Monday, February 27, 2006

Theater Review : Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical at Istana Budaya

(image curtesy of PGL-TM Official Website)

Without a doubt, "Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical" was the hottest thing to hit the local arts scene in February 2006. The hype surrounding this production was already causing a buzz long before the curtains were first raised on opening night on the 7th of February. People were excited at the prospect of seeing how the story form the award-wining feature film translated into a stage musical which had not been done before in recent history. The choice of a non-local Malaysian as the male lead on stage replacing the original actor from the feature film only added to the buzz that surrounded this production. When all is said and done, I have to say that all the hype and buzz surrounding “Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical” (PGL-TM) was well deserved indeed.

I finally got the chance to watch the show for myself last Saturday after weeks of anticipation. Given what was written by the other bloggers who went to see it much earlier in her run, PGL-TM was something that I was not going to let slip me by without at least trying to get in a sitting of the show. Fortune smiled on me this time as my mother, who works at the Institut Jantung Negara (National Heart Institute), was able to secure 5 tickets for the 25th February charity show. Not only were we going to be able to enjoy the show but we also got the chance to do our bit for a good cause as the proceeds from that show went to National Heart Institute Charity Foundation. Of course this meant that the ticket prices for the night was a bit higher that the other nights so we were only able to afford the tickets for the upper tier seats.

We reached Istana Budaya at about 8:00pm and the place was already packed with the local who’s who and celebrities. I wasn’t really good celeb-spotting so I can’t really say who was there but there were some fellow bloggers whom I recognize from previous meetings in attendance. The main VIP for the night was the Deputy Prime Minister and his wife who were the main guests for this charity performance. I was told that the price for a ticket to be seated where the VIPs were seated came to about RM1000 a pop. Our tickets, high up in the nosebleed sections where the common people were, cost about RM60 per ticket instead. Even with those prices, I remembered seeing that most of the seats were filled by a variety of people both local and foreign.

The show started off quite on time at 8:30pm with what I think was the overture piece. At least I think that it was suppose to be although I thought that the piece of musical score that they choose as the overture was a bit too low key and was not what I expected of an overture. I also felt that the so-called overture went on a bit too long but then again it could be because the piece itself was dragging and unexciting to begin with. The should have went with a medley of song highlights if they wanted to setup an overture before they started the show proper.

Act 1 of the performance dealt with the events that happened in the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit where the titular princess first met Hang Tuah and fell in love with the dashing nobleman. True to the setting, the costumes and the stage sets were brilliantly made up with clear influence of the Javanese culture. The actors even adopted Javanese inflection in their speech patterns (for most of the time) as well as stiff body poses not unlike those found on Javanese art pieces. I was particularly impressed with how the modular components of the tiered structures used as stage sets were combined to create stylish representations of the exterior of the keraton, stupa and cliff’s edge. Considering that they were using the same pieces almost all the time during this act, it was interesting to see how many configurations that they came up with. Add to that the beautifully designed lightscape that highlighted every action on stage, it was a veritable visual feast to delight in.

The second act, where the action left Majapahit and centered in Melaka, was no less energetic and exciting. Compared to the abundance of browns and earth tones from the Majapahit setting, the colors of the costumes and lighting scheme for scenes set in Melaka was in a word vibrant. From the royal yellow used in the Sultan’s costume down to the colorful baju kurung and baju melayu that the ensemble wore, it was as if a Citrawarna parade had stopped by on stage. While this was wonderful to see on stage, it made trying to pick out the main players from the crowd was a bit harder than it was in the first act. This was particularly a challenge in Act 2 when they had a whole crowd on stage more often than in the previous act.

It was also during the second act where the audience got to see what has to be the biggest and most awe-inspiring piece of the stage set used. I’ve seen pictures of the set they used to represent the main gates of the palace of Melaka but the photos did little justice to this wonderful work. It was so intricately made and such a beautiful piece of set that it would not look out of place in a real palace today. This breathtaking masterpiece of set design was worth it’s weight in gold when it was used to filter the lights beautifully during a tender scene involving Hang Tuah in front of the gates of the palace. Unlike the multi-tiered sets that was reused several times during the show, we only got to see this wonderful piece of set design twice in the second set. It was almost criminal not being able to see it a few more times.

From the first note of ensemble performance of the opening tune, “Satu Hari Nanti” , it was clear that I was in for an aural surprise. I had heard about how hum-worthy the songs from this show was but I was not prepared with how good they really were. It was very close in quality to what I would have expected to come from a Broadway show based on the very few Broadway shows that I have seen/heard before. There were times, especially during the first act involving the princess’s solo performance, that the musical score felt as it would have fitted well in a Disney produced animated feature. Even with visions of “Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Disney Animated Feature” running around my head, it did not detract from the fact how wonderful the marriage of traditional music combined with Western stage musical sensibility turned out. I seriously believe that the soundtrack for this musical would sell very well as it had so many memorable tunes to choose from that was hard to single out one to be a favorite. I also personally feel that they should give extra tips to the percussion section in last night’s performance as they really beat the heck out of those drums last night.

As the titular princess, Tiara Jacquelina reprised her role from the original feature film that this musical was based on. I have to say that for a non-singer, she managed to impress me with her vocal skills. While there were parts in her performance that night where she seemed to overreach her vocal abilities, she managed to cover it beautifully and deliver a sterling performance befitting the grand event. No less impressive was her opposite, Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Datuk Laksmana Hang Tuah, who brought with him all the skills that he learnt on the stages of West End to our local shores. I guess that the gamble to bring in an outsider to this production was a gamble that paid off handsomely despite the initial doubts. While his vocal skills in delivering the goods in the tunes were beyond reproach, Stephen was still at times sounded awkward and emotionally distant when delivering his lines but I don’t think that it was at the level that the other bloggers remarked on during the second show of the run. I guess that he kept improving since that show and now was more comfortable with the lines in a language not really his own.

A.C. Mizal as the ruler of Majapahit deserved the high praise heap on him for his breakout performance as the autocratic ruler prone to outburst of anger. Given his background first as a boyband singer and clownish characters in both his TV and feature film outings, his turn as the dynamic king of Majapahit was nothing less than an eye opener to the level of untapped talent for the stage that he possessed. I hope that his stage debut in this musical would inspire him to pursue more opportunities on the stage playing more serious characters. On the other end of the experience spectrum, Sukania Venugopal as Puteri’s nanny, Bayan, was a wonderful study in the quiet strength and loyalty to her ward. Always with a measured gesture, her Bayan was the pillar of strength that the Puteri depended upon as she began to discover the stirring of love. It was particularly heartbreaking to watch her suicide scene and hearing her voice break with anguish at her fate after she stayed behind to protect the princess from the wrath of the King. That particular scene was the most memorable one for me of all the scenes in the show.

Despite his young age, six-year-old Mohammed Afif Halim as the crown prince Raja Ahmad was simply adorable to watch. Unlike what was written about his debut in the beginning of the run, Afif was a bundle of adorable energy during the performance that I saw. To the clear delight of the audience he was practically jumping all over the stage after practically bounding several stairs at once in front of the Melaka gates set when we first meet this young actor. The role of the father, the Sultan of Melaka, was also played by another alum of the original feature film presentation. Instead of reproducing his celluloid performance on stage, Adlin Aman Ramlie played with another facet of the character’s personality. Having not seen the original feature film before, I cannot at this point say how much the two performance differ but it was serviceable for this occasion.

Of all the main characters that I’ve highlighted, I had the most problem with Adlin’s Sultan Mahmud of Melaka. I had trouble overlooking the way that he seem to rush to deliver his spoken dialog in such a clipped manner that it felt that he was impatient with everyone around him. If this was deliberate then kudos to him for making the Sultan of Melaka sound like he would rather be anywhere but here. I also had a bit of a problem with the big number involving the Sultan and his ensemble. While it was enjoyable to watch and listen to, the feel of that particular section of the score was slightly off-kilter to the tonal feel that both preceded and proceeded “Titah Sultan”. I would have liked to have a more menacing Sultan lording over his subjects as he performed the same song in this part of the performance rather than a “Saturday Night Fever” dancing wannabe. The choice of the Sultan breaking out in dance steps here was a sharp contrast from the more regal bearing of the King of Majapahit during his musical numbers. While it was fun to watch Adlin play off the energy of his performance, it felt a little out of place with the tone of rest of the story.

Another item that was slightly disappointing to me was how the production team seemed to have neglected to check how the way they blocked the scene would play out from different angles in the seating areas. There were more than a few times that people in the cheap seats in the nosebleed section lost track of the characters as they moved downstage towards the orchestral pit. This happened most notably during the Melaka harbor scenes when hardly anyone in the seats near where I sat could see what was happening downstage. The worse example of this was during the scene when both Puteri and Hang Tuah was reunited at the waterfalls of Gunung Ledang. For some unexplained reason, both actors choose to stand to the left of the stage on top of the high set ensuring that they would be blocked by the left stage speaker banks to most of the people sitting on the left side of the third tier section. For most of us, it was five minutes at looking just at their feet and hearing what they were saying. I wished that the production team had taken this in consideration when they initially planned that scene.

I had hoped to be able to buy the soundtrack to the show the night that I went from my past experience with the previous musical show that I saw at Istana Budaya a few years back. I was fairly disappointed to find out that they did not have it for sale yet but was pushing the single they released a few weeks back instead. It was also disheartening that the person selling the merchandise had no idea when the soundtrack was due and what was even more appalling was that this particular person didn’t know which song was on the single that he was selling. It was as if they took someone from the street and told them to just push the merchandise. This was definitely not the way to successfully market the merchandise commemorating this special event.

Despite the few low points of my experience, “Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical” was everything that everyone said and then some. It was clearly of an international caliber and level in both production and performance. A big hand should be given to all involved in bringing this wonderful performance to life. I hope that they would consider staging the show again sometime in the future so that more people could enjoy it. As it is the show’s sell-out run has been extended until the end of the month due to popular demand so it is clear that people are willing to come and watch it. Until they stage it again, if they ever decide to, lets have the soundtrack and DVD presentation out soon so all Malaysian could share the magic that was this presentation of “Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical”

Thursday, February 23, 2006

PS2 Review: Digital Devil Saga

(image curtesy of

I last wrote about this game way back in December 2005 and here I am still playing it as the end of February rolls along. To be fair, I am actually at the tail end portion of the second part of this two-part saga and have spent probably about 80 hours of game time in total for the whole game. Having experienced it myself, I have to say that this game has to be the most imaginative and exciting RPG game to be released on the PS2 in 2005.

The first part of the “Digital Devil Saga” was released back in April 2005 and featured a fairly original storyline that have not been seen before in RPG games for the PS2. A departure from the usual fantasy-themed fare seen in the wildly successful Final Fantasy series, “Digital Devil Saga” is set in the post-apocalyptic and aptly named urban landscape of the Junkyard. In the desolate and perpetually raining land, the occupants of this environment form tribes for mutual protection against each other in a constant battle for supremacy of the land.

The game begins during one such battle when a strange object suddenly appears in the middle of a battleground involving the Embryon tribe which the game storyline is centered on. During the gunfight that ensued as both combatants tried to be the first to claim the mysterious item, the object started to open revealing an unconscious girl within it as well as releasing tendrils of energy that spread throughout the Junkyard granting everyone the ability to transform into humanoid demon-like being. Overcome by the hunger for flesh, the transformed being began slaughtering each other to satiate their newly awaken hunger.

Horrified at what was happening to them, the Embryon tribe was summoned along with the other tribes to the Karma Tower that stood in the center of the Junkyard. It was there that all of the tribe were given the task to find the mysterious girl and bring her to the Karma Towers after defeating all of the other tribes. The winning tribe was promised access to Nirvana where they would not need to fight for their survival any more. Unknown to the other tribes, Embryon tribe has the girl in question but was wavy of the new directive passed down from their unseen overlords.

Players get to play several characters from the Embryon tribe as they work through the other tribes on the way to the Karma Towers to claim their reward. Along the way, they discovered that not everything was the way it looked. The characters started to learn about memories and emotions that they never had before after being exposed to the unknown energy. More questions than answers about the nature of their existence started to crop up as they work their way closer to the Karma Towers. By the time the game reaches the final dungeon, it was clear that everything that the characters knew in their past lives were a lie that was about to be shattered forever now that they were the only remaining living combatants in the Junkyard.

After defeating the final boss battle at the end of “Digital Devil Saga – Part 1”, players will find themselves in another urban environment that looks no difference that the one our characters thought that they had left behind. Early in the “Digital Devil Saga – Part 2”, our main characters learns that they were actually artificially generated digital being brought to life by the hidden powers of the Cyber Shaman who they have been protecting during their journey through the Junkyard in the last game. Their fate in this new world was no better than in the one they left behind for the promise of Nirvana.

Released 6 months after the release of the first installment of this game, “Digital Devil Saga – Part 2” was set in another urban environment where most people lived in either depilated underground cities or in domed population centers controlled by the demonic Karma Association. Those living in the underground cities find themselves culled as food for the people living in the domed cities who have been exposed to a virus that would transform them into humanoid demons not unlike the ones that we saw in the Junkyard. They were exposed to the virus in an attempt to find away to survive living outside of their domes that protected them from the harsh environment outside that was turning the rest of the unprotected population into stone.

Through the course of this game, the surviving residents of the Junkyard learns that their world that was destroyed when they left it behind was actually an artificial construct created to test the virus and to run non-stop battle simulations to gauge the success of the virus. The Cyber Shaman called Sera was somehow able to bring them over to the real world in an attempt to repair the damage that have been done to her world. Their appearance would also throw a wrench into the wheels of a ongoing power struggle that surrounded the Karma Association that controlled this world. As gamers battle through this world through their characters, we get to see the story revealed in measured paces to what I hope (since I have not finished the final boss battle in the game yet) was a satisfying conclusion.

I was particularly drawn to the engaging storylines of the game. The use of elements from Hinduism as well as the fictional demons and deity powers was a welcomed departure from the tried and true hack-slash fantasy elements found in other PS2 RPG games. Looking back, the last time I played a game with similar echoes with religion and deities would be the equally wonderful “Xenogears” game for the PS and the “Xenosaga” series for the PS2. While the storyline in part 1 of this game raised more questions than answers, it flowed beautifully into the proceeding part. It was a testimonial to good game storytelling when players get to get this involved with the characters that they were playing as.

Both the character and the visual design of this game were a wonder to look at. Each character stood out in their individuality and their demonic alter egos looked sufficiently interesting to watch in action. The plethora of monsters and demons that they had to fight were no less imaginative in their designs which ranged from the cutesy to the outright horrifying examples that you would not want to meet in a darken alley. The cut-scenes that peppered the game was both interesting to watch in terms of plot development as well as for the esthetic quality of the rendered art.

While some of the voice acting in the English version of these two game was a bit on the dry side, the musical score for the game was sufficiently distinct to differentiate it from the other RPG games available for the PS2. The combination of guitar riffs, electronica and ethereal Japanese influenced sound underscore the game play and the cut-scenes fairly well. While some of the better pieces of the score had less exposure that I would have liked it, the rest of the score would be very familiar to the player after having to listen to them in the 40 odd-hours involved in completing each game apiece.

Each of the playable characters in the game can do battle in either their demonized alter ego or their weaker human mode. Each characters have the usual strength, vitality, magic, agility and luck stats that would increase as the character goes up to the next level based on the experience points that they gain after every battle. Unlike the other RPG games out there, gamers can only manually allocated the stats point to only one of the characters in “Digital Devil Saga” while the rest of their characters have their stat points distributed automatically when they reach their next level. Although the stat point distribution system felt balanced for the remaining characters, some players would preferred to have the ability to customized the characters themselves.

In addition to the stats that each characters have, they also have the ability to learn special skills called Mantras that are not different from the magical spells available on the “Final Fantasy” series. These Mantras were grouped together in elemental grouping (earth, fire, ice, electric and force) as well as defensive and offensive skills sets. Each character in the game are able to learn any mantra by pay the cost of the mantra from the money the character collects at the end of each encounter. Strategic selection of which mantra to get for which character is the key here as each character has a strong and weak elemental affiliation. Using Mantras with the same elemental properties that the character was strong in would give bonus damage points that would help in the encounters and vice versa.

The battle system in both installments of “Digital Devil Saga” is turn based with a party of 3 characters battling monsters that they encounter. Combatants could be swapped in and out of the team by consuming a turn but this is not really recommended as the number of remaining turns are fairly valuable to waste in that way. The element of strategy comes into play as, like the characters, their opponents also have their strong and weak affiliations to avoid or exploit. Successfully exploiting the opponent’s weakness gives the gamer an additional turn against their opponent while a missed or voided attack will cost an extra turn that the player has. The AI controlled opponents would also try to exploit the same weakness in the players battle group which could result in a fairly short and disastrous encounter for the player if the group was not prepared strategically.

The encounter rate for the monsters in both games at times seemed very high given the smallish feel of the some of the areas that gamers need to explore. Fortunately for the gamers the combinations of the opponents that they have to face in each area rarely vary too much within the same area so having a good party combination in the beginning of the area would help out in the rest of the places left to discover before meeting the boss for that area. Boss battles were fairly balanced an exciting although some seemed to require that the characters reach a certain experience level before gamers can attempt them. In these cases, the higher encounter rate would help the characters to gain levels quickly.

Both installments of the games could be replayed with a higher difficulty level once gamers complete the game. Replaying the game with a higher difficulty would allow gamers to access several hidden boss battles that were not available to them in the previous levels. There were also several items and bonuses that carried over from the first installment when gamers start a new game in the second part of “Digital Devil Saga” if they have the clear data save game stored on their PS2 memory card. Given the wealth of items to be collected and the mantras that could be learned, “Digital Devil Saga” does have a fairly high replay value if the gamer was willing to invest the additional game time on it.

With a fascinating cast or characters and very engaging storyline as well an atmosphere, it was easy to recommend “Digital Devil Saga” to those who like RPG games of the PS2. It was sufficiently different from the other RPGs in the vein of Final Fantasy series on the PS2 that set it apart as an interesting alternative and a great way to waste away 80 hours of your life.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

DVD Review: Serenity

(image curtesy of

I first found out about the short lived “Firefly” TV series from reading the recaps that they put up on the TelevisionWithoutPity website for the show. From what was written about it, it sounded like a fairly novel approach to the sci-fi genre on television since the show combined sci-fi with western elements set in the future. The last time that I think we saw something like this was the “pioneer wagon trail” feel of the original “Battlestar Galactica” TV series so it has been missing from the sci-fi TV shows for quite some time. Despite the growing legion of fans tuning into the show in the US, the rating was never good enough for the powers that be to continue the show beyond the 12 weeks that have already been aired.

Fueled by fan demand, the show returned to the limelight in the form of a complete series DVD set that was released in 2002. Brisk sales and word of mouth recommendation helped the series to reach audiences that missed this gem when it was first aired. The renewed response to the series prompted Universal to recall the old cast and creative team to return to the universe of “Firefly” albeit in a feature film form instead of the small screen. With a budget of USD $50 million, “Serenity” gathered together all the principle cast and crew of the series to continue their adventures much to the delight of the fans of the series.

“Serenity” was released in cinemas in September 2005 to critical acclaim from critics and fans alike but was not a big commercial success that the fans had hoped for. I can’t even recall if it played in the local cinemas here in Malaysia since I would have definitely remembered it if I watched it in my local cinema. It is a pity that this movie didn’t get released locally as I honestly think that this was a very well made movie with interesting characters that are unlike the characters found in the other sci-fi films of recent years. After a quiet run in the US, the film was released on DVD in December 2005.

Continuing where the “Firefly” series left off, “Serenity” chronicled the story of the rag tag crew of a decrepit spaceship called “Serenity” set 500 years in the future where human beings had to leave Earth after an ecological disaster and live on other terraformed planets in the universe. Captained by Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the Serenity crew included Wash (Alan Tudyk) as the ship’s pilot, Zoe (Gina Torres) who was Wash’s wife and Mal’s first mate, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) who is the ever-horny ship’s engineer, and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) who just seems to be a rough and tumble crewmember who can’t wait to start cracking heads. When Mal agreed to provide passage to a closed lipped doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his catatonic sister River (Summer Glau) in exchange for his medical assistance, the crew of Serenity had little idea of how much their lives would change from that point on.

Unbeknownst to the crew, River was an escapee from a secret training facility where she was being forcibly conditioned to use her burgeoning psychic powers to be a super-assassin for the Alliance who controlled most of the inhabited planets. Exposure to the members of the Alliance parliament that came to observe her progressed allowed her mind to glean buried secrets from the parliament members who had counted on her conditioning to keep the secret for them. When River was eventually rescued from the facility by her brother, she suddenly became the object that the Alliance desperately need to recover in fear that their hidden secrets would be exposed.

As River began to piece together her shattered mind, the direct result of her forced conditioning, the Alliance dispatched their best Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to recover River before she figured out the secret that was driving her insane. The crew of Serenity was also in dire financial state after their last heist was interrupted by the band of space-faring cannibals feared through out their sector of space known collectively as the Reavers. On the run from both relentless adversaries, the crew of the Serenity found little option other than to help River figure out the secret that was at the heart of their dilemma.

The Serenity crew may be a collection of bounty hungry mercenaries, but in their souls, they remain rebels fighting against the Alliance. And when a deep dark Alliance secret is finally made clear, they become willing to sacrifice their lives to expose the amoral government. This set up the exciting climax as they race to make sure that the inhabited universe knew what they now know in hopes that past mistakes could finally be admitted and corrected. The crew was ultimately successful in their endeavors but not without a high price for their victory against the oppressive Alliance.

The character concepts in this film were clever and the interpersonal relationships intriguing. Mal put on a rough and gruff exterior to hide the emotional pain of the loss both of his personal freedom and his love interest. River was tortured by the person she’s become as a product of her involuntary conditioning. The Operative was a compelling villain, someone who projects empathy, seemingly invulnerable to anger, and yet remained unapologetically lethal. The interplay between the rest of the characters were no less fresh and humorous to watch given the nature of the events that was unfolding around them.

The DVD release for “Serenity” was for the widescreen version of this film which, much like other sci-fi films of this scope, benefited greatly from the transition into the big screen compared to the shows humble beginnings on TV. The picture quality on this DVD release was wonderfully crisp especially in scenes where the action was filmed in low light or pitch darkness environment which happens quite frequently. The audio quality of this transfer was also fairly balance with the appropriate channels given to the action sound and the dialogue. I was also pleased at how the quality of the CGI effects for a movie of this budget was transferred beautifully to the DVD.

There was also a wealth of supplementary features that accompanied the film on the DVD release. Most of the features like the deleted scenes and featurettes about the making of several scenes in the movie would greatly satisfied the fans of this movie. I particularly like the “Re-igniting Firefly” featurettes that told of what the cast and crew went through after the end of the original TV series and how the fans support helped them to make this movie that we were now seeing on DVD. The gag reel that they include in the special features menu was also a welcomed addition to the list as it was really funny to see the way the actors screw up their lines.

Writer/director Joss Whedon may also be heard in a feature-length commentary available on the other audio track on the DVD. He was fairly engaging in his commentary where he emphasized the technical aspects of the show, describing lighting, editing, special effects, practical effects, how his cast almost universally does its own stunts, and other aspects of the show. He talks almost non stop for the duration of the film and it was clear that he was as passionate about the film and it’s characters as the fans were. The film was made for only an estimated $40 million; all that money looks like money well spent based on what was up on the screen and I enjoyed listening to his description of how that was done.

Although “Serenity” came out of a cancelled TV show, it had a self-contained story that would satisfy even those who never seen an episode of “Firefly” before. For a supposedly small fan film, it had good special effects, an intriguing plot, interesting characters, droll dialog, and sufficient action should satisfy the casual viewer. Fans of the original series would be excited to see some of the questions and storylines from the original show finally got tied together into a satisfying resolution. The DVD transfer is pretty good, the audio track is excellent, and the generous supplements of value making it an easy DVD selection to recommend for your consideration.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You

I finally got my Astro setup hooked up during the weekend and I am only now accessing the satellite TV channels that other people have been watching for donkey years. It only took me about 10 years of suffering abysmal terrestrial TV reception at my apartment before I finally bite the bullet and subscribed to Astro services. The funny thing was I didn’t remember applying for Astro at all before their rep called me to make an appointment to install the satellite dish. Sure … I was thinking of applying for the service last week but I don’t think that Astro has mind readers on staff who pickup on these thoughts and send their reps to those just only thinking about subscribing to their service.

In any rate, they came and installed the receiver dish and the decoder at my rented apartment which they had the address correctly on their work order sheet. I now have 23 additional TV channels on top of the 5 that we have for free on terrestrial TV. Hopefully they bill me correctly as I don’t really know how much the whole package will cost me monthly.

I’ve always been a couch potato and have an on-going love affair with my TV. As a child I would spend hours and hours in front of the TV much to the distress of my parents. The TV was my nanny, my friend and my English teacher. Of course back then we only had the RTM channels and, if it was a clear day, TV channels from Singapore. I still remember the old console type TV set that we had back then with the wood paneling and folding cover that we were always reminded to close after watching the TV. I don’t remember if the one that we had back then was a color or black & white set but it clearly didn’t matter to me back then as long as I got to watch my “Sesame Street”, “Space: 1999”, “Combat TV” and not forgetting my absolute favorite back then “The Cumi & Ciki Show” which was a local puppet show much like Sesame Street.

I remembered that back when TV3 first started broadcasting, it was a big deal after having only public TV channels for so long. I was staying at Kelantan at the time when they started the channel and remembered thinking how lucky the KL folks were to get another TV channel to watch. Every time the family went back to KL for holidays, I would be glued to my relatives TV to try to absorbed as much of the broadcast that I could get. I remembered thinking that it had much interesting shows compared to the dreary ones that they were showing at the time on the other channels.

It were only 3 terrestrial TV channels for awhile before a few other private broadcasting companies tried to add additional channels with varying success. I can hardly remember the shows that they offered on Metrovision before that channel stopped broadcasting. Ditto for Channel 9 although I do remember that channel mostly for the worse reception quality for a terrestrial channel ever which was a pity because it had the “Star Trek: Enterprise” TV series that I really wanted to watch. NTV7 started strong with good shows but now seem to flounder around for awhile and seemed to be going now for more niche audiences rather than a broader appeal.

I’ve noticed that I’m more partial to watching the shows on TV3 and lately more to the newest addition to the terrestrial TV channel list, 8TV. I found that the English language shows on 8TV more interesting while TV3 was fast becoming too much like the stodgy older sister channel to 8TV in terms of content and editorial tone. With the channels that I get with my Astro subscription now, I get to add the Travel & Living channel that I can’t get enough of and AXN to my list of regularly watched TV channel.

With all these channel to watch and so little time it is no wonder that I’m more house-bound than a limb-less leper during the weekends.

I definitely have to watch less TV if I plan to have any semblance of a social life.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I Think You Made A Wrong Turn Somewhere On The Web

I’ve been noticing from the hit counter that this blog has been getting hits from people looking for more info about “Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical” these past few days. I guess that they were directed here because of the short entry that I copied over from the official website for the show a few entries back. I feel a bit guilty that they are sort of “tricked” to visit my blog because of the way that web search engines keep track of the sites.

The show just recently began it’s run at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday but I won’t get to go and watch it until the 25th if I’m lucky to get tickets for my whole family to go. From what I understand, the tickets that I’m trying to buy for the 25th Feb show would also benefit the Institute Jantung Negara (National Heart Institute) charity fund so there is that added benefit of going to enjoy the show for a good cause.

In the meantime, I have been chasing down blog write ups about the show and would be adding a few links to this entry as I find them. From what I have read today, most thought that the show was a good one with the usual opening teething problems that one would expect from a show of this nature. Feel free to read the early reviews from the links below and tell them Nickxandar sent you.

I’ll definitely post my own review once I get to see the show on the 25th.

Reviews to date:

Midnite Lily -

Min - (short-ish mention)

Naz -

Jeff Ooi -

Patrick Teoh -

SultanMuzaffar -

Edd Vedder -

Klubbkidd -

Fiebie -

Sharizal -

Mack Zulkifli -

Newer links :

Check out the newer links to personal reviews and published reviews at SultanMuzaffar's site under "Ulasan Lain". He keeps a better list then I do :)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reflections on Turning 33

It’s that time of the year again that I have to add yet another digit to the number of years that I have been alive.

I think that I have finally recovered from the shock of turning 30 (I know … that was 3 years ago) and now can look forward planning for the future. To tell the truth, I never made any plans in case that I lived past my 30th birthday just because I couldn’t imagine back when I was 12 what I wanted to plan for that point in life. After meeting all of the life goals that I set back then by the time I turned 30, I found myself at a loss of what to strive for next. For all intense and purposes, my life plans stopped at 30 and it took me 3 years of meandering through life to finally figure out what to plan next.

Looking back in the past 33 years of living, these are some of the life lessons that I have learned

- I will never look as good as the next person wearing one of those tailored/slim fit clothes no matter how hard I try to suck my gut in.
- I will always cry at the end of “E.T” no matter how many times I watch and the age at which I watch the film.
- I can’t stop collection comic books even if I wanted to.
- There will be times that I am stronger emotionally than I give myself credit.
- There will be times that my heart will lead me to hurt.
- My current love life sucks because I can’t let go of the past.
- I continue to believe in “love at first sight” and “soulmate” because there was a time in my life that I had both in the same package.
- I continue to look for that one person willing to grow old with me instead of the one to keep me warm only for one night.
- My biggest fear is to be left behind, alone and unremarkable.
- I will always hate how I look in the mirror no matter what other people say.

Looking forward, I’m going to start planning for my retirement. My goal is to be financially independent by the time I have to retire by starting to invest wisely in whatever that I need to ensure that I meet that goal. It’s time that I make full potential of the disposable income that I have now to build up to my financial freedom. The last thing that I want happen is that I become depended on other people when I retire from the workforce.

It would also not hurt if I took care of myself better physically. I’ve already successfully been nicotine-free from the past 2 years and sober for at least the past 5 years so the next goal is to recover my body from those years of abuse. I feel too self-conscious about how I look to actually join a gym but I am seriously considering the prospect since I really am sick of how I look reflected back in the mirror. I could afford to lose another 10 kg at least anyway.

I guess that I’m too enveloped in my comfort zone to go out looking for love and risk breaking my heart again. At 33 there are no shortage of the usual questions about when I am going to settle down and start a family. I have never given up the dream of having my own children even when they are days that I think to myself why I even bother with it all. I don’t think that I would ever be complete as a person if I know that I would never be able to leave behind a legacy of a bloodline of my own. The question now is both the how and the who to make that happen. Of course the “how” would then be followed closely by the “could I?” and the “who” would be followed by the “is this the one?”. Of all the things in my life now, the matters of the heart are the least clear to me at this point of my life.

Uncertainties aside, what is certain is that today I turn another year older. Since there is nothing that I can do about it, I might as well make the best of the time that I have and be thankful of the rich life that I already lived. For all the griping that I do every time February 7th rolls around, I have to admit that my life has made me who I am and I could never exchange it with another and not be a different person.

So here’s to turning 33 and everything that comes with it. Given all my past exploits, I count myself lucky for getting this far.

Things could have been much worse that they are now.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A New Face-lift

My thoughts on “Brokeback Mountain” are finally up after the delay over the weekend.

I’ve also decided to give this blog a much needed facelift see how long my entries were getting. With the last template, more than a few entries spanned multiple page up screens that I thought was harder to read. I did try to modify the old template a bit to allow a bigger portion of the screen space for the main column where the blob posts were but ran into problems with the header image while doing it.

So instead of fooling around with the old template anymore, I’ve decided to use a new one from instead. While it is not as colorful as the one that I had before, I hope that by stretching the blog post section it would make reading my blog entries easier to the eyes. I’m still not too satisfied with the color scheme so that might change sometime in the future if I get the time.

Drop me a comment if you like or dislike the change and any suggestions that you might have.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

(image curtesy of

I have been intrigued by the premise of “Brokeback Mountain” from the moment I first heard about the movie back in 2004. It was hard to miss all the hype surrounding this film especially when almost every other blog site that I frequently visit had updates about the movie. As the release date came closer, I was surprised to see that even the local MPH bookstores here were selling copies of Annie Proulx’s short story that the movie was based on. For a film that would surely not be shown in the local cinemas here, “Brokeback Mountain” seemed to get a lot of “word of mouth” promotion locally months before they started screening it in the States. Once it was released, it was the movie that everyone was raving about and one that everyone wanted to see.

Knowing that it would never play in a local cinema here, I was patiently waiting for the DVD release to watch the film everyone was raving about. It was not so long after the movie’s release that bootleg copies of the film on DVD started to be available locally. It was hard to resist not going out as soon as I heard it and buying one of these bootleg copy just to able to get to see this film since it was the only way I could get to watch in for the time being. I held on for as long as I did because I wanted to stand by my conviction of rewarding good films, by extension those making money out of it, by only buying original DVDs of their movies.

Temptation won out in the end when I was invited to a private screening of a copy of the film organized by a fellow blogger. The opportunity to watch this film in the same room with like-minded individuals whose lives and inner thoughts I have been reading about on their blogs was hard to resist. It was a shared experience that I found to be both comforting and liberating in of itself. I would definitely still buy an original copy of the DVD when they finally release it, which I am hoping would have a boatload of special features, just because I think that it will be a worthy addition to my DVD library.

For the uninitiated, “Brokeback Mountain” chronicles the tale of a relationship between two men who first met when they took up sheep herding up in the titular mountains in Wyoming. From their first terse and succinct verbal exchanges, it was clear that Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) had less things in common than the sheep they were tasked to herd. A combination of growing familiarity, lonely cold nights and liberal amounts of alcohol gradually warmed them to each other’s presence and allowed them to open up to each other. The familiarity was gradually replaced by growing affection towards each other that culminated in a physical encounter between the men that both never conceived happening.

The morning after brings renouncement of the affair, and then a make-out session that nullifies the renouncement not long after that. Their relationship was now set in stone and their journey was just beginning when the reality of their lives beyond the mountains began to intrude into their private Edenic existence. Both Jack and Ennis had prior plans that were now demanding their attention now that they have completed the job that the were paid for. For Ennis it was the lovely fiancée, Alma (Michelle Williams), who waits for him at the altar and for Jack it was the call of the rodeo at a chance of making money from bull-riding. The harshness first parting took both of them by surprised as both would never imagine how much their encounter would affect them.

Ennis and Jack go their separate ways into lives of quiet desperation made miserable because they're apart. In their aim to conform to social demands of their environment, they inavertedly victimized the women they take as their wives. Alma (Michelle Williams) mistakes Ennis' detachment for stern machismo, bearing his children but not his affection. Jack marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway), if not for her looks and personality, then for her father's business connections. Jack figures if he can't be happy, he may as well get paid. Although they try their best to lived out their lives as what people around them will accept as “normal”, the memories of the Eden that they left behind still lingered with them.

It was only after 4 years after their first parting that Ennis got a postcard from Jack to tell him that he was coming to town and would like to meet up with his old friend. Barely suppressing his anticipation at the reunion, Ennis immediately realized that fire that they had together at Brokeback Mountain had not subsided through the years. They couldn’t restrain themselves from kissing each other passionately in plain view of a heartbroken Alma who finally found out the truth about her husband. Like excited teenagers, both men proceeded to a motel where they reignited their passion towards each other leading Jack to declare succinctly that “that ol' Brokeback got us good."

In the 20 years that followed, both men furtively reunited under the pretense of going to “fishing trips” up in the mountains. While both marriages at home were falling apart due to the secrets and compromises that they had to make, the bond between Jack and Ennis grew deeper. Jack continued to try to get Ennis to come away with him and set up a ranch together but Ennis recalled a traumatic childhood incident that ruled that option out. Brokeback Mountain was the one place in their lives where they felt most alive, most themselves. But, for Ennis, that's still painful to admit. "I wish I knew how to quit you," Jack tells Ennis at one point frustrated at his reluctance to be with him. To commit to anything more was something that Ennis was ill-equipped to handle.

A divorce from a long suffering Alma who had known of her husband’s relationship with Jack from the day he came to their doorstep brought Jack back thinking that Ennis would finally be willing to go away with him. Unable to break away from the societal mold that created him, Ennis decided that Jack’s dream of them being together was not something that he could be a part of. It was the last parting of the lovers as Ennis would later find out that Jack had died. Although he was told that Jack died in an accident, in his mind Ennis could only imagined that he died a terrible death in a gay bashing similar to the one that he witness in his childhood. In a harrowing and heartrending ending, Ennis finally come to terms with a life that he could have had but was unable to pursue due to who he felt he had to be. He would have move on with his live but no without the memories of the life he could have had.

The first thing that most people might hear about this film is that it is about “gay cowboys”. The thought of the two adult male leads engaging in consensual sex in a mountainous rangers of Wyoming could be a point of sale or one of controversy depending on the disposition of the viewer. While it is no doubt groundbreaking in a genre already filled with lavender-colored subtext for those looking for it, the novelty of it all could easily be removed and not impact the movie in the slightest. What is more important is that once one is past the point of contention, what emerges is a much more traditional tragedy about two people who simply cannot have what they want. Instead of the normal barriers of poverty, class or war separating the lovers, “Brokeback Mountain” presents the societal prejudice as the main culprit that stops them from being together.

Working from the adapted screenplay written by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, Ang Lee steadily paced the action with a masterful hand. He doesn’t shy away from showing the audience the graphic lust the two male lead have for each other nor does he shy from showing the impact that lust have to the people around them. He was equally lavish with the time spent showing the beautiful vistas where the love relationship first started to bloom as beautifully captured by Rodrigo Prieto as the cinematographer of this film. If there was something to fault is Ang Lee’s direction it would be that at times the movie felt as long as the 20 years that the story took place due to several tedious pacing decisions. A firmer hand at the editing bay might helped in that regard for some of the more repetitive scenes that came up due to the episodic nature of the main characters’ relationship.

Both the main male leads in this film delivered the performances that this film required admirably. While the accents took getting used to especially those of us who don’t speak cowboy, the meaning that was being conveyed through clearly by the anguished looks and pregnant pauses. Heath Ledger, who usually comes off as flat, delivered his best performance to date playing the tortured Ennis who fights so hard against what his heart wants. Jake Gyllenhaal reprises the distant dreamer act he's played a hundred times before in other movie and the only difference is that now he's wearing a cowboy hat while doing it.

The female leads were not to be out shone in their performance in this film with both Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway giving good performances as different types of women tied down to these men. Williams, in particular, delivers the better performance of the two with her anguished Alma who suffers silently while knowing all along that whatever that she does it would not compare to what her husband feel towards Jack. I have been following her work from the days she was on “Dawson’s Creek” and I can safely say that she has grown as an actor in leaps and bounds from her days on that show.

One point of the production that didn’t really sit well is the apparent failure of the makeup department to really show the passage of time in the story. While Ledger’s Ennis looked like he hardly aged in the 20 years that the film was supposed to be set, Gyllenhaal’s Jack had the misfortune of having a silly looking mustache tacked on to show his age. Looking at that mustache, I can’t stop having the mental picture of Jack twirling the mustache like villains from an old silent-era western. The women of this movie also fared no better in the makeup department. Like Ennis, Williams' Alma seemed ageless despite the hardship that she had to go through while Hathaway’s Lureen grew blonder as her hairstyle changed from Dolly Parton to Sue Ellen Ewing within the runtime of the movie.

After hearing how much of a tear-jerker this movie was from those who had seen it before, I was a bit surprised with myself for not even having a teary moment during the screening. Given that I am easily reduce to a sobbing mess while watching “E.T” or the final episode of “Dawson’s Creek”, I had steeled myself for the waterworks but it was not as emotionally affecting as I thought that it would be. Other than the possibility this old heart has turned into stone, I guess that the episodic nature of the development of their relationship were too far apart resonantly to build up towards the heart wrenching ending. Knowing the ending from reading the original short story might also have contributed to the lack of emotional response to this film that everyone says effected them deeply. I may just need to go through additional viewing to find out why some people have said that this was the saddest film they have seen this year.

All in all “Brokeback Mountain” was worth the wait but at time seemed a bit over-rated on the delivery. While at times seemed tediously paced, Ang Lee delivered a finished product that would sure to become a talking piece for months if not years to come. Good script and good acting on the part of the cast gives this film that dare to speak of the love that has no name with characters who speak even less with a solid base to saddle up and ride off to the sunset victorious against all odds.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Early Morning Scare

It was just one of those types of nights that runs the gamut from high points and low points on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

After coming back from an enjoyable pot-luck soiree slash private screening of “Brokeback Mountain” (review to follow soon) at a fellow blogger’s place, I was feeling the most liberated I have been for some time. Partly because I met so many interesting new people who I would never have met before on my own and it was the first time (hopefully not the last) I have ever been invited to one of the blogger’s gathering since I started blogging. I apologize to the other guests who might be reading this entry now if I seemed too aloof, distant or quiet last night but that is just how I am around strangers that I have not been formally introduced too. I was too timid to introduced myself and the host was already busy with the guest so I decided just to enjoy the company and the film.

After getting a ride back from another gracious (given the adventure we had to go through trying to find our way back to Sunway) blogger, I was ready to turn into bed and get some sleep before I had to get up to go to work again today unlike our counterparts in KL. Just a few hours in, I was woken up by a phone call from my brother telling me that my father was involved in a car accident and was admitted to the hospital. My mother was there and she told me that they had him under observation after being ambulanced from the crash site. From what they could tell, another car had crashed into my father’s car from behind and caused him to lose control of his car which hit the road divider head-on and spun the car a few times. My mother told me that the car was a totally write-off since the engine was in unrecoverable pieces.

I really hate getting early morning calls like this because the last time I got a call this early in the morning, I lost someone who meant the world to me. Every time my phone rings between the hours of 2 to 4 in the morning, my heart jumps at the thought of me losing someone close again and what was worse the absolute panic of not being able to be by their side in time if the worst happened. This was no different especially when my mother had not had a chance to find out how serious a condition my father was in when she called. Knowing my aversion with hospitals especially after the way I was practically a catatonic mess the last time I had a loved one died in the hospital, my mother told me to just stay put and wait for new development.

They finally released me from my tormented thoughts at 6am when they call me to say that my father was discharged to go home with a banged up knee and minor bruising. The doctors kept him in observation more because of the high blood pressure that he had after the shock of the accident more than anything else. He was very lucky considering how much worse off the car was damaged in the accident. I have not had a chance to talk to him yet as the doctors gave him some painkillers for the knee so he was zonked off when my mother brought him back.

I’m getting flashbacks of the last time he was in a bad accident back when I was younger. He was also very lucky then as he was yesterday.

I hope that there will not be any more early morning calls for sometime at least.