book film adaptation not only revitalized the franchise but it successfully erased the shame that BatFans all over the world had to carry on their shoulders after the first appearance of the BatNipple in the last 2 Batman movies. “Batman Begins” made collecting comics cool again.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Getting better with every installments, Harry Potter film adaptations seemed to almost be something that you can depend on to come on screen every 2 years or so. While the latest film at times felt like an extended trailer for the next film, it definitely whets the appetite for more.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
A fitting end for an era. Everyone who grew up watching the original Star Wars now know the story how Luke’s father became Darth Vader. It is still sad to think that there would never be another Star Wars movie now that George Lucas has closed the book on this franchise. Good thing that he left the fans with a wonderful closing chapter that didn’t include any scenes with Jar Jar Binks.

Sky High
It was a fun movie to watch and a bit of a throwback to the Disney live action feature films that I loved so much as a kid. Having Kurt Russell play the adult this time around is a bit of a nod to the people who remembered him for way back when he was a wee Mousketeer. A bit of the” X-Men goes to Hogwarts” but all in all was an enjoyable movie to watch.

I hope to put up other year in review lists on other subjects soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Toy for the New Year

After putting it off for a number of months, I finally decided that it was time to get a new mobile phone to replace my current Motorola V600. I had my heart set for a Motorola V3 RAZR phone for the longest time but hesitated to get it since the price was beyond my RM 1K personal limit for mobile phone. When a friend at work told me that he got his for less than that, I knew it was time for me to take the plunge and trade up for a better phone.

I have been using Motorola phones from the very start with my first mobile phone ever being a StarTAC flip phone. I have never had any problems with any of the models that I’ve used before or the current V600 phone that I was using previously. The only reason that I was trading up to a new phone was that I wanted to get a slimmer (and sexier, I admit) phone so that it won’t be so obvious when clipped to my belt. Last thing I need is an additional bulge on my ever increasing waistline.

I went phone shopping during the Christmas break and ended up looking at the prices of the V3 phone at the shops at Low Yat Plaza. While most shops had it just barely at the absolute limit of what I was willing to spend for a mobile phone, I was still hesitant of going all the way and purchase that model. It was as if there was something that was holding me back and sure enough at the 5th shop that I went in the reason became clear.

It was the Motorola L6 SLVR.

Like the V3 RAZR, the slim design and clean esthetics was carried over to the candy bar line of Motorola mobile phones. At 10.4 mm thickness, the thickness of a pack of chewing gum, the L6 has to be the thinnest mobile phone now out at the market. Weighing a mere 91g, the phone is a bit wider than the normal candy bar phones but I think that it fits nicely in normal-sized palm. The L6 also comes with a fairly bright 64K-color resolution screen that is superior that what was currently offered with the V3. The speaker included was also an improvement over the V3 being that it was a full 24 Channel with 22 KHz polyphonic speaker.

The key pad is not the same laser etched metal that they have on the V3 but the design is a very close approximation of that wonderful idea. The keys on the keypad were spread out fairly well and were quite responsive to the touch that text messaging shouldn’t be any problems once you get used to the key pad. It has sensors that will automatically turn on the backlighting under the keypad if the phone senses that it is in a dark room which would help to prolong the battery life between charging cycles.

The L6 model that I bought was a tri-band phone servicing all the GSM networks but a quad band version would be available soon with the next release. It has all the necessary GPRS and Bluetooth functions but does not offer EDGE or infrared technology for those who like to use them to connect to other devices. It also boast an enhanced mini USB connector (EMU) that could be used to connect the phone to either a computer USB port, the wired hands free kit or to the power supply for charging.

While some people really scrutinize the camera that they include in the mobiles these days, I was never one to quibble about it. The L6 does offer VGA phone with 4x zoom for still captures as well as video recording capability. With a built-in memory of 10MB and no expansion slots, I don’t think that the phone will go well with people who seem to insist of using their mobile phones as their camera, home theater and walkman all roll into one. I mostly use my mobile to send and receive calls or text messages so that limitation doesn’t really impact my decision to purchase the unit.

Like my previous V600, the L6 has speaker phone capability although the voice quality when using the speaker phone might vary due to signal strength. The normal speakers sounded quite clear and crisp for both ways much like the speakers on the recent Motorola models. It also has amazing clarity and reception being able to get a signal at places at the office where other brands usually fail to get reception. The only problem that I had with the audio features was that the ring speakers get a bit muffled if the phone is placed face up on a soft surface. Turning on the vibrate and ring mode would easily work instead in that situation.

At the retail price of RM 880 (USD 232), the L6 had more to offer than the V3 that I coveted all this time. It was within my price threshold and it looked as chic as the RAZR. It has turned a few heads in the office since I’ve been using it and most like the design and functionality. I have yet to fully explore the other functions available on the phone but from what I have already seen, this mobile meets all my needs and more. A slim profile, sexy phone with a price to beat makes it easy to recommend this mobile phone.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Have Yourselves a Merry Christmas !

I would like to wish all the readers of this blog (yeah ... all six of you!) A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Share the joy with your loved ones and have a safe celebration.

A little something that I wrote a few years back that I like to share around this time of year.

A "Beautiful Thing" Christmas Story.

Jamie woke up with a start in the soft glow of moonlight that slipped through the glass doors of the balcony. “Must have nodded off for a while” he softly thought to himself. He didn’t realise how tired he was after the unaccustomed task of cleaning the flat from top to bottom. Turning on the light next to the sofa, he surveyed the results with pride and a wide smile. He had done his best to get the flat spruced up as a surprise for Sandra who was still toiling away at work. “Hope you’ll like it, Mum.” Jamie playfully whispered to himself. Slowly, Jamie stood up and stretched out all the kinks out of his tired frame. He looked at his watch and realised that Sandra won’t be back for another hour which would give him more than enough time to boil some water for a fresh cup of tea for the two of them.

Slowly, Jamie walked towards the balcony to get some fresh air to clear the sleep from his eyes. Waiting for Sandra on Christmas Eve has always been a tradition for Jamie as far as he can remember. It was only recently that he started to make sure that Sandra always had a cup of freshly brewed tea waiting for her when she came back late from work. They may not always see eye to eye about things that happen around them but Jamie never tire of seeing how Sandra’s face glowed when she saw him waiting at the kitchen table with a steaming cup of tea made especially for her. Sometimes they would talk about their plans for Christmas as they sipped their tea. Other times they would just sit there silently across each other while the tea warmed their bodies. Both occasions were enough to convey the meaning that doesn’t get spoken enough by the two of them. The message of gratitude and love for each other.

Looking out over the balcony, Jamie saw the twinkling lights that started to crowd the skies at this time of night. It was surprisingly a clear night tonight and although it was more than a bit nippy, the silence that seemed to shroud Thamesmead tonight beckoned him to stand alone outside in the cold. All around him, most flats were dark as their occupants were outside going about their last minute business before Christmas. Jamie began to rub his arms in an attempt to be warm as a sudden gust of cold breeze descended on the balcony. “It’s too cold to be out here for long tonight. Should be starting tea soon anyway.” Jamie thought as he decided to come back in.

“Santa won’t come if you don’t get to bed, Jamie”

Jamie whipped around to the general direction where the voice came. He was trying to catch a hold of his pounding heart as the moment of surprise passed him by. The voice was unmistakably Ste’s but the balcony next to his was covered in pitch darkness. Jamie thought that he was alone out here and never expected to be taken by surprise.

“Ste? Is that you?”

“Yeah. You’re alright, Jamie?”

“I will be after I push down my heart from my throat. Jeez... Ste. You scared the daylights out of me.” Jamie said as he tried to collect his thoughts after the fright. Peering into the darkness that enveloped Ste’s balcony, Jamie tried to see where Ste was but it was too dark to see.

“Sorry.” Ste sounded guilty as he stayed in the dark.

After unsuccessfully trying to pick Ste out from the darkness, Jamie finally gave up. “What are you doing sitting in the dark, Ste? I thought that nobody was home.”

“Just wanted to get some fresh air. Nobody’s home.” Ste quietly said still covered by the darkness.

“Well … I wouldn’t exactly call you nobody. Came into the light so we can properly talk for god’s sake, Ste.” Jamie said impatiently. He had not see Ste the whole day today and was waiting for a chance to wish him a Merry Christmas before turning in for the night. Jamie actually wanted to say more but as usual some things were best left unsaid for the time being.

Silence greeted Jamie from the direction of Ste’s balcony.

“Ste?” Jamie began to get more worried.

“I ... I can’t, Jamie.” Ste finally stammered.


“Early Christmas present.” Ste said dejectedly.

“Oh.” Jamie began to feel the tips of his ears burn. The bastards that Ste was living with must have gone over him earlier today. The fact that it would be Christmas tomorrow didn’t even mattered to those heartless monsters. The thought of Ste standing there hurt in the dark caused Jamie’s heart to weep silently. He wished that he could get Ste in his arms to console and tell him that everything will be alright but it wouldn’t be proper for two boys to be seen hugging. How he wish that it wouldn’t matter but things were the way they were.

Sighing slightly, Jamie turned looked up to look at the stars that were shining brightly above the dreary flats. “Come closer then. No use shouting to each other. Watch the stars with me for a bit.”

As Jamie heard the sounds of Ste walking closer to where he stood, he tried his best to peek to see the extent of the damage done. Jamie had learned very early on that the last thing that Ste wanted in times like this was sympathy. Although it always broke his heart that he could not make them stop beating Ste, he was at least able to give Ste some measure of dignity back by showing as brave a face as Ste was when he was suffering in silence. They may be able to break Ste but they would never be able to take his pride away. Ste will always have that and Jamie uttered a silent prayer that it would be so forever.

“You’re not still looking for Santa, are you?” Ste’s voice suddenly jolted Jamie from his thoughts.

“I’ve gotten over that phase long ago, you twat” Jamie smiled as he slowly turned to face Ste. It was only after seeing the bruise on Ste’s face that he realised that he wasn’t supposed to see it. Jamie quickly whipped his head to look up at the starts again. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have done that.”

A soft sigh drifted from Ste’s balcony. “It’s OK, Jamie. You can turn around now. You wouldn't even notice it was there after a while.”

Hesitantly Jamie looked down and turned toward Ste. Ste was looking up at the night sky hiding his eyes but Jamie knew that it was still reflecting the hurt that he felt inside. From where he stood, Jamie could see the fresh bruise that began to turn purple in the cold air. Will power and the wall that divided the two balconies were all that was stopping Jamie from trying to caress the bruise, to make it go away and erase the hurt that came with it. Although with all his heart Jamie wanted to do so, he knew that being here and sharing Ste’s hurt like this was all he could do.

“I remembered a time that you would always come here on Christmas Eve to see if you can spot Santa coming over the buildings.” Ste’s soft voice shook Jamie out of his thoughts. Ste had not moved from his position as he looked up at the stars and Jamie was thankful that he did not see the expression on his face when he saw the bruise. Turning around he looked that the sky and tried to sound normal although inside he was raging against what had happened.

“That was before I found out that Santa’s not real, silly. As I recall, you were right there with me all the time. In fact I remember quite distinctly you almost falling down the edge one year when you actually thought that you saw Santa coming. Turns out it was just some silly bird returning to roost.” Jamie softly chuckled at the memory.

Ste laughed softly. “At least I stopped believing in Santa before you did. I will never forget the look on your face when you finally accepted that Santa wasn’t real. Seeing your expression then was like watching a train wreak. You know you should be sorry for it but you just can’t take your eyes off it.” Ste started to smile.

When Jamie saw Ste began to smile, he immediately felt relieved and victorious as he had now managed to make Ste feel better. Although it may not be much but in away he can now walk away with the assurance that Ste would be alright at least for tonight. The smile that might as well have dispelled the darkness around them had returned to grace Ste’s lips and beamed brightly for Jamie.

“Remember the time that we used to make wishes on Christmas Eve?” Jamie smiled back.

“You still do that?” Ste softly chuckled.

“Just because I don’t believe in Santa doesn’t mean I never stopped wishing on Christmas Eve.” Jamie raised an eyebrow as he smiled even wider. “Make a wish with me?” Jamie said as he held out his hand to Ste.

Hesitantly, Ste took Jamie’s hand into his and turned to look for the brightest star in the sky tonight. Once he found it, he turned to Jamie and winked an eye. “That one?”

Jamie looked up at the area that Ste was looking at and immediately saw the same bright star that Ste was looking at. “Yeah”. Jamie smiled and nodded eagerly.

Hand in hand, standing in silence in the dark, the two made their silent wish known to the vigilant star in hopes that someday it will come through. As they stood there braving the cold that surround them, Jamie felt a tinge of guilt overwhelmed him as he knew that he never needed to wish on any stars any more as he already had what he always wished for. To be close to Ste and be able to hold his hand to make his hurts fade away. Someday Jamie might even do more than that but tonight, this was good enough.

Jamie’s guilt was quickly banished when he suddenly realise that Ste’s grip on his hand had become firmer and that he was looking directly at Jamie. There was something in Ste’s eyes that Jamie had never seen before. For a moment, Jamie thought that Ste was about to say something but as sudden as the glint in Ste’s eyes appeared, it was now gone. The firm warm hand was still there though for Jamie.

“Made your wish?” Jamie finally said after over coming the initial moment of puzzlement.

“Yeah” Ste smiled. His hand was still grasping Jamie’s firmly.

“Tell me what you wished for.” Jamie said as a similar smile crossed his lips.

“You know the rules. If I tell you, it won’t come through, silly.” Ste laughed. Ste was still holding Jamie’s hand firmly in his.

For a moment that felt like an eternity, Jamie felt the warmth that was flowing through their joined hands start to push away the cold that was invading every fibre of his body. As he looked down at their hands, Jamie silently wondered how such a simple act of their skins touching could elicit such a reaction that moved his very core. Jamie stood silently transfixed by the sight of his hand in Ste. It was only when Ste suddenly cleared his throat that Jamie looked up and saw that Ste was looking intently at him staring at their joined hands. Flustered that he was caught, Jamie felt a hot blush began to warm his cheeks. Looking across the wall that separated their balconies, Jamie could clearly see that the same blush was colouring Ste’s cheeks. Reluctantly, their hands become unjoined and slowly parted. Finger tips traced the palms softly before touching for a brief moment. A gust of cold air rushed to fill the gap between them.

“Thank you, Jamie. Thank you for letting me share your Christmas eve moment.” Ste softly said.

Jamie immediately recovered from his daze at the sound of Ste’s voice. “I’m about to make tea for Mum. Come join us.”

“I know. You do that every year. But I can’t join you.” Ste sighed.

“Why? I’m sure that Mum won’t mind.” Jamie realised that the invitation was sounding a little bit more desperate that it should have.

“Maybe next time, Jamie. This tea thing you have with your Mum, it’s a family thing. I don’t want to intrude.” Ste turned to look into Jamie’s eyes.

“Rubbish! You won’t be intruding. Mum would be glad to have you join us. You’re alone in the place anyway.” Jamie blurted out before realising that reminding that Ste was alone in was the last thing that he should have done.

“I’m not alone now, Jamie.” Ste smiled at Jamie. From his face, Jamie could see that things would get better now for Ste. At least it would be for the remainder of the night. “Next year. I promise you next year.”

“I’ll hold you to that promise.” Jamie finally resigned to the fact that he would not be able to change Ste’s mind about the invitation.

With a smile and a nod, the two boys started to walk towards the doors into their respective flats.

“Merry Christmas, Jamie”

“Merry Christmas, Ste.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

Movie Review: King Kong

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For better or worse, once a Hollywood director has proven his mettle with a blockbuster hit it is almost certain to be followed by some sort of vanity project green lighted in the wake of that success. For some it was a gamble well played, for others the lessons from “Waterworld” and “The Postman” were unfortunately very much distant from their memories. History seems to repeat itself with Peter Jackson who was given free rein to remake “King Kong” after his wildly successful “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. While it is unfair to compare Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” to “Waterworld”, I have to say that after watching all 187 minutes of this movie there were times in the movie that I worry that it would cross that line into the realm of an absolute mess.

For the uninitiated, Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” is a remake of the 1933 movie of the same title that has been reported as being the film that inspired Jackson to become a film maker. That particular film was later remade and updated for the times in 1976 which saw some changes in the original movie particularly the relationship between the female lead with the titular big ape. In the 2005 version, Peter Jackson took the movie back to it’s original roots by setting it in Depression era New York as it was shown in the 1933 version that he loved so much as a child. Even though he has been reported as admitting that he hated the 1976 version of the movie, I thought that he wisely took the best parts of that movie and incorporated it in his vision of “King Kong”.

Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” starts with the story of Carl Denham (Jack Black), a struggling and desperate film director in 1930’s New York, who by means of deception and manipulation has managed to gather his cast and crew on a boat bound to the Orient where he was suppose to shoot his current movie with them on location. Unbeknownst to many of the people on board, he had actually intended to take them to an uncharted island known only as “Skull Island” where he hoped to make an even grander movie in scope that he had previously envisioned to fend off the studio people who were threatening to shut his production down.

Along for the ride was Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) a struggling actress who was discovered by Denham and taken into the crew when his original intended actress pulled out of the movie. The beautiful actress soon becomes the object of desire of the film’s screenwriter, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who as roped into the trip very much against his will by the wily director. While enroute to the mysterious island, Jack was clearly becoming enamored by the Denham’s lead actress as he watches her performed the lines he had wrote for her and her self-absorbed hunky co-star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler).

After an almost disastrous landfall at Skull Island, the cast and crew of the film came ashore to find themselves among a seemingly deserted ruins. It was here when the action really picks up for this film when the intruders were violently set upon by the savage inhabitants of the island. It was only with the help of the ship’s crew and Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) that they manage to escape the vicious mob and return to the relative safety of their ship but not before losing some of their party to the blood thirsty inhabitants. Despite their efforts, they would soon lose Ann Darrow who was later kidnapped by the locals to be sacrificed to the great ape who lived beyond their high walls that surrounded their village.

It was at this point of the movie, about 1 hour and a few odd minutes in, that we finally get to see King Kong himself in all his jaw dropping splendor. While she was initially terrified by the great beast, Ann Darrow quickly found out that there were a lot more to be afraid of on the mysterious island. After a close encounter with a group of hungry T-Rex, Darrow finds herself in the position of being dependent on Kong for her continued survival. In a fairly strange example of the “Stockholm Syndrome”, Darrow eventually found herself drawn and sympathetic to the misunderstood ape. Kong, who seem to regard this blond haired sacrifice as a toy in the beginning, was also seen to be drawn to this strange but brave woman.

While Darrow was bonding with her captor, a rescue party was organized by the remaining crew to get her back before casting off for home. While some were truly concerned with getting the young actress back, Denham came along with the rescue party with the ulterior motive to shot additional footage for his movie. Along the way the rescue party found themselves running for their lives in the middle of a dinosaur stampede. The rescue party continued to press on even after suffering some casualties and found themselves in even more trouble when an encounter with King Kong resulted in them being stranded amongst gigantic flesh eating insects and worms. It was only by the fortune of having reinforcement come to their aid that the remains of the rescue party was able to escape the bug death trap.

Undeterred by the setbacks that the rescue party encountered, Jack decided to continue tracking the great ape alone to his lair where he found Ann Darrow sleeping soundly under the protection of King Kong. While trying to steal Ann Darrow away from the smitten ape, Kong woke up and chase the pair through the jungle only to find that a trap was waiting for him at the end of the chase. Unable to finish his movie, Denham concocted a plan to capture King Kong alive and to display him to paying audience in America. Suddenly finding his survival now in jeopardy, Kong tore through the mob trying to capture him only to find himself overcome by the chloroform used to subdue the great beast.

The movie fast forwards to the 3rd act where we find a heavily drugged and defeated Kong on display to the New York glitterati. Denham, seeing that this was a way for him to make up all the money that he had lost making his movie, created a whole spectacle on stage to tell the story of Kong to the paying customers not realizing that Kong was becoming agitated by the attention. After recovering his senses, Kong became more violent and began to break all the chains that were holding him down much to the increasing panic of the audience. Breaking free of his bonds, King Kong began to rampage all across New York looking for his beauty, Ann Darrow who it seems that he could sense was in town.

Beauty and the beast were somewhat happily reunited eventually when Darrow found Kong rampaging near where she was currently working. Her presence calmed the beast and they both moved on from the scene of the rampage only to find themselves in a magical moment on the frozen lake in Central Park. Their happy reunion would be cut short by the Army who have arrived at the scene with heavy weaponry to kill King Kong. To find respite from the unrelenting barrage of ordinance, King Kong took the object of his affection with him to the top of the Empire State Building. Despite her protestations, Kong eventually fell to the ground after being killed in a climatic battle involving biplanes closing the film on the note that it was his love for his beauty that eventually killed him.

Unlike the much superior work in his “Lords of the Rings” series, Peter Jackson made several questionable choices in casting this movie. Jack Black was terribly miscast as Carl Denham and his manic energy in his performance at times made Denham feel like a refugee from “The School of Rock” instead of a 1930’s movie director. The distinction of being the worse casting choice of the movie (if not the whole year) must surely be the idea of casting Adrien Brody in the mold of an action hero. A single shirtless scene to show off his newly sinewy buff body does not make him any more believable as an action hero than any of his actions on screen. Intentionally or not, his character came off as wimpy and creepy in equal amounts in his interactions with the female lead character which made it hard to root for the character. The chemistry between the two human leads at times whittles down to nonexistent levels so much so that the story seemed to grind down to a complete halt in an already plodding first act when they were on screen together.

Fortunately for Jackson, the choice of casting Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow paid off more than all the other choices put together. Looking eerily like Nicole Kidman in almost every frame, Watts delivered an Oscar worthy performance considering she was acting against nothing more than a green screen with Andy Serkis acting out Kong’s actions behind the camera for inspiration. To bring the character of Ann Darrow, Watts to traverse a vast emotional range, from horror and fear, to acceptance, to caring which the audience got to see done masterfully on the silver screen. In the hands of a less capable actress, a bad interpretation of this central role could easily have sunk this production faster than an 800 pound gorilla falling of the Empire State Building.

Another major component of the movie that Jackson had to really make right for the movie to work was “King Kong”. Brought to life vividly by the motion capture stylings of Andy Serkis who previously collaborated with Jackson in “Lord of the Rings”, this 25 feet 800 pounds great ape was awe inspiring and jaw dropping to watch on screen. In this movie, Kong was terrifying in anger, tender in compassion, majestic in action and at times can be snarky from a point of view of a human. The range of emotions that was accomplished through this use of CGI for Kong was mind-boggling to watch. At times this version of “King Kong” seemed to have more personality than some of the life action actors in the movie.

This movie is also a visual feast for movie enthusiasts. On par with the visual complexity last seen in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith”, each shot in the movie was filled with information not easily absorbed in one sitting. Jackson’s love for the original material was clearly apparent in the making of this movie as several scenes from the 1933 movie were lovingly recreated and expanded for this movie. The most notable for me has to be the triple T-Rex fight, a tour de force in itself that lasts almost 10 minutes on screen. The straight out fight scene was thrilling to watch and for a time Jackson’s excess in his directorial style could be forgiven for giving us such an iconic scene. Unfortunately I could not say the same about the scenes involving the flesh eating insects and worms which I thought was a tad too long for comfort for the more squeamish audience like myself.

While it was visually excellent, there were some glaring problems with the story telling that was hard to dismiss. By virtue of not having a strong lead up to the supposedly relationship between the human characters, Jackson made it harder for the audience to root for the humans when the relationship between the beauty and the beast was so much more interesting to watch. In a seemingly thankless on-sided affair, Jack’s motivation to rescue Ann from Kong seemed too stalker-ish and their embrace at the end of the movie felt hollow. Another criminally under developed story point I noticed involved Jamie Bell’s character. After building the character of Jimmy so much during the second act it was strange to see Jackson leaving the character arch without a proper resolution. It felt as if there were much more to Jimmy’s story that was left on the cutting floor but at almost 3 hours runtime I have to wonder why it was left as it was.

Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” is indeed a majestic movie made by a director who has again proven that given enough money and technological know how, anything that one can imagine can be put on screen. Bad casting and unresolved character arcs aside, this archetypal tale of beauty and the beast was one of the better visually appealing film to sit through in 2005. It could have been better with a firmer editorial control (much like this drawn out review) over several of the unnecessarily long and plodding sections of the movie but it delivered fully when it mattered most. A welcome addition to the fast forgotten monster movie genre, “King Kong” is a must see for audiences willing to put up with the 3 hour and a few odd minutes screen time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Gubra" trailer available online!

(image curtesy of Yasmin Ahmad)

Found this news snippet while trawling about on SultanMuzaffar’s comment link. Hopefully he’s not too mad that I take it without really asking it from him but I just wanted to make sure the info gets out there (Ampun Muzz ... kalau marah nanti kena jual :P)

Anyway ... it seems that the trailer for the follow-up to Yasmin Ahmad’s wonderful movie “Sepet” is online and available for public viewing. I’ve been waiting to watch “Gubra” trailer since reading so much about this follow-up effort for Yasmin’s and the other blogger’s sites. I don’t know if it’s something that I could do justice to but I guess I could attempt to do a trailer review for this trailer like I did for the X3 trailer one of these days.

I have to admit that “Gubra” and “Brokeback Mountain” are two films that I am looking forward to seen in the early part of 2006. In the meantime, interested parties could view the trailer for “Gubra” at this link.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Movie Review : The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

(image curtesy of

In the wake of the “Lords of the Rings” trilogy, many now see the possibility of translating other previously “unfilmable” properties to the celluloid (or digital) format. What was previously only attainable in the realm of the imagination can now, with the toolbox of new tricks available to the well funded movie maker, be realized on the silver screen for a whole new generation to appreciate. The most recent addition to this endeavor is the recently released “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.

Written by C.S. Lewis in 1948, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” was the first of what was to become 7 books written about the magical land of Narnia. Unlike the works of his one-time friend and colleague J.R.R Tolkien, “The Chronicles of Narnia” was geared more towards the younger set of readership than the more young adult orientated “Lord of the Rings” series. The set of stories in the “Chronicles of Narnia” reads more like a collection of beloved fairy tales comparatively to the fantasy action adventures of the “Lord of the Rings” series.

While both stories were sent in fantastic environments, the geography of Narnia was remarkable less developed comparatively to Tolkien’s tome which lent to the result that the stories in Narnia felt much smaller in scope compared to the tales of Middle-Earth. One other major difference in both works is that there are more gaps in the story telling of Narnia that have been the charm of the whole collection. In Narnia, the readers imagination plays a much larger role as readers most often had fill in the missing events based on the description that Lewis left. While this could be argued as bad story telling, I believe that it is this component that made “The Chronicles of Narnia” such as success among the imaginative pre teen crowd.

I bought the collected volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, having never read the stories as a child, a week before to browse through before watching the film. For what I was able to determine from glancing through the book and sitting through the recently released film adaptation was that it was true to the source material for the most part. It was interesting to see how much they had to make up in the film to fill in the gaps that was left by Lewis in the books to fill in the running time of 140 minutes. I have heard that the opposite was true in the making of “Lord of the Rings” as it had so much more details that could not make it to the final cut of the film.

The film begins with the Pevensie siblings sent away from London to the country side to escape the air raids happening over their heads during the Second World War. Older brother Peter (William Moseley) and older sister Susan (Anna Popplewell) had to take care of the younger siblings Edmund (Skandar Keynes) who was resentful of Peter being the father figure of the group and the youngest sibling, Lucy (Georgie Henley) was not sure what was happening around her. After a train ride, a fairly familiar visual device for the beginning of an adventure thanks to the popular Harry Potter films, the four siblings found themselves in the care of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent) and his stern housekeeper Mrs. Macready (Elizabeth Hawthorne) in his calm estate in the countryside.

It was at this country estate that the youngest of the Pevensie siblings stumbled across the titular wardrobe during a rainy day game of hide and seek . Upon entering the wardrobe, Lucy finds herself transported to the magical realm of Narnia where she meets the faun (half-man, half goat) Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) who immediately recognizes her as a “daughter of Eve”. Although under strict orders to deliver any humans found to the White Witch that ruled Narnia, he lets Lucy go with a warning to avoid the White Witch at all cost.

Lucy’s story was immediately dismissed as a child’s fantasy by the other older siblings upon her return. On her next trip, unbeknownst to her, Edmund followed her through the wardrobe and was promptly discovered by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) who tempts him with sweets and promises of power if he were to deliver all the other siblings to her the next time they came through the portal.

The opportunity soon comes when all four Pevensie siblings found themselves on the other side of the wardrobe. After discovering that the hovel where Mr. Tumnus lived was destroyed by the White Witch’s orders, they were then taken in by the Beavers (Ray Winstone and Dawn French) who told them about the great leonine savior Aslan and the role that they were to play in the prophesy that would release Narnia from the 100 year winter created by the White Witch. Before any of them could act on this new information, a disgruntled Edmund had slipped quietly away to see the White Witch only to be captured and thrown into the icy dungeon for not bringing all his siblings with him.

Fearing for their sibling’s safety, the remaining Pevensie children travel through Narnia with the Beavers to seek out Aslan. Their journey was closely followed by a band or wolves dispatched by the White Witch to bring them to her. After a thrilling chase across the snowy and frozen expanse of Narnia, the children arrived safely at the camp of Aslan’s forces. With no where else to go, they pleaded their case to Aslan (Liam Neeson) to help rescue Edmund from the clutches of the White Witch.

Edmund was eventually rescued when a band of Aslan’s forces followed the wolves retreat back to their camp after a failed attempt to capture the Pevensie siblings. His rescue was however not without a heavy price as Aslan had to sacrifice himself so that Edmund would be allowed to live. His death at the hands of the White Witch mobilized the troops now under the command of Peter to wage battle for Narnia against the forces of the White Witch. The climatic battle seemed to favor the forces of the White Witch until reinforcements led by a resurrected Aslan help turn the tide of battle to favor their side.

With the White Witch forces defeated, good predictably triumphs over evil and the Pevensie siblings fulfilled the prophesy that the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve would deliver Narnia from the unending winter. For their effort in freeing Narnia, each of the siblings were crowned as Kings and Queens of Narnia where they would rule until one day when they rediscovered the path that lead to the wardrobe during a hunt. Inexplicably, the Pevensie siblings decided to leave the magical Narnia for the drab real world where they found that time has not passed for them. An end-credits insert leaves the wardrobe door wide open for a sequel, as Lucy asks the Professor, "Will we ever go back?" to which he replies, "I expect so."

Comparisons to the concluded “Lord of the Rings” trilogy feature series are unavoidable and in this case, “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” falls short of the epic or scope of the first LOTR movies. The story and the way it was presented in this movie felt too simplistic and straight forward given that they had a lot more leg room to interpret the original text than Peter Jackson had with Tolkien’s tome. Having the Disney logo at the opening of the credits notwithstanding, I had hoped a more nuanced and modern retelling of this children’s fairy tale.

Fortunately for this film, the limitations of the story were at time masked by the dazzling displays of the CGI artistry and wonderful voice acting behind them. Most of the animals were animated and voiced beautifully and Andrew Adamson as the film’s director gave equal screen time for them to shine. I have to say that of all the CGI characters running around in this film, I would have to say that the best executed both technologically and developmentally would have to be the wolves. In more than a few scenes they have managed to thrill and menace the audience realistically and at times were much more interesting to look at than the actual live action actors.

For most part, the voice acting was spot on for these CGI characters. I particularly enjoyed the Cockney-accented Mr. and Mrs. Beaver as well as the sly character of Mr. Fox as played by deliciously by Rupert Everett. Liam Neeson, seemingly constantly typecast recently as the mature mentor/father figure, lends a quiet nobility and gravitas to the world wary Aslan. While I thought that the CGI execution of the depiction of Aslan could have been worked on more as it didn’t look as good as the wolves, it was easily overlooked after hearing the character’s line voiced by Neeson.

Unfortunately the same could not be said of the live action actors of the film. William Moseley’ Peter did not have much to do for most of the movie other than looking blandly blonde and pretty to look at. Anna Popplewell’s Susan fared no better as the character was left woefully underdeveloped and relegated to the role of counterpoint to boring blonde Peter. Getting the worse end of the bargain has to be Skandar Keynes’s Edmund who through much of the movie was cast as an unlikable brat who was not even given the chance to show any redeeming value other than perhaps the constant look of guilt that he shows after he realized what he has done. The only shining gem of the bunch was Georgie Henley’s Lucy who she imbued with equal amounts of naiveté and wonderment. Her scenes with Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) were a joy to watch and was definitely her best work in the movie compared to her other scenes.

Special mention should also be given to the White Witch as played by Tilda Swinton. Her icy demeanor and restrained manner further enhances her fiery outburst for time to time beautifully. It could have been easy for someone to over do and play the White Witch as something closer to Cruella de Ville but Swinton masterfully avoided that pitfall. Her White Witch was both a tempting seductress and a manipulative ice queen as the same time. Unfortunately that all breaks down when she has less lines to say and have more poses to do as in the climatic battle field. Depending on your mood at the time, her posing during the fight were either laughable or cringe-worthy to watch. I felt the same way the last time I saw her as Gabriel in “Constantine”.

The climatic battles, which owned more to LOTR’s influence than Lewis’s original text, in and of itself pales in comparison to the battle scenes from LOTR. Unlike LOTR, both side have more variety of combatants both familiar and magical in nature. Instead of using this more as an advantage, the film goes on to do the battle scene as derivatively common of all the large scale battle scenes that we have seen on screen lately. Other than the blink-and-you-miss-it use of gryphon air power (also not from the book), the battle scenes were so common looking that it was hard not to think that you have seen it done better before. Given how much they had expanded from the original text about this climatic battle, I would have expected them to do more with it to punch up the intensity of the movie.

Another tool of developing the intensity of the movie that was conspicuously missing was the soundtrack. Looking back I am surprise how forgettable the soundtrack was for a movie of this nature. From the credits it seems that seven people are credited for the score, including Alanis Morissette and yet I could not remember any part of the soundtrack leaving a lasting impression like it did in the LOTR series. Unlike the character and landscape themes carefully created for LOTR, the soundscape of Narnia was a tool criminally underutilized when this movie needed all the help that it could get to underscore the action happening on screen.

Although this movie is being marketed as Christian fable in America by the neo-conservatives and their Christian right-wing allies, the movie itself does not try to be too preachy in tone or execution. While some of the imagery in the movie, specifically scenes of Aslan’s sacrifice, execution and eventual resurrection have Christian underpinnings underlying them, they are only apparent for those searching for such imagery. For most of the children watching this movie, these scenes are not imbued with the interpretation that the adults have tagged to them. For them, they are just scenes that carry the story forth.

Watching “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in the final analysis is a good way to spend an afternoon with the family. The colorful settings, new characters and a new magical land to explore would appease the children would be willing to sit through 140 minutes of this movie. Life long fans of C.S. Lewis’s works would sigh a breath of relief to see a half way decent visual interpretation of their beloved tale on the silver screen and be happy that it didn’t turn out worse than it did. For other viewers already accustomed to the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings series would find this film painfully light, teracly sweet and ultimately unfulfilling. Hopefully they would do it better if they ever do the next installment.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trailer Review : X3

(picture curtesy of

I normally don’t get worked up on an upcoming movie trailer but it was a slow day at the office and I was on a roll creatively at the moment.

The subject of today’s entry is the recently released teaser trailer for the upcoming installment of the X-Men feature franchise simply titled X3. After viewing the trailer, a few things came to mind that I want to document now and see later how much of it is actually true.

I have to warn everyone reading that most of the items listed here are mere speculation on my part. Most were clearly presented in the trailer but most are speculations based on previous storylines in the original comics that I have been reading for the past 20 years. I won’t go as far as saying that I know everything there is to know about the X-Men but after all that time reading about them, I have to admit that I may have accumulated more than my share of X-Men trivia that helped to come to these speculations.

The teaser trailer for this movie that would should be in the cinemas around 26th May 2006 was released over the weekend. Those who have the bandwidth to view it online should go to the Apple QuickTime site to view the trailer online. For those without broadband, the ComicResources website have provided several screen shots from the trailer for them to view.

I have to stress again that the following speculations are my own and may not reflect what would actually be in the film. Since some of the information below might be a bit spoilerish for those who have not been following any of the X-Men comics, you may want to skip them altogether if you don’t want to spoil your movie going experience.

Speculations :

- Another title for the movie could be “X3 – The Last Stand”

- Storm looks to be the team leader this time around seeing that she looks to be leading the team and Wolverine through the Xavier’s Institute underground complex.

- The new X-Men team makeup looks to be Storm, Colossus, Rogue, Iceman, Wolverine and Kitty Pryde who I hope would be using the codename of Shadowcat instead of the other aliases that she used before in the comics (Sprite, Ariel).

- The new X-Men looks to be the 2nd tier team as per the movie’s continuity since they are the younger of the X-Men members.

- Colossus looks to be wearing a cut-off version of the X-Men leather uniform which while lets him show off his biceps, covers more skin that I would expect for the character. It could be influenced by the uniform designs in “Ultimate X-Men” rather than the “Astonishing X-Men” continuity.

- Nightcrawler from X2 is no where in sight confirming that the character would not be returning in this installment. I guess that they can only have 2 blue colored characters per movie.

- The next sequence shows a pitched battle involving the X-Men team and Wolverine appears to be nonchalantly smoking a cigar. My guess is that this is actually a training session in the Danger Room that Wolverine walked into not unlike he did when he went with the Professor into Cerebro in X2.

- Angel looks good on screen. Can’t tell if the wings were full CGI wings but they seem to work fine. Wasn’t able to tell how detailed the looked like from the trailer as there were no close-up of the wings.

- Angel was strapped down about to be injected with something before he broke free of his restraints. Later Magneto would refer to “they are trying to cure us”. Both support the speculation that a possible cure for the mutant condition that is being forced on the mutants might play a role in this movie.

- Magneto returns in X3 with a new group of disfranchised mutants. In addition of the new Brotherhood team that he brought together, I have a sinking feeling that there other mutants cheering him are the Morlocks who lived in the sewers underneath the city.

- In the comics, the Morlocks lived underneath New York City. If these are the Morlocks in the movie, it seems that they moved them to San Francisco instead.

- The new Brotherhood seems to be made of Juggernaut, Callisto (formerly the leaders of the Morlocks in the comics), Pyro and (surprise, surprise) Jean Grey who I think is channeling her Dark Phoenix personal. There are 3 other unidentified mutants behind Magneto whom could be Omega Red, Mystique & Destiny.

- Cyclops is seen grieving at the edge of Alkali Lake which could be from earlier in the movie. I suspect that after the events of the last movie, Cyclops took a leave of absence and let Storm take over leadership of the team. If I remember correctly he did the same thing after Jean’s first death in the original comic.

- Wolverine is there at Alkali Lake with Cyclops which I makes me think that the movie starts with both Cyclops and Wolverine confronting their lost/grief/guilt of losing Jean Grey (or they finally confessed their love to each other ... there is so much HoYay subtext in their relationship).

- Looks like Iceman and Shadowcat might have something happening between them based on the snippet of a scene where Bobby is reacting to something that Kitty might have said. In the “Ultimate X-Men” comics, Shadowcat has a crush on Iceman although he was still pining for Rogue who left the team to be with Gambit. Shadowcat is not in a relationship with Colossus in that comic series because it was recently revealed that he is gay unlike his character in the “Astonishing X-Men” series.

- Beast turned out looking better than I expected. Was afraid that we would be seeing too much of Kelsey Grammer coming through the makeup.

- As noted earlier, Jean Grey does seem to come back from the dead with longer red hair and more powerful telekinetic powers. This would strengthen the speculation that she came back as the Phoenix or more probably the dark aspect of her since she is seen siding with Magneto this time around.

- One of the students at the Institute is shown using his powers to make paper airplanes fly. Closest power equivalent in the comic series would be a female character in the “New X-Men” team who goes under the code name “Windancer”.

- The trailer shows a memorial service led by Storm on the ground of what I believe is the Xavier’s Institute. Cyclops and Wolverine doesn’t seem to be in attendance which leads me to believe that this might be a sequence in the beginning of the movie. I’m speculating that the memorial service is for Jean Grey and that the timeline of this movie happens a few weeks after the events at the end of the previous movie.

- Wolverine is not in the memorial service because he is at Alkali Lake looking of an AWOL Cyclops.

- The main X-Men sitting in the front row looks to be Rogue, Iceman, Shadowcat, Colossus, Beast and Dr. Moira MacTaggart. I suspect that there are other X-Men characters from the comic in the crowd but the shot was too far and wide to make out details of the congregation.

- Beast seemed to the both an active member and the team’s liaison with the government seeing that he seems to be in a meeting with government types in a bunker-like meeting room.

- The destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge by Magneto in what could be the climatic battle follows several storylines in the original comics. Notable the first appearance of Magneto in the “Ultimate X-Men” and the time that Magneto (or his clone) assumed the identity of Xorn to infiltrate Xavier’s Institute and later took over New York City in the “Uncanny X-Men” series.

- Fans of the comics finally get to see the Wolverine – Colossus “Fastball Special” combo move on screen. I hope that the experience would be not unlike the excitement of seeing the Human Torch shout “Flame On!” in the Fantastic Four movie.

- Based on the angle of attack, destruction spread and ordinance, I think that the X-Men will be fighting the Sentinels when they show the “Fastball Special” move. I don’t think that they will pull the “Fastball Special” out too early in the movie if they do show the X-Men training in the Danger Room in the first act of the film.

The trailer looks to be exciting and I am really anticipating to watch the movie when it comes out next year to see how much of the items in my list here would actually make it to the film. I also hope to see more details in the next batches of trailers that they would be releasing as the release date nears.

Till then, enjoy the trailer and don’t forget to register at the official website for the movie to get notified of new developments.

Update : Additional thoughts on Trailer #2 (released in March 2006) can be viewed here.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Theater Review : Julius Caesar at KLPAC

Duration : 2 December - 11 December 2005 Venue : Pentas 1 KLPac
Price : RM60 & RM40 (inclusive of RM2 ticket handling charge) 50% discount for students below 18 (Not applicable on promotional nights).

(KLPac) 4047 9000
(TAS@BSC) 2094 9400
This is my first attempt of reviewing a stage production so if I get the vocabulary of the convention wrong then I apologized in advance. I know that I was due for other reviews that I had planned but due to both time sensitive information and my immediate reaction to the production, I choose to present this review first before returning to the scheduled gap in blog entries.)

The theater and me have not exactly been the closest of friends. It is still hard for me not to automatically associate the local theater scene as the domain of the local artistic glitterati elite and not the uncultured plebian masses such as myself. However, once in a while, I am presented with the opportunity to partake the previously unreachable fruits of the local theater scene by sheer luck and fortune. When stars and such fates align, I actually get to go to the theater.

The last theater performance that I went to was a local musical production of “Rubiah” way back in 1999 so to say that I have not seen much of the local theater scene has to be a gross understatement. So when a fellow blogger friend of mine rang me up to tell me that he had extra tickets to see the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) presentation of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, I unashamedly said yes to the offer. Not only was this a golden opportunity for me to view a local production of this great tale for the first time but it would also be my first opportunity to visit the KLPAC since it opened it’s doors to the public.

On the drive over, I was trying to recall anything that I could remember from the original text. I was fairly certain that the last time I read “Julius Caesar” was nearly 8 years ago so other than passing recollections of favorite moments from the story, I could not recall in details what happened in the other parts of the story. This meant that I would have the opportunity to enjoy the production as if I was reading the story for the first time all over again. Sadly that lack of recall would also limit my ability to appreciate how much was adapted and/or modified from original story to fit this production runtime of 90 minutes. Being the visually orientated person that I am, I do however have images from the story as I remembered them from my readings that I was looking forward to see how they were translated on stage in the performance.

Since we arrived about half an hour before opening curtains, we decided to hang around the KLPAC to soak in it’s ambience and to wait for the other members of our entourage to arrive. Personally I was looking for safety in numbers as I was fast becoming intimidated by the crowd that was gathering. I quickly found myself star struck and openly gawking at the celebrities that I recognized like the idiot that I must have looked to them. I’ve always been intimidated by the theater-going crowd who seemed to know each other by sight which made me feel more like the outsider pretending to fit into their world. This is actually true for any small or elite grouping that I find myself intruding into.

Fortunate to me that the moment that I stepped foot into the KLPAC, I felt like I was coming home to somewhere familiar. I’m not saying that I was having a Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard” kind of moment when I entered the lobby of KLPAC but the physical surroundings reminded me of a typical US campus architecture that I found strangely comforting. Fond memories of my time studying in the States that still resonated positively further enhanced the comfort level that I felt in the KLPAC surroundings irregardless of the intimidating crowd around me.

When we went into the main auditorium to find our assigned seats, I was quite surprised to see how close the stage was to the audience. The first thing that came to my mind was how much better the theater going experience would be to be this intimate with the action that was being presented on stage. The only other theater that I have been to had a orchestra pit separating the stage from where the audience was sitting so it didn’t feel as inviting as this stage. Once we settle down in our seats, I was fully prepared to enjoy the rest of the night.

The KLPAC production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” was adapted and directed by Joe Hasham who is a very well know and respected name in the local performing arts. With his wife, Dato’ Faridah Merican acting as Executive Producer, they have adapted this classic tale of jealousy, conspiracy, intrigue and betrayals into a concise 90 minutes stage production that was to me a joy to surrender my senses to.

In the production program booklet, Hasham wrote that he was nigh unapologetic to the Shakespearian purist that he had to trim down the original text to fit his production. In this regard of the production, I would totally agree with him as “Julius Caesar” while was a great story had more than it’s share of scenes and sections that effectively grinded the flow of the story to a halt. I sincerely believed after watching the performance that Hasham has been true to the essence of the story and have successfully incorporated enough of the major components of it to tell the story of “Julius Caesar” as it was meant to be told.

Looking at the stage, I thought that the stage design was minimalist but effective for this presentation as it did not distract from the players of the story. The use of white as the primary color and sheer materials for the set dressing allowed for an additional canvass on which the lighting design could shine. For the most part, I thought that they did a good job of lighting the stage and the actors. Having said that, I am due pressed to point out some room for improvement for the light design team.

One would be during Caesar’s assassination scene with the use of strobe lighting to simulate slow motion on stage. I was looking forward to see how this would come on stage after reading about it as we entered the auditorium but somehow I felt that there was something a bit off in the execution of it. I don’t really know if it was the timing between the flashes of light or if it was the synchronizing of the action on stage but something felt disconnected between the planning and the execution. In my mind, I was expecting to see something akin to snapshots of what was happening on stage when the strobe lighting system was used instead of a slow motion pantomime. Or maybe it was just me who felt a little let down with the actual result.

Another portion of the show that I was surprise not to see the lighting design playing a more significant role was the interlude after Marc Antony’s speech and the next scene. As the story goes, civil war had erupted in Rome and there were fighting on the street. While the audience was told of this through the sounds of the battle/riots that reverb loudly around us in the auditorium, the stage was curiously and inexplicably left unlit for quite some time when common convention expected something happening on stage to match the sounds that the audience were hearing. I wasn’t sure at that point if the audience were meant to focus on the dark stage and immerse themselves in the surrounding soundscape or were we suppose to be watching something else off stage where the sounds we coming from. After watching other scenes brilliantly, both in the creative and physical sense, lit it was a bit bewildering to be presented with a dark stage without warning.

I am not well verse with the local theater scene to recognized the names in the cast other than Patrick Teoh who I know from his previous work on local radio, TV and films. His portrayal of Cassius was not only the first thing that attracted me to attend this performance but I humbly put as the core that held this production together. The story of “Julius Caesar” for me personally has always been more the story of Cassius the Instigator. As Cassius, Teoh was at time a little too subdued in his body movement per my expectation of the character but then again it might be intended as the character was not expected to be as smarmy as other Shakespearean villains. The matter of who was the actual villain of the piece was never telegraphed in the original work and neither did Teoh as he did it in his wonderful performance as Cassius.

The other character that I was looking forward to see in the production was Marc Antony. Of all the passages in the original text, Antony’s lament upon Caesar’s dead body has always been my favorite and the one that I was looking forward to see performed most of all. I have to be truthful that the first time I saw Gavin Yap on stage as Marc Antony, I was a bit distressed. Colored by past viewing of other portrayals of Antony, I was expecting someone more commending in stature for the role. When I first saw Yap’ Marc Antony on stage amidst the other players, I was struck by how physically small and unassuming he looked in comparison of the other characters.

Fortunately for him. Yap’s Marc Antony was neither small or unassuming vocally when things matters most. I admit that I was moved closed to tears in appreciation at his wonderful delivery of the speech to the Romans. His powerful and commanding voice, while sounded somewhat disconnected from his physical appearance, was exactly what the scene demanded and he delivered a stirring performance. At times I found myself fully immersed in the speech that I could easily be moved to respond to his exclamations had I remembered what the lines for the Roman mob in that scene were and if this was an audience participation theater. I have to say that if Gavin Yap was cast as Marc Antony for his commanding voice then this was a good casting call indeed though the same unfortunately, with no malice intended to this wonderful actor, could not be said of his physical presence on stage.

Rounding up the main cast were Ari Ratos (Brutus), Kennie Dowle (Caesar), Kurt Crocker (Casca), Samantha Schubert (Portia) and Clare Decic (Calipurnia) who all performed most splendidly with their material. No less important were the periphery characters as played by Roshan Narayan (Messala), Pavanjeet Singh (Metellus Cimber), Colin Kirton (Decius), Amsalan Doraisingam (Messala), Michael Chen (Lucius) and Calvyn Wong (Cinna).

The last remaining uncredited participant of this performance has to be the dynamic soundscape as produced by the team from Two AM Music Studios. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersive sound design that further enhanced the feeling of the immediacy of the action happening on stage. If there is a fault to be found in the execution of the sound design, I have to say that it was the tendency of the soundscape drowning out the beginning of the actor’s dialogue after some of the scene transitions that I found to be a bit distracting. Better coordination between the stage and the sound control booth could easily fix this oversight in future performances.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on my night out at the theaters. The 90 minutes or so watching Joe Hasham’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” has definitely been one of the highlights of the year for me personally. The slick production value, dynamic sound design and commanding performances makes recommending a viewing of this production a forgone conclusion. It was definitely a joy to lend our ears to for a night so to speak.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Passing On The Torch

It took me a while to get back to the swing of things after the long holiday including of course this neglected blog. I finally got some time today to jot my thoughts down.

Other than visiting some of my relatives up in Sungai Besar, Selangor and PJ, most of my Aidil Fitri holidays were spent at my parents house in Selayang. Since we all decided to have Hari Raya in KL instead of making the trip to Johor to be with relatives on my father’s side, we decide to get all the relatives on my mother’s side together at our house. Since that branch of the family were much smaller than my father’s side, it was quite manageable.

The few days leading up to Hari Raya, every one came to our house to make preparations for the day. Being the eldest male around, my father acted as coordinator of the whole thing. Everyone had their own thing to do from making finishing touches to the new window treatments, weaving both ketupat nasi and ketupat palas, baking cakes and cookies, prepping the ingredients for the special dishes that we would always have on Hari Raya morning and cleaning up all the houses.

My job this year was to make the dodol that has not been made in my family since my grandfather passed away a few years back. It was his tradition that his grandchildren would always have a little of his dodol every Hari Raya when he was alive. I remember getting it even while I was studying in the US. He made my father mail me a small container of dodol through express mail the 2 years I had to celebrate Hari Raya overseas. Having it was a piece of home while I was trying to get into the spirit of Aidil Fitri while freezing my behind off in the deep cold of Wisconsin winter.

No one in my father’s family took up the tradition after he passed on. While I don’t blame them for not wanting to since it is back breaking work but I always had a deep appreciation of the thought behind the tradition. It meant a lot for me to get that little piece of home and hearth from him and I missed it now that he’s gone. When I told my family that I wanted to revive the tradition again, while not everyone was particularly enthusiastic about it, they all supported me because it would be wasteful if the old recipe was lost to the younger generation of the family.

The first thing that I had to do was to get together all the equipment needed to cook the dodol with. Since most of my late grandfather’s original cooking equipments are back in Johor, we had to buy new ones to use here in KL. Most of the items I had to buy at a store in Chow Kit that I have never back to in ages. Not only was I surprised to see how much things have changed in that area but I was also astounded by the number of people in the streets in the days leading to Aidil Fitri. It was as if the whole of Kuala Lumpur was there all at once and it was breathless to behold.

Once I get all the cooking utensils together, it was time to get the ingredients together. There are some tips and tricks that my grandfather used and I note them down in the recipe below.

Dodol (makes about 1 kg more or less)

1 Kg Glutinous rice flour
2 Kg Palm sugar (Gula Melaka)
2 Liters Coconut milk (1st extract from about 4 large coconuts)
5 Pandan (screw pine) leaves
1/2 Table spoon salt
Water as required


Tip/Trick: The choice of sugar used in the recipe does influence the outcome of the dodol. Palm sugar will make a dodol with a mellower flavor and color. Brown sugar/molasses will darken the dodol considerably. Processed white sugar will result in a dodol that is much sweeter with a sharper after taste. His perfect combination was the secret of my grandfather’s dodol that he didn’t tell anyone. I guess that I would have to experiment with the combination to find out.

Arrange the palm sugar in a pot and fill the pot with water until it covers the top of the palm sugar blocks. Knot the pandan leaves together so they could be easily be removed later and place them into the pot. Place the pot on a medium heat and let the palm sugar dissolve into the hot water. Stir occasionally to make sure that it doesn’t boil over and that all the palm sugar blocks have been dissolved. Once all the sugar has dissolved, let the syrup cool down before the next step.

Sieve the glutinous rice flour finely into a appropriate size mixing bowl. Dissolve the salt into the coconut milk and add to it the cooled sugar syrup after removing the knotted pandan leave from it. Sieve the whole mixture into a container to remove any tiny bits of the coconut shell that may have been scraped along and bits that did not dissolve. Add the liquid mixture little by little to the glutinous rice flour and stopping to mix the mixture thoroughly in each step until all the coconut milk has been added. Add plain water into the mixture as needed so it has a smooth milk consistency but not too watery.

Tip/Trick: I found that working the mixture with my bare hands was the easiest way to make sure that there were no lumpy bits. I didn’t use a hand mixer but I guess that it could help here as well. Sieve the mixture through a few times if necessary but I found that I didn’t have to do that at all when I use my hands.

Tip/Trick: Some dodol recipes recommend mixing only the syrup and water with the glutinous rice flour at this point and to cook the coconut milk on a medium fire first until it starts to release the coconut oil (pecah minyak) before adding the mixture to it. I was told that this method cuts down the cooking time and makes the dodol much easier to handle as it starts to thicken. I didn’t try this tip since I wanted to do it the way my grandfather used to do it to see if I could recapture the same taste.

After making sure that there are no lumpy bits of flour left in the mixture, pour it into a heavy bottom cast iron wok before it is placed on to a medium high fire. My grandfather used to insist on cooking his dodol on a wood and coconut shell fire but I used a gas stove instead which helped to cut the cooking time from his usual 10 hours down to about 4. The mixture has to be stirred constantly using a wooden cooking paddle to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom of the wok. Having a constant flame helps in making sure that the dodol doesn’t burn so you need to watch the heat even when using a gas stove.

The first 2 hours will go fairly easily as the mixture start to thicken and grow darker in appearance. Once it thicken, it’s very important that none of it sticks to the wok surface or you will end up with dodol with hard bits in it. The best way to stir the dodol at this point is with 2 people folding the bottom half of the mix from each end of the wok up. It would be too hard for one person to cope alone at this point. My grandfather’s dodol making has always been about family, community and cooperation as well as making the delicacy every year.

If all goes well, the dodol mixture will thicken to consistency of chewing gum or warm taffy. I’ve noted that dodol continue to harden even after it taken off the heat so take it off earlier if you like to have softer dodol. The dodol is ready when you could pull off a bit from the wooden cooking paddle without burning your fingers and roll it into a small ball that doesn’t stick to your fingers. It should feel smooth and slick from the coconut oil.

Once taken off from the fire, the dodol should be poured into a flat tray to cool off before being cut into bite sized strips and served. If prepared correctly, the dodol could last for at least a month if placed into an air tight container. That is if no one finishes it earlier.

My attempt at dodol making this year didn’t come out as well as I had hoped it would since it was not as sweet or as dark as I remember my late grandfather made it. It was also a bit more chewy than I would have liked it since I over cooked it instead of stopping when I should. I guess for a first timer I could have done worse but at least that now I have the mistakes that I know I will correct the next time I try the recipe again which might be much earlier than I would expect now that I’m the bearer of this tradition in the family.

I’ve always been very big on family traditions and for me to honor this particular one was something that made the Aidil Fitri this year more memorable.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What's In Store Post Holidays?


I’m finally back to work today after a long stretch of holidays and will be updating this blog with new entries soon. Other than the obligatory entry for my Hari Raya holidays, look forward to my review of the latest Ricky Martin’s album “Life” coming within this week. I have that CD ripped on my laptop and have been on a looping playback since I got it last Sunday.

It’s that good, folks.

The music video for the first single from the new album, "I Don't Care", is available here curtesy of Yahoo! Music.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ketupat, Lemang and Rendang, Oh My.

I guess that it’s a no-brainer to assume that the upcoming Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Eid Mubarak for those unfamiliar with the local term) is definitely on the minds of everyone who will be celebrating it. Seeing that it comes closely after Deepavali this year, I’ve decided to take the whole week off next week instead of the usual few days I took in previous years. So instead of just spending about 3-4 days with the family, I will be spending a grand total of 10 days at the ole homestead in the boondocks of Selayang this year.

I’m not really looking forward trying to figure out what to pack for a stay that long. I don’t keep any of my clothes at my parents’ house since I move out so I definitely need to bring some from my apartment. Since it would be a long haul stay this time around, relative to my usual blink-and-miss-it drop-ins, I’m afraid that I may end up having to pack up half of my wardrobe just to make sure I have enough clothes to wear. Of course that doesn’t include the Baju Melayu and/or the batik shirts that I need to bring along to wear in the event that they want me to look half-way presentable when we go visiting relatives. Looks like I have to break out my carry-on luggage to pack all this stuff in instead of my customary backpack.

I have to say that I’m looking forward for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri this year because I get to try my hand at making dodol from scratch for the first time in my life. My late grandfather used to make it every year but he stopped about 10 years ago when his health declined and no one in the family took up the tradition. I don’t know why I suddenly feel the urge to want to revive the family tradition and revive my grandfather’s old dodol recipe. At first I was the only one wanting to do this since dodol-making is a back breaking work to say the least but eventually I managed to rope in my other brothers and brother-in-law to chip in. Hopefully they would actually deliver on the promise but even if they don’t, I probably would still soldier though it. My father jokingly told me that my late grandfather’s spirit must have put the idea in my head while I was sleeping and now I have no choice but to see it through. It’s creepy to think that there might be some truth to that since I’ve never been keen about the idea before.

Just in case that I get bored, I’m definitely lugging back my PS2 and my laptop along for the trip. I don’t think that I will be posting any entries during the holidays since I don’t have a broadband connection at my parents’ house but I guess I could still do an offline write up on how the dodol-making venture turns out. I could always upload that when I come back to my apartment. Other than some last minute instructions for my staff who will be working next week, I guess that I’m all set for the holidays.

For those celebrating Hari Raya I would like to wish you and yours a Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and a safe celebration. Also not forgetting those who will be celebrating Deepavali a few days before Hari Raya, well wishes for them and their family. For the rest who would still be able to celebrate with us during the holidays, I would like to wish the a safe and enjoyable holiday.

See you guys on the flip side.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My Love Affair With Food

(image curtesy of Ben & Jerry'

I recently found out that the local 7-11 store near my place carries Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and ever since then I’ve been getting a pint a week from them. Unfortunately, they don’t come cheap. A 1-pint tub of Ben & Jerry’s cost about RM 24 compared to a local brand costing under RM 10. However, I gladly pay the premium just to get my hands on what I always believed to be the best ice cream on the face of the planet. B&J’s ice cream are so much more flavorful than the local ice creams that each bite is just an orgasm of taste that’s hard to resist. They also have much more imaginative flavors than your average local ice cream.

B&J’s were the only ice cream that I used to eat during my stay in the States. When I came back, I tried to find a place that carries them but for the longest time, I could only find them very rarely. Even when I did find them, it would be just a few tubs of plain flavored tubs of chocolate or vanilla which didn’t seem worth buying since there were tons of cheaper chocolate or vanilla ice cream. The 7-11 store that I’m buying them from now carries “Cherry Garcia”, “Chubby Hubby”, “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” & “Chocolate Fudge Brownie” flavors that I don’t remember having before. I have to say that my current favorite flavor is “Chubby Hubby” but unfortunately for me they really just fly off the ice cream section every time fresh stocks come in. I think I have a rival in my quest to get a tub of “Chubby Hubby”

Finding a supply of B&J’s ice cream again reminded me of all the foods that I missed from the time I was living in the States. I guess that I could try to recreate some of them locally but I wonder if they would be the same. I thought that for today’s entry, since I don’t really have anything more interesting to write about, I’ll list some of my favorite foods that I missed.

BTW ... I’m not telling which 7-11 store carries B&J just in case mine is the only one who carries them. Don’t need more competition for the ice creams.

Toasted Garlic Bagels

Of all the food I had in Madison, this is the one that I missed the most. I used to go to this bagel shop just across from Randall Stadium at the corner of Regent St and Monroe St every chance I get and buy them by the dozen. I never had one before I came to the US and I instantly fell in love with it the first time I had one. I remembered that the shop carried a wide variety of types but my favorite was garlic with garlic flavored cream cheese. Having garlic breath for the rest of the day was worth each warm toasted slice although I guess that it didn’t really endear me to non-garlic eaters. Unfortunately for me, bagels are almost unknown here and I’ve only found them again once a few years back in a local sandwich food chain that have since stopped operating. Someone told me that I could get frozen bagels flown in from US from a shop in Ampang that specializes in food for the expatriate population on Ambassador’s Row there but I have not been able to track down the place till today.

Jelly Filled Doughnuts

For some strange reason, I never liked jelly filled doughnuts before I went to the States. I guess it was because they get too messy to eat compared to powders or glazed doughnuts. My first Wisconsin winter quickly change that for me. There was a doughnuts shop about 2 blocks away from where I stayed and they would have freshly baked jelly filled doughnuts and something they call “bear claws” at the start of almost every hour of the day. They usually use either apple, blueberries or strawberries as fillings but sometimes they would go wild and have something like apricot or peach instead. I remember that the smell of freshly baked doughnuts would waft into my room at the middle of a cold winter’s night and immediately get my stomach juices flowing. To this day, I would always remember biting into a freshly baked peach bear claw as one of the best things about winters in Madison.

Cajun Seafood Gumbo

I’m a big fan of spicy food and the closest that I got to real American spicy food was either Cajun or Tex-Mex cooking. While I had both types of restaurants close to where I lived, I found myself attracted more to Cajun cooking than Tex-Mex and more to seafood gumbo than other Cajun dishes. There was this deli about 2 blocks from my apartment that served the best seafood gumbo I ever head. The owners were very friendly to me and even walked me through all the different types of Cajun dishes when I first came to their shop. Needless to say that I became fast friends with them to the point that I could ask them to cook up a special extra spicy batch of seafood gumbo on the days that I would go there for dinner. For the 3 years I was in Madison, their seafood gumbo was one of my favorite comfort food. I remember begging them for their gumbo recipe before I left to come back to Malaysia but they laughingly told me that they don’t need the competition if they decide to expand to this side of the world.

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

I have yet to find any place in Malaysia that has this style of pizza. The one that I remember most fondly was the spinach – garlic – cheese deep dish pizza that they used to sell at a small Italian family owned restaurant a few blocks away from where I used to stay in Madison. They made the pizza about the size of a dinner plate and was at least 3 inches deep. A whole pie would usually last me about a day if I don’t go crazy and finish it in one sitting. The thing was that it actually tasted better served cold the day after an overnight in the refrigerator. My favorite college breakfast was a cold slice of deep dish pizza bought the day before with black coffee which also explains the ever increasing waistline while I was there.

I don’t know if I will ever get to sample these foods again short of actually making a trip back to Wisconsin but one can never know. I never thought that I would find B&J’s in KL and now I have so stranger things have happened.

Or I could always try to find the recipes on the Net and try them out when I have a proper kitchen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

DVD Review - The Outsiders - The Complete Novel

(image curtesy of American Zoetrope)

I first watched “The Outsiders” when I was 12 years old and living in an Army camp in Kota Bahru, Kelantan. I don’t remember who’s idea it was but we rented the movie from the local video store one day and I instantly identified with the story at first sitting. I first saw the movie during a time in my life that I was running around in a group of friends not unlike the “Greasers” in the movie. My old gang were the children of the lower ranking officers in the camp and we had our own version of the “Socs” which consisted of the children of the higher ranking officers in the camp. Of course we didn’t really have fights or rumbles between the 2 groups but at 12 years old, the animosity between the groups were felt like it was a matter of life or death. Of all the characters that I saw in that movie, I identify the most with Ponyboy as like him I was the youngest one in our group and the one who was just acting tough because the others expected me to.

Looking back, it was amazing how similar the story was to the experiences that I was going through at the time despite the fact that the original story was set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 60’s. This was one of the strengths of “The Outsiders” as written by S.E. Hinton in which the story was universal enough that the themes applied to most teenage experiences wherever they may be and in any time period they happen to live in. When I figured out the movie that I watched over and over was originally from a book, I went out to see if I can find a copy to read. I remembered looking for the book in my school library and the disappointment of not finding it. Somewhat obsessed with the story, I even asked my English teacher about it and she was the one who told me to try the State Library where I finally found a copy. This was the exact moment when I started to fall in love with S.E. Hinton’s books especially her earlier works that still have a special place in my heart.

For years I often wondered how the movie would be like if they followed closely to the original book. I’ve always been more partial to the story of the Curtis brothers as presented in the book than the Dally story that they focus on more in the movie. The movie in of itself was a wonderful favorite of mine but I always wished that we had more of the family interaction in it especially those between Sodapop and Ponyboy. I always thought that of the 3 brothers, Sodapop was the glue that held them together and this role was conspicuously missing in the movie. I also remembered the thing that bugged me the most all those years was how the opening and closing of the movie was totally different from the book. The movie always felt like an incomplete adaptation of the book and for the longest time it was the only version that we had to watch.

When I heard that they were planning to re-release a recut version of “The Outsiders” on DVD, I was a bit apprehensive about what would be changed in my favorite movie. As more details came out about the 22 minutes of previously unseen footage incorporated into the pervious version start to surface on the Net, I realize that I had to break my own rule about double-dipping and purchase a copy of this DVD even though I already had a copy that I purchased much earlier. Needless to say that I was very excited when I finally got my copy in the mail from It went straight into my DVD player the first opportunity I got to watch it that evening and immediately I knew that this was a great buy.

To start off, the picture and audio quality is much better in “The Outsiders – The Complete Novel” DVD than it was in the original release DVD. The print was fairly clean and the same visual flaws that was in the original release appeared here suggesting that the problem might have been in the master copy they used. The quality of the visuals were also shared in the new scenes that was added to the original release so visually they look like they had always been part of the movie. The audio sounded much better to me than the original print of the previous version. There is not much use of heavy bass for explosions and such but the ranges that they do use came out crisp and clear. The remastered audio and visuals on this DVD makes it easy to highly recommend it as the version of the film that fans would want to have in their collection although there is a caveat to that recommendation that I will be expanding more on later in this write-up.

In this re-release, Coppola went through his historical archives and reintegrated scenes that he had to cut out from the original release. Much of the cuts were made after receiving feedback from audience previews prior to the films original release. Unfortunately for fans of the book, these cuts were scenes that dealt mostly with the relationships between the Curtis brothers which many felt was the core of what the book was about. To see them reintegrated into the movie was nothing less that a resounding victory for the fans who have long clamored for a more complete version of the adaptation to their favorite story. In this new cut, we have a new opening and ending to the film that follows closer to how the original book opened and closed. We also see more of interaction between Ponyboy, Sodapop and Darry as well as more emotional scenes that were missing from the original cut. I have to say that the most poignant addition for me in this version was the night time scene between Ponyboy and Sodapop in which Soda comforted Pony after being yelled at by the older brother. It was a favorite of mine from the book and I was happy to see that it got included into the recut version.

Coppola also replaced much of the soundtrack in this new version of the movie with songs reflective of the times and the Greaser sub-culture. In his commentary, he stated that he always thought that the original soundtrack was a bit heavy and operatic compared to what he envisioned it to be. While some of the soundtrack changes in this case worked with the new cut, others were woefully out of place if not completely jarring. The song that he had playing in the scene in the park where Ponyboy and Johnny got attacked by the Socs was totally wrong for the intend of the scene and I personally thing that replacing the original soundtrack with the beach-surfer song here is nothing less than criminal. The same could be said in the Curtis brothers reunion scene at the hospital after the fire at the abandoned church which previously was evocative of the emotional content of the scene but now was conspicuously missing. I have to admit that the epic sounding Dally’s theme that used to play in the background in the scenes of his flight from the hospital after Johnny’s demise was sorely missed in this version. Although the soundtrack to the original version of the movie was at times may sound overblown and corny, it was one that resounded well with the fans and fondly remembered all these years. It made this film stand out from the other teen movies that was released around and about the same time “The Outsiders” was released. It was unfortunate that Coppola felt like he had to change that essential mix that made this movie unique.

There are 2 commentary tracks on “The Outsider’s – The Complete Novel” DVD set. The first one was by Coppola himself in which he gives wonderful insights about the characters and the process of making the movie. Halfway through the commentary, he seemed to repeat himself on more than one occasion especially on the subject to the music that he replaced in this new release. I wonder if this was to justify the reasons of doing something that he knew would be a sore point for the fans watching this version of the movie. All in all it was not the best commentary that I’ve heard from him. Fortunately the second commentary by some of the original cast members was much more exciting to listen to. The cast commentary included thoughts from C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy), Diane Lane (Cherry), Patrick Swayze (Darry) & Ralph Macchio (Johnny) who recorded it in a cast reunion previewing the re-cut version of the film. There were also comments from Rob Lowe (Sodapop) and Matt Dillon (Dallas) which were recorded separately but so seamlessly spliced together that one could image they were all in the same room. Notable absence on the commentary track were Tom Cruise (Steve) and Emilio Estevez (Two-Bit) but I guess it was because they were minor characters in the movie comparatively to the others. Those on the cast commentary track gave wonderful personal anecdotes of making the film and occasionally ribbed each other at how young they were when they made this movie. Their joy at watching this movie again after all this time was apparent in their commentary track and it made watching the movie with them enjoyable.

Disk 2 of this set holds a few notable bonus extras for this new release. At the heart of it was a new making of documentary entitled “Staying Gold: A Look Back at the Outsiders” that tells the story of how the movie came about and the process of making the movie. Fans would learn that Coppola actually filmed the whole movie on video once as part of the rehearsals before shooting the first frames on film which for most filmmakers at the time was simply unheard of. We are also treated to wonderful behind the scenes footage as they were filming that must have long languished in the archives and unseen before now. In another DVD extra, viewer’s get to visit the locations where the film was originally shot in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma with S.E. Hinton who wrote the original book as a teenager. It was wonderful to see how much of the original locations and buildings was still around and looked relatively unchanged to the way they were shown in the movie. The other bonus extra worth highlighting is the “Casting The Outsiders” documentary which documented the unique casting method that Coppola used to cast for this movie. It was interesting to see how many young actors who have now become big stars themselves trying out for the various parts in the movie.

All in all, “The Outsiders – The Complete Novel” DVD set is an easy recommendation to make. Fans of the original movie will find that this new cut with the additional 22 minutes of footage reinserted further expands the story and provides richer details of the relationship between the characters than in the first movie. Fans of the original book would like this version much better than the original as it follows the book much closer this time around. The extra bonus features on Disk 2 adds another layer to the appreciation of the movie which would be a welcome addition to any fan’s collection. If there was a flaw in this release that would have made it truly exceptional then it has to be the unfortunate replacement of the original soundtrack with songs that clearly undercut the what was happening on screen. This flaw was something that would be enough to convince people to hold on to their original copy of the DVD instead of replacing it totally with this set. Flaws aside, this will be the version of this beloved story that the next generation of fans will come to discover and love.