Friday, February 10, 2017

La La Land - here’s to the ones who dream...

movie review

La La Land

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J. K. Simmons
Written and directed by: Damien Chazelle
Tagline: Here’s to the fools who dream.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months, you certainly must have heard of La La Land, the musical comedy drama that has been the talk of Tinseltown ever since its release in December. With the Hollywood award season in full swing, Damien Chazelle’s brainchild has emerged as a leading contender for some of the film industry’s highest accolades, and has indeed bagged numerous trophies at various ceremonies. So just why is everyone going gaga over La La Land? Simply because this ode to Hollywood is itself a glorious example of movie magic.

The film follows the story of two struggling artists who fall for each other in Los Angeles while trying to realize their ambitions.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot. Despite going for a string of auditions, she hasn’t landed any roles and her acting career hasn’t made any head way. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who hopes to open his own club but has to make a living by performing in bars.

As the two struggle to achieve their dreams, their paths cross. Sparks (eventually) fly, but their dreams and romance take bittersweet turns over the course of a year, the changing of each season announced on the screen.

A beautiful love letter to passion, art, and classic cinema, La La Land is mesmerizing from start to finish. Everything from the cinematography and camera work to the acting and direction is impressive. Chazelle – who both directed the movie and wrote its script – knows how to make the audience feel the heartache that his characters experience, and has created a modern day masterpiece that harks back to the era of the mid-20th century musicals which clearly inspired this project.

But Chazelle isn’t the only one who merits props here; equally deserving of praise is Justin Hurwitz, who composed the beautiful music that drives the film. His score covers the spectrum from buoyant and joyous to haunting and heartbreaking (often simultaneously), gently becoming an integral part of the narrative.

The film also benefits from the captivating performances delivered by both its leads. Stone and Gosling may not be the most amazing vocalists and dancers, but that appears to be exactly what Chazelle is going for; the sequences aren’t as intricate or demanding as some of the most celebrated moments from classic musicals, but the actors’ limitations have been designed to add to the beauty of the film, making their performances more relatable, more charming.

Visually stunning and emotionally resonant, La La Land proves to be a memorable cinematic experience, both because of its artistry and poignancy. This musical romance will touch your heart, leave you humming its catchy songs, and make you marvel at the effort that has gone into the conception, preparation, and execution of this project.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 10th February 2017 *

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie preview

trailer review

The Lego Batman Movie

The Academy may not have given the film its proper dues – and yes, some of us may still be a tad miffed about this major award show injustice – but the fact remains that The Lego Movie (2014) was downright awesome. Both joyous and thought-provoking, the wildly entertaining animated romp ushered us into the zany Lego realm. Now, three years later, we finally get the chance to revisit Lego land in the spin-off instalment The Lego Batman Movie.

The flick is centred on the character of The Dark Knight (voiced by Will Arnett) and its trailers promise an amusing adventure in Gotham City.

As per the prevue, Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned about his lonely lifestyle, and urges him to raise the young orphan he adopted (Michael Cera), just as Batman squares off against his old nemesis The Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

Off the bat, the project seems quite amusing; the ribbing of the superhero franchise in particular is entertaining. But by the looks of it, the film (obviously) lacks the novelty of its predecessor. We’re already familiar with the Batman world, plus The Lego Movie masterminds Phil Lord and Christopher Miller created such a (surprisingly) interesting, detailed world and filled it with so much excitement and joy that for this very reason the follow-up doesn’t seem as imaginative as the original. Still, their efforts do give director Chris McKay a uniquely fascinating universe to explore.

And even though we have seen Batman in so many incarnations already, this Lego persona still feels fresh and fun. Based on the few glimpses we’ve had of the film so far, it is very likely that The Lego Batman Movie will be better than the recent DC Comics films, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad (simply because almost everything is better than Suicide Squad). So far, it certainly looks smarter and wittier than the latest DC offering. Here’s hoping the film lives up to its potential.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 3rd February, 2017 *

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Passengers - an absurd cliché of a film

movie review

Passengers 
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Tagline: There is a reason they woke up.

Why do good actors choose bad projects? That is the biggest mystery that runs through Passengers, a clunky sci-fi vehicle that can neither justify nor make the most of the star power at its helm.

The film is set aboard the Starship Avalon, an interstellar starliner that is on a voyage from an overpopulated Earth to the colony world of Homestead II. Its 5000 passengers and 258 crew members are in hibernation, and are set to spend 120 years in suspended animation before they are awakened upon reaching their new home.

But a malfunction brings one passenger, mechanical engineer James Preston (Chris Pratt), out of hibernation 90 years too soon, leaving him stranded and alone on the ship. His only companion is an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). James comes across the sleeping beauty, journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and, struggling with loneliness, makes the hard decision to wake her up. But he doesn’t tell her he is the reason she is awake, instead blaming it on hibernation pod failure.

This secret looms over the proceedings, and Passengers promptly collapses under its implications. While you do empathize with the morally difficult circumstances that James finds himself in, the story unfolds in a way that feels more creepy than romantic. The movie doesn’t have the guts to delve into the intensity and heartache that the setup demands and instead settles for absurdity and clichés.

At times, Passengers feels like Titanic in space, only way worse. Plot holes abound; there are issues that the film doesn’t even try to make sense of. Things are either left unexplained or are downright unexplainable.

As for the cast, while their individual performances are serviceable, Lawrence and Pratt lack on-screen chemistry and mostly seem to be there for their overinflated paycheques. And even though Sheen is quite charming as James’s robot friend, the dull script doesn’t give his character anything original to say or do.

The premise at its core – a man stranded on a spaceship – is promising, and in the hands of a better filmmaker, this theme could have led to an interesting, compelling exploration of loneliness, love, survival, and sacrifice. But director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts emphatically falter in their attempt to create affecting drama here. Passengers starts promisingly, then veers into disturbing territory before lurching towards a preposterous, nonsensical climax, and ultimately leaves you feeling uncomfortable and underwhelmed.

Rating: 2 out of 5
- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 2nd February, 2017 *

Friday, January 20, 2017

Words

Us Magazine, The News - 20th January, 2017

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rewind - Hollywood's biggest fails of 2016

roundup

Films fail in different ways. There are financial failures – good movies that earn critical praise but just don’t excite audiences, thereby disappointing at the box office. There are critical failures – bad movies (like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the downright shambolic Suicide Squad) which earn the ire of critics but still interest viewers and make bucket loads of cash. And then there are films that hit the double whammy of failure – critics hate them and so do moviegoers, making them derided box office bombs. Here are ten such movies that simply couldn’t please anyone and ended up among Hollywood’s least successful projects of the year:

Max Steel 
Budget: $10 million
Box office: $6 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Metacritic: 22
Just when you thought Fantastic Four was the biggest superhero failure, along came Max Steel to show you that it can actually get worse. The adventure based on the Mattel action figure didn’t get a single positive review from critics (as per online review aggregators) and failed to recoup its budget, becoming one of the year’s biggest flops. Dull, unexciting, and unoriginal, Stewart Hendler’s cinematic dud was ultimately just a waste of everyone’s time.

Ben-Hur 
Budget: $100 million
Box office: $94 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 25% 
Metacritic: 38
Instead of trying to come up with something original, Hollywood decided it would be a good idea to make an adaptation of Ben-Hur. Again. For the fifth time! It’s baffling that someone thought it would be wise to readapt the 1880 Lew Wallace novel after the 1959 historical epic not only proved to be the definitive cinematic version of the story but was also deemed one of the greatest films ever made, willing a record 11 Academy Awards in 1960. It’s even more baffling that someone reckoned Jack Huston had the talent and charisma to step into “Charlton Heston’s sandals”. Ultimately, the CGI drenched film only managed to turn the epic into an epic failure.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 
Budget: $28 million
Box office: $16 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Metacritic: 45
It’s quite hard to figure out why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies exists. Sure, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular books in the world. And yes, zombies are kinda popular. But Pride and Prejudice AND zombies? Why? Why would humanity, as a whole, let that happen? Should we blame Seth Grahame-Smith for writing the novel, or the person who decided to turn that novel into a ridiculous movie? What happened to the intelligence of everyone involved in the project? Did the film lack brains because the zombies ate them all?!

Ratchet & Clank
Budget: $20 million
Box office: $13 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Metacritic: 29
Ok, so the Ratchet & Clank movie wasn’t AS terrible as its review scores make it seem, but it was so lacking in originality and depth that the film was ultimately downright disappointing. The project was such a missed opportunity considering the success of the video games series that it is based on. The viewers weren’t interested, the critics didn’t like it. It’s a shame the potential movie franchise just failed to take off.

Keeping Up with the Joneses 
Budget: $40 million 
Box office: $28 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 19%
Metacritic: 34
Jon Hamm could pretty much read the phone book and still make it riveting. That should give you some sense of how bad the script of Keeping Up with the Joneses must have been that even Hamm’s presence couldn’t make the film watchable. Isla Fisher tried her best. Zach Galifianakis was basically just there (and his other film Masterminds was similarly also a dud). So much comedic talent ... if only the filmmakers had put it to better use.

Grimsby
Budget: $35 million
Box office: $25 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Metacritic: 44
The often controversial Sacha Baron Cohen is something of an acquired taste, but his latest film was just too, well, tasteless for most viewers. The British-American action comedy was your typical Cohen affair and just as polarizing as most of his other work. The bright spot: Mark Strong, who was quite good in the otherwise lame movie, although it did feel sad to see him in such a shoddy mess.

Yoga Hosers
Budget: $5 million
Box office: $39,585
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Metacritic: 23
Celebrities keep trying to buy their offsprings a career. They don’t always succeed. Case in point: Yoga Hosers, director Kevin Smith and actor Johnny Depp’s attempt at giving a boost to the acting careers of their respective daughters, Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp. The reviews and earnings were both dismal. Almost no one watched it. And almost no one who watched it liked it.

I Saw the Light 
Budget: $13 million
Box office: $1.8 million
Rotten Tomato: 21%
Metacritic: 47
When making a biographical drama about an American country music legend, it probably isn’t the best idea to cast a British actor in the leading role. Had someone shared this nugget of wisdom with Marc Abraham and his team while they were planning the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light, it would have spared us from the resulting controversy and a film that just didn’t work (despite Hiddleston’s best efforts).

The Disappointments Room 
Budget: $15 million
Box office: $4.9 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Metacritic: 31
Wentworth Miller is awesome. His script for The Disappointments Room, unfortunately, is not. A horror movie devoid of scares and a project altogether devoid of creativity, the aptly titled film was indeed a disappointment, both in terms of revenue and reviews.

Nina  
Budget: $7 million
Box office: NA
Rotten Tomatoes: 3%
Metacritic: 27%
If there was a “what were they thinking?!” award, Nina would be the leading contender for 2016. One of the worst cast, most misguided films of the year, the Nina Simone biopic was such a misconceived mess that it was slammed from all directions and only got a limited release. Critical of Zoe Saldana’s casting in the lead role, Simone’s estate even declined to endorse the film.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 24th December, 2017 *

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Allied - average, unexciting, and forgettable

movie review

Allied 

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, and Lizzy Caplan
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Tagline: The enemy is listening.

The hoopla around the real life of thespians can occasionally overshadow their work, but few films have been upstaged quite as ferociously by gossip as Allied has. The movie found itself being thrust in the middle of the Jolie/Pitt split (quite like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) landed in the centre of the Aniston/Pitt divorce around a decade ago). It doesn’t bode well for the film, however, that its alleged – and categorically denied – involvement in the Brangelina breakup is perhaps the most exciting thing about this otherwise mediocre project.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Robert Zemeckis’ romantic thriller tries to evoke the feel of classic Hollywood cinema but struggles to create a memorable, moving drama.

Allied tells the story of a Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), and a French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who are partnered with each other for a mission in Casablanca. The duo have to pose as a married couple while planning to assassinate the German ambassador, but end up developing real feelings for each other.

The couple eventually get married, settle in wartime England, and have a child. Their life is interrupted one day when Max is informed by his superiors that Marianne is suspected of being a Nazi spy. Devastated at the possibility that the woman he loves might be betraying him but convinced that his wife can’t be a traitor, Max tries to find out if the whole thing is a test or if he is actually being deceived.

With a plodding pace and unexceptional story, the film pales in comparison to the movies – like Casablanca (1942) – that it is trying to emulate. The filmmakers appear to value style over substance, as they create stunning period settings but fail to populate them with engaging characters and events. Even actors of Pitt and Cotillard’s calibre can’t breathe much life into their on-screen romance.

The proceedings become more implausible with each clumsy turn. The movie feels overlong; its 124 minute running time begs for better editing. Some scenes are so drawn out that you can figure out where things are going long before they actually happen. There are some extraneous characters, like Max’s sister (portrayed by Lizzy Caplan) who adds nothing to the storyline.

Allied is slow and inconsistent. Its action lacks suspense; its heavy-handed emotions are unconvincing. The plot has potential, but Allied is never given the chance to develop into a riveting thriller because of its dull script and uneven execution. The project wastes the talent of its (remarkably good looking) cast and ultimately just comes off as average, unexciting, and forgettable.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 22nd December, 2016 *

Friday, December 16, 2016

Remembering Junaid Jamshed

in remembrance 

Goher Mumtaz: Don’t know from where to start writing, as I haven’t been able to come out of shock. I still remember the day when we were about to go on stage. He asked me, “Goher! Since I can’t sing the songs of Vital Signs [anymore], so can you sing your favourite Vital Signs songs?” As I knew all their songs and sensed that he really wanted to sing a few now, I started one line of ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and he sang the rest (without music). I saw him closing his eyes, grabbing my hand. He made me sit on the stairs – maybe he just wanted to tell me to sit with him and sing so the world wouldn’t judge him. I felt that I made him happy by making him sing all those songs in front of the LUMS crowd without letting anyone judge him. He had such a beautiful voice, such charisma and presence, that at one point I started looking at him as a fan who used to have his posters all over my room, a fan who dreamt about making a band like his, to be as cool as he was. But nothing can buy this moment. He is Junaid Jamshed, a great friend, brother, and inspiration for all of us. He is going to live in our hearts forever.

Naukhez Javed: Junaid Jamshed was a legend. It all started when I saw Music 89, a music show hosted by Nazia and Zohaib Hassan where they introduced new bands, including Vital Signs and Jupiters (Ali Azmat). From that time onwards, Junaid bhai was my crush. I was a diehard fan of his. I started my musical career in school by singing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’. At the time, Junaid bhai was a heartthrob. I used to collect Pepsi bottle caps and other stuff in order to get the latest cassette of Vital Signs. I never thought that when I’d grow up, I will be a musician and a renowned vocalist and in the same league as Junaid Jamshed.
I met him in person when he transformed himself for the path of Allah. He had a very helpful, caring, thoughtful personality. I discussed my career in music with him and he guided me for the future. I asked him “Junaid bhai, you don’t feel like singing again?” He replied “Naukhez yaar, shayed nahi, but dunya kisi haal main jeeney nahi deti.” I felt that there was still a passion for singing inside him, but the path he chose was above all other passions. And then his song haunted me after this incidence – “hum kyoun chaley us rah par jis rah par sab hi chaley, kyoun na chuney woh rasta jis par nahi koi gaya”. Junaid bhai, you were a legend and you will be missed by us forever. Rest in heaven!!!

*****
Junaid Jamshed Khan (1964 – 2016)
  • Born on the 3rd of September 1964 in Karachi, Pakistan.
  • Aspired to become a fighter pilot in his youth.
  • Graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore.
  • Started singing and performing in the 1980s, joining pop group Vital Signs as their lead singer. The group gained fame in 1987 with the release of their hit ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, and made four albums before parting ways in the mid ’90s.
  • Pursued a solo career, releasing three studio albums, before giving up music to devote his life to religion.
  • Also started the successful clothing brand J.
  • Died, along with his second wife, on the 7th of December 2016, when PIA Flight 661 – en route to Islamabad from Chitral – crashed near Havelian. Is survived by his first wife, Ayesha, and four children.
- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 16th December, 2016 *