Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Movie Review: Fantastic Four - The Rise of the Silver Surfer

After a somewhat lackluster start to the movie franchise, Marvel universe’s foremost superhero quartet returns on the big screen in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”. At the beginning of this sequel, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) are trying to get married for the 4th time after previous ceremonies were disrupted by events that required their superpower assistance. With the help of fellow teammates Ben Grim/Thing (Michael Chilkis) and Johnny Storm/Human Torch (Chris Evans), they hope to actually make it through the whole ceremony this time around and finally be legally married to each other. Unfortunately for the couple, fate threw a monkey wrench into their plans in the form of the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones, voice by Laurence Fishburne) whose arrival causes apocalyptic upheavals all across the Earth.

Racing to discover the intent of this stranger from space, the fantastic quartet find themselves having to join forces with the military under the command of U.S. Army General Hager (Andre Braugher) and a newly resurrected Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). The tenuous partnership managed to eventually capture the Silver Surfer only to find out that he was only the advance scout to an even bigger threat in the form of Galactus who traveled the universe looking for planets with organic life to consume. A predictable betrayal from one of the allied parties puts the world into more danger as Galactus draws closer to the planet. In the end, the Fantastic Four managed to beat the odds but not without the help of the noble herald who decided that humanity was worth saving from his former master.

The latest movie storyline is loosely based on the classic comic book storyline which first introduced the Silver Surfer and Galactus to the Marvel Universe. Well beloved by comic fans, high expectations were placed on this movie adaptation almost immediately after production news hit the internet. Unfortunately for fans of the original storyline, most would find the movie a huge disappointment after all the hype. While it was exciting to finally see the Silver Surfer realized on the big screen, a lot of what made the original story so engaging and historic did not make it to the screen. Instead of a deeper investigation of humanity’s worth, “Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer” choose to remain in the lightweight tone of it’s predecessor and appeal more to the demographics who would be more interested in the merchandizing byproduct of this summer fare.

All four of the original actors from the first film returned to reprise their roles in this installment. While the faster pace of this movie is a welcomed change from the meandering pace of the first, the same cannot be said of the changes or lack of in the character development this time around. Both Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman continue to the one note characters that we saw in the first movie. Like the first movie, the lack of chemistry between Gruffudd and Alba requires audiences to suspend disbelieve so we can accept them as a couple about to get married. Chris Evans continue to be the eye candy of the bunch and while I have no complaints about that it was quite disappointing to see the Human Torch’s unrealized character arch potential in this installment. It was also disheartening to see the how the character of the Thing which was the best thing of the first movie reduced to being just comic relief in this sequel.

Things are not any better on the other side of the heroic line as well. Julian McMahon’s Dr. Doom continues to be a underwhelming character in the movie who pales in comparison to his more regal comic book counterpart. Fan can take solace however on the portrayal of the Silver Surfer who made his transitions to the big screen with his backstory and motivations essentially intact. I just wished that I am not reminded of a Zen master like Morpheus from the Matrix movies every time I hear the character speaks on screen. The Silver Surfer was visually exciting to see on screen but dialogue wise left me feeling that they could have done more. The greatest disservice of the storyline has to be how the decided to portray Galactus in the movie. I had heard rumors of how they say Galactus will look like in the film but never really believed it since it was such an iconic character that people would look out for. Unfortunately for me, what I heard was true. I don’t know which would be more laughable if I saw it on screen, a planet size purple armored humanoid space entity or the Galactus that they decided to go with in the movie. I have a feeling that I would prefer the former because at least they would have made a concession to the comic fans who was already disappointed on how their favorite storyline has been adapted.

While much better than the first Fantastic Four movie and not the worse comic book based film made, “Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer” is quite a disposable film that does not do much to raise the stakes for the film franchise. Clunky dialogue and unmemorable character arches does disservice to the original storyline that the fans were looking forward to. I have to admit that the CGI effects were serviceable enough to make it an enjoyable watch but other than the flashy action sequences, there was not enough substance in the 91 minute runtime to make this movie anything more than forgettable.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunday, Happy Sunday - Amcorp Mall Flea Market

I have always been fascinated by flea markets. The thought of uncovering that one piece of treasure amidst a sea of junk have always been life long fantasy of mine. A student of history and totally a busybody by nature, I have always been intrigued by the story behind each item that I see on a seller’s table in a flea market. I could spend hours contentedly spinning tales in my head of the item’s history and what stories that it might have gone through. Unfortunately for me, I don’t get many chances to indulge in my own “treasure” hunting adventure in flea markets as often as I would like to. Financial considerations aside, I simply don’t make the time to go to them even when I know where they were held.

I made an exception to the rule last Sunday by finally dragging my sorry self to the weekend flea market at Amcorp Mall. While I have lived in KL for almost the entirety of my life, I have to admit that I have never stepped foot into the mall. If it was not for a fellow blogger’s blog entry about the flea market there and a chance invitation by another blogger to see a movie at the Cineplex there sometime back, I would have never known what was available there. That just goes to show that I don’t go out a lot and when I do it would inevitably be to the same places time and time again.

Since I had planned to watch the latest Fantastic Four sequel and was not feeling up to the now customary hour long queues at KLCC TGV for tickets, I decided to watch it at the Amcorp Mall Cineplex instead. While the place was not as good as TGV at KLCC or Sunway, you do get what you pay for with the lower ticket prices. I guess it would also be a good place to bring kids and older people since they do offer discounted tickets for children under 12 and senior citizens. At least I know where to take the whole family the next time we all agree on one movie to watch.

Anyway, since I was planning to watch the movie there I decided to check out the weekend flea market as well. Waking up early on a Sunday (for once), I got ready and left the house at about 9am. I wasn’t sure how early the flea market started but I was hedging my bets that since the malls don’t usually open before 10am, they won’t be anyone there before then. Unless of course you count the senior citizens who I see sometimes doing their walks in a mall before they open like they do in Subang Parade.

Since I did have time to kill, I stopped at the mamak place nearby for breakfast before making a move to the Amcorp mall. A bus trip to the Kelana Jaya Putra LRT station and then a short LRT trip to the Taman Jaya stop brought me within the stones throw from Amcorp Mall. As I walked down the street towards the mall, I was struck by the number of times that I have been in and around the area and yet have never been to the mall itself. I knew it was there but it never crossed my mind to stop and explore it myself until that day.

The sellers were just setting up for the day when I arrived some time around 10 am. Most had not unpack their stuff yet so I took my time to walk around the 4 floor mall to figure out the lay of the land. There wasn’t really a system of what kind of items were at which floor so it was nice to have to look though all the tables. I always like to come early to flea markets so I can have first pick of the merchandise if I saw anything interesting.

A lot of the items on sale in the Sunday flea market at Amcorp Mall seemed to be either surplus inventory from shops, old vinyl records, personal collections of knickknacks or homemade items. I saw quite a few items that I wished that I could buy but didn’t because being the pack rat that I am, I just know will end up hording it for no good reason. Plates with old designs like the one you used to see in the old Chinese kopitiams were a particular weakness of mine which just happened to be plentiful there for sale. The only way that I could stop myself from buying them was the thought of having to lug those plates on the LRT and bus before I could reach home to enjoy them. That and the thought that I would not be able to stop at getting just one once I start. There were also some brass items that I knew that my mother would go nuts over if she saw them so I know that I have to get my mum to come over one Sunday morning as well.

The other reason of coming to the Amcorp Mall Sunday flea market was to check out if anyone there sold any comics. If there was anything that I look forward to most in a flea market was finding someone selling good condition comic books from the 70’s or earlier. Of course in Malaysia, those comics are hard to come by because they were either in too sad a shape due to our tropical weather or too priceless for the owner to sell in a flea market. The thought of finding someone who might be selling it in this flea market was something that I was really looking forward to. I actually found someone who did from his website a few days before so I made sure that I try to track him down that Sunday I was there.

Front Chee (website : was the only seller there who was selling comics. A comics collector himself, he has been trading comics at the flea market for quite some time. He even takes consignments from other collectors who are looking of offload their collection to make up space for new comics. I actually spent quite sometime talking to him as he set up his table with the comics that he brought with him that day. Unfortunately none of them really caught my eye but there were a few noteworthy issues that comic collectors might want to get for themselves if they don’t already have it. Most of the comics that he had that day were from the late 70’s/early 80’s from Good to Very Fine conditions.

Talking with him was actually enjoyable as he has quite some experience with the crowd and the comics that he sells. He gave me a few pointers about the prices that he had to set for the comics that he sells there and the type of buyers that he met at the flea market. Considering that I have almost 2 rooms full of comics that I have been accumulating for the past 25 odd years, I would definitely make it a point to get in touch with him to see if he could take them off my hands. That is of course after convincing myself to let go of my most prized possession.

Last Sunday’s walk through the Amcorp Mall flea market was more of a recon mission for future visits. I know that I will have to bring my mum to it in the near future and I have some items that I have already set my heart on buying once I get paid at the end of the month. It was a definitely enjoyable Sunday morning outing for me made all the better when I finally found a copy of Anderson Cooper ‘s “Dispatches from the Edge” book that I have been searching for ages. What was even better was that I got the book at more than half the original price at one of the surplus book shops there. It was my lucky find of the trip and hopefully the start of more lucky find there in the future.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With What Happened on the 2nd Day

Turning in early the night before meant that we all woke up at 6am on the second day. We were scheduled to take the first boat out to Pulau Perhentian at 9:30am so we had quite some time to get ready. Once everyone was ready, we decided to go out to see what was available for breakfast in Kuala Besut. Unsurprisingly in this one street town, there was hardly anything opened at that early in the day. We ended up having breakfast at the hotel’s cafĂ© which was located just a few meters from the hotel’s entrance after walking almost the whole length of the town.

(Cafe at the hotel and scene opposite the hotel)

After a simple breakfast of nasi lemak and coffee, we went back to our rooms to pick up our bags and check out of the hotel. Once everything was settled at the hotel, we walked down a few meters to the Kuala Besut Connection Tour office. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kuala Besut bus stop, they organize trips not only to Pulau Perhentian but also to Pulau Redang, Cameron Highlands and Taman Negara. After signing in and parking our cars at their secure parking space aka in front of the owner’s house, we picked up our bags and walked down the street to the boat jetty. Before we boarded the fast boat to Pulau Perhentian, we had to pay the RM 5 per person entry fee to the marine park where Pulau Perhentian was located in.

(Kuala Besut Connection Tour office and the Kuala Besut bus stop)

I didn’t really know what to expect with the boat ride. I have read accounts from some people that the ride could be both wet and wild. I even packed all my stuff in plastic bags before putting them into my bags just in case it got too wet. It turned out that my preparations and the Dramamine tab that I swallowed before the ride was all for nothing. The trip was not as bad as I thought it would be. The seas was calm and the ride was actually an enjoyable prelude to the vacation. With the exception of 3 other passengers who were headed for another resort on the island, we had the boat all to ourselves coming in. The trip took about ½ hour from Kuala Besut across the South China Sea before we saw the emerald green island of Perhentian Kecil growing bigger in our horizon.

(Scenes from the trip out to the islands)

We approached Pulau Perhentian from the west shore and saw the west beaches of Perhentian Kecil first. I could not see any resorts or chalets on this side of the island which made me think of the number of unspoilt beaches that they must have there. As we approached the narrow stretch of sea that separated the Kecil and Besar island, the boat veered westward towards the Senja beach resort to drop off our boat ride companions who had booked their accommodation there. Since we came in during low tide, the resorts had to send small boats out to pick up visitors coming in on the boat from the mainland. It was quite fortunate that the seas were calm that day or it would surely be a challenge to negotiate the boat transfer when one does not have their sea legs set up yet.

After saying good bye and wishing them a great vacation, we proceeded to Abdul’s Chalet where we had made reservation for 3 beach front chalet. As we made it closer to the shore, I was amazed by the turquoise green waters that surrounded Perhentian Besar. I have only seen sea as green as this in pictures and would never thought that I would see it myself. The sea was so clear that you could almost see all away to the bottom even when it was surely deeper than I could imagine. A short ride later, we reached the beach where Abdul’s Chalet was located. As before, the owners came up to the boat with their own boats to take us in the last few meters to the beach. Since there were 11 of us and a whole boatload of bags, we had to make 2 trips on the small boat before we had everything and everyone on Abdul’s Chalet, Perhentian Besar.

(Turquoise waters as we approach Abdul's Chalet beach)

Abdul’s Chalet was exactly as I pictured it. A row of individual chalets each with their own verandah lined the beach amongst the tall coconut trees that acted as natural umbrellas that provided shade from the sun. Another row of chalets were located behind the first row which they called the garden facing chalets but I never even checked them out as it would be a waste to be there and not have a view of the sea as you open the chalet’s door. It turned out that we came in early that day and the current occupant of the units that we booked have not checked out yet since check out time was at 12pm. In fact, they were still having a last dip in the sea when we came ashore at about 10am. We checked in at the chalet’s reception area and left our bags there while we went down to the beach to bask in the sun.

(Beach facing chalets and the cafe at Abdul's Chalets)

(Scenes from Abdul's Chalet beach)

(Abdul's Chalet reception area and cafe)

The beach was as picturesque as I could hope for and much more. Powdery white sand bordered the greenish sea that was so clear that it was as if it was a your own private swimming pool. My nephew and niece quickly bugged us to help them change into their swimsuits so they can jump straight into the warm waters. Of course us older people had to wait for our rooms before we could change into our suits so I was left just rolling up my shorts before wading into the water to chaperone them. I have to admit at that particular time I was so envious of their exuberance and innocence while watching them frolic without a care in such a beautiful piece of beach.

We finally got to get settled into our chalets at around noon time and it was a pleasant surprise. Each room had 2 double beds, fans, a cupboard and an ensuite bathroom. The bathroom, which was actually bigger than my bathroom at home, had a shower, proper sitting toilet and a sink. Electricity in each chalet was only available between 7pm to 9am but it was not an inconvenience at all since no one in their right mind would want to stay indoors other than those hours. With the sunny skies, beautiful beach and warm waters, Pulau Perhentian was all I imagine it would be. After squaring off all our gear, we went out to the beach to sit under the shade of the conveniently located coconut tree to wait for them to call us for lunch. We were also lucky to get the only tree with a string hammock attached to relax in right in front of our doors.

(Our chalet at Abdul's Chalet)

Lunch was a simple affair of rice with chicken curry, stir fry vegetable and chili squid so fresh that I would not be surprised if it just came out of the water earlier that day. I took a nap after lunch to wait out the hot sun since us locals were not crazy enough to bake under the hot sun like the other foreigners on the beach. Around 3pm I woke up and it was cool enough for me finally to get into the water. After change into my broad shorts, I walked down past the reception area to the beach shop next to the chalet's sea side cafe to rent a few snorkel, mask and swim vest sets for us at RM 10 per set per day. Since I swim as well as a rock in the ocean, the swim vest was a required item before I would even go into the sea. After enjoying myself thoroughly the last time I went snorkeling in Sabah, I’ve already learned to ignore how dorky and goofy I must look like being the only one who had to have a life vest to swim in the sea.

While the waters was crystal clear, the corals near the beach was not as nice as the ones that I saw in Manukan Island off the coast of Sabah. I had to actually swim out quite far out before I could see any fish and somewhat interesting looking corals. Of course swimming that far out left me feeling quite anxious as I was the only one that far out from the beach. Hoping that the snorkeling trip that we had planned the following day would be much better, I decided to just flip on my back and just float on the warm waters on that sunny afternoon. As I floated peacefully while keeping an eye out to make sure that I didn’t floated away too far from the beach, I thought about the day and how I wished I could share that moment with a few special friends I wished was there with me.

We stayed in the water until about 6pm before we had enough waves and sun for the first day. Rested for a bit on the beach before going to get ready for dinner. I was hoping to see a picture perfect sunset to cap of the perfect day but unfortunately Abdul’s Chalet beach faced Perhentian Kecil and the sunset was hidden from view behind the island. A cloudy sky with what seems to be rain falling on the distant mainland did not help to frame a proper sunset. With the increasingly humid night, we went to our dinner of white rice with vegetables, stir-fry squid and sweet-sour fish. After dinner, we sat around the table to talk about the day and watch the flashes of lightning that occasionally lit up the night sky.

(Sunset at Abdul's Chalet, Pulau Perhentian)

Feeling tired after the long and exciting day, we turned in from the night at about 10 pm. Even with the fans they provided in the room, the humid night caused me to sweat buckets so much so I had to get up in the middle of the night to have a shower to cool down. Regardless of that, the fact that I had the sounds of the sea to lull me back to bed was worth sleeping through the muggy night.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With the 1st day Write-up

My Perhentian trip started early on Saturday morning. Since we decide to drive up to Kuala Besut, we had to leave my parents house at Selayang around 6:30 am instead of later that evening by bus as originally planned. With 11 (9 adults and 2 children) of us going, we took 2 cars on the journey which started first with breakfast at the McDonalds near the Gombak Karak Highway exit. Although I’ll be the first to admit that I am partial to the Golden Arches but the thought of having it for breakfast was not really something that I look forward to. Unfortunately, I was quickly outvoted by the others so it was a McChicken Porridge and coffee breakfast for me.

(Breakfast at McDonalds)

Once breakfast was dispensed with, we started the 400 km plus trip via Karak Highway then eastward on the East Coast Highway towards Kuantan, Pahang before veering off northward though the excellent Terengganu roadways. The journey up to Terengganu was quite picturesque but as luck had it, I left the digital camera in the other car. Driving through Terengganu, I am always impressed by the quality of the roads there compared to other places. Given that Terengganu was the heart of Malaysian petroleum industry, it was clear where all of those oil royalties went to. Having such good roads made the journey smoother and more enjoyable.

(Scenes on the way to Dungun)

We decided to stop by the town of Dungun to stretch our legs and have a bit of lunch. By that time we had been driving for about 5 hours straight. We first headed to a local fishing jetty as my father was scouting for some locations in the area for his next production. It turned out that the original location that he wanted was already being developed and was now unsuitable for what he had in mind. After the short break, we proceeded to find somewhere to have lunch and decided to eat at a Nasi Ayam place some where near Dungun town. The food was nothing to rave about but it hit the spot especially when everyone was already hungry by that time.

(Some shot from the Dungun fishing jetty)

After Dungun, we continued our trip northward to Kuala Terengganu where we wanted to stop for a bit of shopping. This shopping trip was the main reason why we had to change our travel plans from the original plan of taking an overnight express bus to Kuala Besut. We reached Kuala Terengganu at about 2:30pm and proceeded straight to Pasar Payang market. To get to the market, we had to drive through Kuala Terengganu’s Chinatown quarter. I have to admit that I was totally surprised to see a Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu as I always thought that the Chinese population in the East Coast were more integrated into the local Malay population. It was a pleasant surprise to see pre-war Chinese style buildings that reminded me of the streets of Penang and Jonker St in Melaka. Unfortunately for me, the street was a narrow one way street and there was no where for us to park and take a walk through the area.

Pasar Payang market was a collection of shops selling all sort of local handicraft and knick knacks. The market seemed to be sectioned according to the product being sold. We went through the sections selling T-shirts, silverware, wood carving and much, much more. The main reason I was there was to look for batik and songket cloth which they had a whole section of. Since everyone else in the section is selling the same thing, it was a bit overwhelming to decide which shop to go to. After walking around for about ½ hour, we finally decided on one of the shops. I ended up buying 2 pieces of songket, 2 pieces of kain pelikat, a T-shirt, 2 ladies tudung and a small collection of key chains. With the exception of the songket, I bought everything else as gifts for my friends and co-workers but I really felt it was good value for money. The prices for songket there was at least half of what they sell for in KL so I would highly recommend the place for those looking for it.

After spending almost 2 hours at Pasar Payang market, we moved on our way towards Kuala Besut where we planned to stay overnight in. We had initially thought that we would be able to take a scenic route to Kuala Besut by following the coastal road but we soon discovered that we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at dead end road. After turning ourselves around and finally found the right road to take, we drove on uneventfully until we reached Kuala Besut at 6:30pm. First thing that we had to do there was to check in at the Kuala Besut Connection tour office which was located near the jetty to Pulau Perhentian. Once the remaining balance for the vacation package was paid off at the tour office, we checked in the nearby Samudera Hotel where we already booked 2 rooms to overnight in before leaving for the Perhentians on the following morning.

(Our room at Samudera Hotel)

Once we had time to settle down and wash the travel grime off ourselves, we adjourned to the nearby food stall for dinner. We had fresh grilled fish, deep fried squid, stir-fry vegetables with rice for the 11 of us. While the fish was indeed quite fresh, the meal was not that memorable for the RM 150 that we had to pay at the end of the meal. For that kind of price, I would have expected much more than what we had that night. After dinner, we decided to walk the meal off in the now dark and deserted Kuala Besut town which was the perfect epitome of a one-street town. Having lived in KL all my life, I’ve forgotten that places like this existed where everything shuts down by 9pm and there is nothing else to do other than going to bed early. Since we had an early start the following morning, that was exactly what we decided to do that night.

(The food stall where we had the RM 150 dinner!)

(Scenes from the deserted Kuala Besut town)

(Our hotel in Kuala Besut which was by the jetty to Pulau Perhentian)