Sunday, January 16, 2011

An ever-lasting tragedy

book review

Book: Columbine
Genre: Non-Fiction, School Safety & Violence
Author: Dave Cullen
Publisher: Twelve 
Excerpt: "All two thousand students would return safely on Monday morning, after the prom. But the following afternoon, Tuesday, April 20, 1999, twenty-four of Mr. D's kids and faculty members would be loaded into ambulances and rushed to hospitals. Thirteen bodies would remain in the building and two more on the grounds. It would be the worst school shooting in American history – a characterization that would have appalled the boys just then finalizing their plans."

In April 1999, two students opened fire at their high school in Colorado, taking the lives of 13 people and injuring 24 others before turning the guns on themselves. The Columbine High School shooting subsequently received extensive media coverage and has since been the subject of a number of books, including Columbine, the result of a decade of research by journalist Dave Cullen, that covers everything from the shooter's planning of the event to its execution and aftermath.

Published in April 2009, the award-winning non-fiction book provides an in-depth look at the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, their actions prior to and during the massacre, and the efforts of the survivors to cope with the aftermath. Columbine follows a non-linear narrative that chronologically jumps back and forth. The writer has used a number of sources – including the shooter’s journals and videos, conversations with friends and family members, police records, and eyewitnesses accounts – to piece together and make sense of a complex tragedy, while dispelling various myths and misconceptions that surrounded the incident.

Cullen reveals that the massacre had actually been intended as a bombing but the explosive devices never went off, explains how Eric Harris is believed to have been a psychopath and Dylan Klebold a depressive, and argues that contrary to what was reported, the shooters had not been bullied and did not have any association with the Trench Coat Mafia. By pointing out the many disparities between what was presented through the media coverage and what really happened, Columbine also illustrates how fallacies can take over an event and create a misleading image.

However, the book risks leaving you so convinced that what we read and hear about events isn’t necessarily true, that it might even make you doubt Cullen’s version of the narrative, particularly at the points where elements of speculation seep through, especially knowing that opposing views have been expressed by various writers and people – most visibly by Randy Brown and his son Brooks Brown who personally knew the shooters; it can feel like swapping one viewpoint for another, not nothing if either is true.

Make of his analysis what you will, you won’t deny the extensive research that went into the book. Not only is Columbine gripping (albeit at times understandably hard to read), but it also paints a vivid picture of the shocking tragedy and how it went down, and certainly presents an interesting perspective. 

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 16 January, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

At The Movies (VII)

movie reviews

The action comedy genre fails to deliver, while Pixar continues to excel

Date Night
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, James Franco, Taraji P. Henson, Mila Kunis, Common, Mark Wahlberg, Leighton Meester, and Kristen Wiig
Director: Shawn Levy
Two of television’s most loved comedians, Steve Carell and Tina Fey, unite for Date Night, the story of a bored married couple whose date night leads them to an unexpected adventure due to a case of mistaken identity. The action comedy sphere has churned out a number of flicks during the last few months with releases varying from atrocious (see Killers) to mediocre (see Knight and Day), and despite the presence of a highly talented cast, Date Night is no different. There just isn’t much the actors can do when the plot is so flimsy and the characters so damn dull, and despite their best efforts this dullness takes over the whole film. Date Night does not do justice to its cast; not just the leads, but also the very impressive supporting cast could have been better utilized. And while it isn’t exactly awful, it isn’t the hilarious caper that you’d expect it to be, which makes it quite disappointing.

Despicable Me
Voice cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher
Director: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Overflowing with cuteness and forced sentiments, Despicable Me chronicles the tale of Gru (Steve Carell) who wants to be the world’s greatest villain but faces competition from his young nemesis Vector (Jason Segel); aided by his scientist sidekick (Russell Brand) and a swarm of adorable little yellow minions, Gru comes up with a scheme to steal the moon, for which he needs the help of three little orphan girls. Tired jokes and unoriginal wisecracks ensue, as the film’s limited concept is stretched to a full-length feature, despite the fact that there isn’t nearly enough material (borrowed or otherwise) to sustain a 95-minute film; the pace does pick up at the end, but only just. The film tries desperately to be cutesy and likable, but it lacks the passion and creative spark that make a movie exciting and memorable. Kids (and adults with low expectations) will enjoy it, but ultimately, it just isn’t as funny (or fun) as it would like to be, and compared to the other recent animated releases, Despicable Me is a letdown.

Easy A
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Alyson Michalka, and Stanley Tucci
Director: Will Gluck
After a little white lie turns into a smearing rumour, high school student Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) decides to tell her side of the story in Easy A, a movie inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. In the downward spiralling genre of teen comedies, Easy A comes off as a refreshing wit-driven tale which despite suffering from some of the same trivialities that you’re likely to expect from such films still manages to be fresh and entertaining. The movie’s biggest strength is the charming Emma Stone, who brilliantly carries the movie with remarkable energy and flair; her performance keeps the viewer from questioning the otherwise obvious character incongruities and somewhat contrived wit. The supporting cast is brilliant but seems underused. The movie is funny, engaging, and even offers the best use that anyone will ever make of a Natasha Bedingfield song. Overall, Easy A is a great showcase of Emma Stone’s talent, and is way better than most of the other teen movies that are currently sinking the vessel; fans of the genre will certainly enjoy it.

Iron Man 2
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and Jon Favreau
Director: Jon Favreau
In the sequel to the surprisingly awesome Iron Man (2008), the narrative picks up where the last one left off with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealing that he is Iron Man. Now the government wants Stark to turn over the Iron Man technology, as an industrial rival (Sam Rockwell) tries to catch up, while a nemesis (Mickey Rourke) surfaces to seek revenge. This time around, there is an increase in the number of characters, but a drop in the quality of the script, which, compared to last time’s action-laden quip-fest, is somewhat lacklustre. As a result, the movie isn’t as exciting as the previous one and fails to deliver the laughs and tension that were offered by Iron Man. Fortunately Robert Downey Jr. is still awesome, and he makes the story work even when elements of the movie are degenerating into developments that are ridiculous even by sci-fi standards. Despite its flaws, the movie is fun to watch, and even though it is not as good as its predecessor, it is still quite entertaining.

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, and Catherine O’Hara
Director: Robert Luketic
For those who know where to look, the cinematosphere starts to offer little hints about just how badly a movie will suck weeks (even months) prior to its release. Take Killers as an example: it stars Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher – that should be your first clue; it’s an action comedy about a couple, where the husband is secretly an assassin – that’s clue number two; and it was not screened for critics prior to its release – that should be clue number three. If you can put this evidence together, you’ll not only be spared 96 minutes of mind-numbingly dull cinema, but you will also save the money you would’ve otherwise spent on the movie ticket, because as all the signs indicate, Killers is quite atrociously bad. The very flimsy plot unfolds as such: while on vacation, heartbroken Jen (Katherine Heigl) meets Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) who secretly works for the CIA; they get married; three years later, the secrets start to spill out. The ensuing proceedings turn out to be all kinds of dull. In fact, to say that Killers takes dullness to a whole new level would be an understatement. The things this movie lacks include originality, humour, thrills, chemistry, a decent script, and good acting. Ashton Kutcher is not believable as a hitman; Katherine Heigl is not believeable as a human being; and the two of them are not believable as a couple. Yes, it’s an action romantic comedy that fails at delivering action, romance, and comedy. I suppose it could have been worse, though I’m not quite sure how.

Knight and Day
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Grace, Paul Dano, Marc Blucas, Viola Davis, and Jordi Mollà
Director: James Mangold
Knight and Day is yet another action comedy (sigh!) revolving around a couple (sigh!) one of whom is a spy (sigh!). Following a premise that is both corny and preposterous, a spy (Tom Cruise) on the run meets a car restorer (Cameron Diaz) who thereafter functions as the damsel is distress. Over the top action proceeds, dabbed with blackouts by way of overused fadeout sequences, as the high-energy romp speeds through its 110-minute runtime in an inoffensive, harmless ride. Had it been either more satirical or a little darker in tone, the film would have managed to stand out in this worn-out genre. However, unlike Killers, which features some of the worst acting ever, the cast of Knight and Day at least try to make it work, and compared to the former, this one is practically a masterpiece. On the whole, it’s an unoriginal but somewhat enjoyable popcorn flick. It doesn’t offer much to get excited about, but it isn’t likely to bore you either if you’re looking for an average action comedy movie to while away an idle evening.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Erik Knudsen, Aubrey Plaza, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Shota Saito, Keita Saito, and Jason Schwartzman
Director: Edgar Wright
Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, the fantasy comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World follows the story of a young man, Scott (Michael Cera), who must defeat his girlfriend Ramona’s (Winstead) seven evil exes to win her love. Each ex shows up and a fight ensues in a comic book/video-game hybrid mode, although the movie never quite gets around to answering the question of why any of this is happening. Stylistically, it’s a win. Plot-wise, it falls flat. The filmmaker failed to develop the plot into a coherent, interesting storyline that would take advantage of its visual styling. It’s a self-indulgent display of style over substance, and at no point does the movie engage the viewer enough to make them care if Scott actually winds up with Ramona or not. Michael Cera plays the same character for the umpteenth time, and the movie feels extremely repetitive. Scott Pilgrim gets points for its style, but with a more solid plot, it could have potentially been a whimsical masterpiece.

The Social Network
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, and Max Minghella
Director: David Fincher
Based on Ben Mezrich’s contentious book The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network depicts the tale of the inception of the world’s biggest social networking website Facebook, and the legal issues faced by its creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) following its success. There are two ways to look at The Social Network: as a docudrama and as a movie. As a drama supposedly based on real people and events, the film suffers from massive issues because of its cursory relationship with accuracy; everything is amplified for dramatic effect, and a faithful depiction of reality it certainly is not. Throwing moralistic concerns out and looking at it as a movie, The Social Network tells an interesting (albeit not entirely factual) tale that benefits from good acting performances, with enough snarky comments thrown in to keep the viewer amused. While it is a tad too long (at 121 minutes), it employs a talented cast (with the exception of Justin Timberlake, who is in desperate need of an acting coach) that makes the most of their staid characters. It is a good movie, not – as the critical ravings and Oscar buzz will have you believe – a great one. And if you look deep enough, you will realize that it is a successful, albeit manipulative, attempt at cashing in on the Facebook phenomenon. You can watch it for entertainment, but don’t let it influence your opinion of the events and people it supposedly depicts.

Toy Story 3
Voice cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Laurie Metcalf, Blake Clark, and Whoopi Goldberg
Director: Lee Unkrich
In a largely lacklustre cinematic landscape, Pixar has managed to establish itself as a powerhouse that faces no shortage of creativity and imagination. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Toy Story 3 is absolutely brilliant! Keeping a story’s momentum going over three releases often presents problems; sequels can be a tricky business, second sequels doubly so. But Toy Story 3 manages to excel in Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the toy gang’s third outing. Andy’s (John Morris) toys face an uncertain future as he leaves for college, and end up on a journey that is in equal parts amusing, exciting, and touching; get ready to blame mysterious allergies for you teary eyes as the movies nears its finale. Toy Story 3 is the first animated film in history to make over $1 billion, and it manages to delve into the meaning of friendship and love and reflects on the feeling of loss while being a showcase for Pixar’s continuing awesomeness (although I will admit that WALL-E still remains my favourite). It is also the highest-grossing film of 2010 (so far), and it absolutely and thoroughly deserves this; it is, hands down, the best animated movie of 2010, and certainly one of the best films of the year overall.


Marley & Me (2008)
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, and Eric Dane
Director: David Frankel
Newlyweds John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) relocate to southern Florida, get jobs as reporters for competing newspapers, and eventually adopt a dog to see if they’re ready to raise a family. Turns out, the new addition to the Grogan household, a Labrador retriever they name Marley, may very likely be “the world's worst dog”. Amusing incidents of canine bad behaviour ensue, as the Grogan’s juggle married life, their careers, and parenthood. A movie based on a book based on a true story, Marley & Me doesn’t manage to equal its paper-and-ink counterpart, because while the book tries to draw life lessons from the amusing/frustrating/exasperating episodes of living with a neurotic untrainable dog, the movie makes few (if any) such efforts. At times it almost feels like the film is manipulating the audience, and by the end, it is on a mission to make you cry even if that’s the last thing it does, and well, that quite literally is the last thing it does; you’d have to be Cruella de Vil to not tear up at the ending. Of course no criticism is likely to deter pet lovers from watching this film, and yes, at times it really is sweet and sentimental, but on the whole, Marley & Me is a little too long and almost disappointingly charmless, at least for someone who has read the novel this film is based on and feels that the sentiments of the book did not transfer to the movie; John and Jenny just seem plain dull, and poor Marley comes off as nothing more than a nuisance, one that you can’t really understand why the Grogan’s are putting up with. But those unfamiliar with the novel will probably take it for what it is – the story of a family who happens to have a dog – and are likely to enjoy it more.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar, 2011

Jukebox (VII)

album reviews

Selena Gomez & The Scene produce a surprisingly enjoyable dance record, Westlife come up with more of the same, while Weezer make a triumphant return to form

Plain White T’s
Wonders Of The Younger
Genre: Indie Pop
Best known for their song Hey There Delilah, pop rock band Plain White T’s have failed to replicate the success of their 2007 hit single. With their sixth album, Wonders of the Younger, the group sticks to the safety of inoffensive but catchy pop that is just as unexceptional as it is infectious. An ode to youth, its beauty and disillusion, the album kicks off with the faster teen-angsty Irrational Anthem but soon settles into a more mellow sound, focusing on melodic, mid-tempo power-pop. Along the way, they manage to channel Jason Mraz on the album’s standout track and first single Rhythm of Love, and Panic at the Disco on songs like Welcome to Mystery and Cirque Dans La Rue. It isn’t an attempt to create art, but an offering of listenable pop that will please youngsters but is likely to be too cheesy for adults. Even if you’ve never heard anything by Plain White T’s before, the songs will seem instantly familiar, and you'll be humming along by the second listen; while that may seem like a strength, it in effect is the album’s biggest pitfall. The sound is too generic; the songs are very safe and it’s a shame that the band has tried nothing new, because if they could have built on their pop sensibilities while exploring outside the boundaries of mainstream pop the results could have been more exciting. As it stands, the album will resonate well with fans of mid-temp pop rock, and it’ll be especially more appealing to younger listeners.
Highlights: Irrational Anthem, Rhythm of Love, Map of the World, Make It Up As You Go

Katy Perry
Teenage Dream
Genre: Pop
Some of you might think that Katy Perry has very limited vocal abilities. You would, of course, be completely correct. Fortunately for her (and countless others like her), not many people really care about vocal skills anymore. And based on the success of this album, it seems that not many people care about the quality of the music either. Mainstream pop has continued on its descent from bad to worse in the last few years; it's not about lyrics or meaning anymore (although some would argue that it never was); it's about a catchy hook enveloped in something suitably obnoxious to draw attention. In that regard, Katy Perry’s latest album Teenage Dream fits the bill perfectly. Tailor made for kids, yet precisely the kind of thing kids should not be listening to, the album offers what appear to be the musings of a sex-crazed teenager, incapable of nuance and fond of immature innuendos (Peacock, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)), with occasional splattering of contrived reflections (Firework). Everything about the record is forced; her delivery is mechanical, the production makes everything seem robotic and artificial, and vocal chops are lacking. Some of these songs could actually have been better in the hands of someone with more vocal ability who could’ve been able to instil some sense of fun in the routine. In it’s current form, Teenage Dream is a collection of one of the most desperately obnoxious sets of songs, and exemplifies what is wrong with mainstream music; what’s even more depressing is how much such stuff sells anyway.

Take That
Genre: Pop
Nearly ten years after splitting up, a four-membered Take That got back together to release two highly successful albums – Beautiful World (2006) and The Circus (2008) – that featured some brilliant pop music. Nearly fifteen years after parting ways with the band, Robbie Williams has now returned to the group taking the member count back to five. Now back to their original line-up, Take That have released their new album Progress, which has broken sales records in the UK and has received rave reviews; some, however, are far from impressed. The shift in direction is huge – the pop balladry has been replaced by a glossy electro sheen. There are still competent pop songs in the mix, most prominently the lead single The Flood which is the closest thing to the last two albums that can be found on Progress. Unfortunately, instead of a Take That album, Progress seems more like a Robbie album with Take That hired as a backing band; whether you like it or not will come down to personal preference, although if nothing else, the band at least deserves props for going in a different direction instead of sticking with the safer sound that has helped make them one of the biggest pop bands of UK.
Highlights: The Flood, Happy Now

Selena Gomez & The Scene
A Year Without Rain
Genre: Dance Pop
The second album by one of Disney’s best-known starlets, the 18-year-old Wizards of Waverly Place actress Selena Gomez, and her backing band The Scene, A Year Without Rain is a collection of catchy dance pop songs that aren’t nearly as bad as your would expect. Sure they are overproduced and yes her actual vocals have almost been auto-tuned into oblivion, but the choice of techno/synth laden dance oriented pop seems wise and helps the singer get away with it. And with big names such as Kevin Rudolf, Fefe Dobson, Toby Gad, and Katy Perry sharing the songwriting credits, the tracks fit in well with the current mainstream pop scene. A shift in direction from their more pop-rock debut album Kiss & Tell, this succinct set of ten uptempo electro-pop ditties embraces its dance/electro sensibilities and produces an inoffensive (albeit overproduced) record that is very listenable if you fall in the singer’s target teen demographic.
Highlights: Rock God, Ghost of You, Sick Of You

Genre: Pop
What is the point of recording a cover of Hoobastank’s insanely overplayed The Reason that sounds exactly like the original, when it has only been a few years since the original took over the charts? Why ruin Athlete’s perfectly nice Chances by doing a lazy cover that takes away all of the original song’s credibility? Why make the same brand of boy-band turned man-band mid-tempo pop over and over and over again for a decade even after the concept has started to sound dated and banal? Oh right, because it still sells by the bucket load. There is nothing that makes Westlife’s uninspiring eleventh album, Gravity, interesting in any way, and there is hardly any song that stands out in this set comprised mostly of mid-tempo ballads. While their songs aren’t exactly incompetent, they suffer from a lack of originality and variety. It is hard to see how this album will appeal to anyone but the band’s diehard fans; for everyone else it will be hard to tell most of the tracks apart, and even harder to stay awake through the 12-song snooze-fest. Recommended if you’re either a Westlife fan or have insomnia and are looking for a possible remedy.
Highlights: I Will Reach You

Genre: Pop Punk
A marked improvement on last year’s Raditude, Weezer’s eighth album takes them back to the territory of absurdly catchy power pop. Probably their best work in almost a decade, Hurley (named after the Lost character portrayed by Jorge Garcia, whose picture also appears on the album’s cover) sees a return of the corny yet charming Weezer of old, as they churn out a set of pleasant tunes powered by offbeat lyrics. The standout track, Ruling Me, harks back to the songs the band made in its prime, and the amusingly silly Where’s My Sex – a song about, umm, sox (socks) – would have been at home on the band’s 1996 opus Pinkerton. For the most part, Hurley is fun, nerdy, catchy, or in other words, textbook Weezer! In short, it’s simply a good power-pop album; there’s just no way around that. The deluxe edition of Hurley also features four extra songs, including a very competent version of Coldplay’s brilliant Viva La Vida, and a very listenable Rocked Out Mix of Represent (the "unofficial anthem" for the United States men's national soccer team).
Highlights: Ruling Me, Hang On

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar, 2011

The Tube (VII)

tv series reviews

Comedy dramas take over the small screen, with vastly varying results


Season 1
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Ivan Sergei, Eric Schaeffer, Rachel Hunter, Robyn Cohen, James Martinez, Seth Numrich, and Ving Rhames
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Genre: Comedy Drama
A dramedy about a support group for suicide survivors, Gravity is just as amusing as its premise suggests (that is, not very amusing at all). The series strives to be a dark comedy but it never quite works; it is offbeat, yes, and it does take on an unconventional subject, but the show does not succeed in merging humour with the topic. The characters are staid, and it just tries too hard to be self-important; as a result, instead of being engaging and amusing, Gravity is simply uncomfortable to watch. The pursuits of the stereotypical characters fail to grip the viewer, and it doesn’t help things much that it never becomes apparent what the point of the series is anyway. Plus as it has (very rightfully) been cancelled, even if you manage to slog through the ten episodes, you will be left without a proper ending. Directed by co-creator and co-star Eric Schaeffer, who seems to deserve the brunt of the blame for this atrocity, Gravity is an unpleasant non-comedy, and a waste of Krysten Ritter’s acting talent.
Status: Cancelled after 10 episodes.

Melissa & Joey
Season 1
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Joey Lawrence, Taylor Spreitler, and Nick Robinson
Genre: Sitcom
‘90s teen stars Melissa Joan Hart (the lead actress in Clarissa Explains It All (1991–1994) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996–2003)) and Joey Lawrence (known for his roles in Gimme a Break! (1983–1987) and Blossom (1990–1995)) are brought together in Melissa & Joey, a series that harks back to the type of sitcoms that now seem to have gone out of style. Conventional to its core, Melissa & Joey follows the story of councilwoman Mel Burke (Melissa Joan Hart), her niece and nephew (Taylor Spreitler and Nick Robinson), and former commodities trader turned nanny, Joe Longo (Joey Lawrence), who are brought together after a series of unfortunate events so that they can exchange contrived banter while dealing with unlikely plot developments. It is cheesy but amusing, although it will be trying for people who don’t enjoy overly silly sitcoms. However, fans of such series or of the two lead actors, especially those who are prone to bouts of nostalgia, are very likely to enjoy the silly experiences that befall Melissa and Joey.
Status: On a break following the mid-season finale; additional 20 episodes for the first season to be aired in Spring 2011.

Season 1
Cast: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Savannah Paige Rae, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder, Joy Bryant, Tyree Brown, Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman, with Bonnie Bedelia, and Craig T. Nelson
Genre: Comedy Drama
Following the struggles and issues of the Braverman family, Parenthood is a comedy drama that has been based on the 1989 film with which it shares its title, and is the second attempt to do so; the previous series aired from 1990 to 1991. The drama focuses on the ups and downs of Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille's (Bonnie Bedelia) family, as their children (Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen) and grandchildren cope with parenting and growing up while dealing with issues regarding relationships, drug usage, Asperger’s syndrome, infidelity, and more. The series feels like a close relative of Brothers & Sisters and Modern Family, but benefits from a strong cast, that sets a solid foundation for the drama, which becomes more interesting as the characters are developed further. However, some members of the multigenerational family are less intriguing than others, and when it veers into the less interesting storylines you might end up wanting the focus to switch back to a family/character that you find more appealing. When it works, the series is warm, witty, and poignant; when it doesn’t, it feels like watching a clichéd collection of caricatures. But all in all, Parenthood has the potential to turn into one of the most affecting dramas on television.
Status: Renewed for a second season (which is currently in progress)

Season 1
Cast: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James, Laura Allen, Rockmond Dunbar, Jamie Denbo, Kimberly Quinn, Loren Dean, and Karina Logue
Genre: Comedy Drama
The story of an ex-cop (Donal Logue) and his best friend (Michael Raymond-James) who start a private investigation business that leads them into a complex web, Terriers is powered by a witty script, very talented cast, and distinctive characters, and is one of those rare series that works as a dramedy by being both amusing and exciting. But before you get too excited, the show has already been cancelled. It was smart and offbeat, despite being yet another detective show; the series offered a blend of drama and suspense and humour and succeeded in a territory where many others have failed to deliver. Unfortunately, Terriers suffered immensely because of a misleading title (no, it isn’t a show about dogs), a terrible marketing campaign (no, that dog in the poster has nothing to do with the series), and the dramedy just wasn’t given a chance to build a following. In the (very disappointing) last episode, the crew are left to hastily tie up (some of the many) loose ends, offering an unsatisfying ending to the series. Terriers had heaps of potential but disappointingly ended up letting viewers down as it met an early demise because of being mismanaged by the network.
Status: Cancelled after 13 episodes.


Season 7
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Perrey Reeves, and Rex Lee
Genre: Comedy Drama
Based loosely on Mark Wahlberg's experiences in Hollywood, Entourage has been met with favourable reviews and amassed a loyal fan following since it first appeared on the small screen in 2004. But after six (mostly successful) seasons, the series is starting to show its age. In its seventh outing, the dramedy falls under the weight of its own familiarity as well as the expectations pinned to it due to its prior awesomeness. Vince (Adrian Grenier) is on a thrill binge, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) ventures into business, Drama (Kevin Dillon) is offered a job as the voice of a cartoon character, Ari (Jeremy Piven) faces trouble at work and home, Eric (Kevin Connolly) is just generally boring, and it all feels a little purposeless. Add the presence of guest star Sasha Grey to the mix, and the series takes a dip for the worse. The lack of strong storylines and the increased focus on individual pursuits has let the series down, and while the cast continues to deliver, the seventh season of Entourage is neither as amusing nor as fun as the show used to be not too long ago.
Status: Renewed for an eighth and final season.

- By Sameen Amer
Ink Magazine - Jul-Sep 2011

The Game Zone (VII)

video game reviews

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
There are times when video game developers try to ride the success of a hit movie, putting in minimal effort in development and relying heavily on the film’s fame. Fortunately, Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t one of those games. The action/stealth game is based on the Batman comics instead of the movies, and sees the superhero trying to figure out his arch nemesis The Joker’s master plan while attempting to gain back control of Arkham Asylum where The Joker has instigated the other incarcerated villains to take over the prison. The player takes on the persona of Batman and has many cool gizmos at their disposal, including the batarang boomerang, explosive gel, and the grappling gun that can be used to shoot out rope and pull in enemies and objects from a distance. Gameplay-wise, Batman: Arkham Asylum is quite linear, and the fighting is pretty simple. Along with the action, there is also some puzzle solving; you can solve The Riddler’s riddles to earn extra points and win trophies. The game has great graphics and an almost realistic dark and creepy atmosphere. The controls, however, can feel a bit different and restrictive compared to other games; for instance, you can’t control the grappling gun as freely as you would want. But overall, Rocksteady Studios has managed to develop a decent game that is both fun to play and also manages to capture the Batman feel and ambience.

Grand Theft Auto IV
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
One of the most popular video game series of all time, Grand Theft Auto has helped Rockstar Games become just that – the rock stars of game development. Initially gaining fame for its extreme violence and raw humour, the series sees the player take on the role of a gangster on the streets of different towns, performing various missions to gain money and rank, while killing, looting, and plundering along the way. The latest release in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV focuses more on the storyline and slightly less on violence (by GTA standards) than its predecessors. In GTA IV, you play as a Serbian war veteran Niko Bellic, who, on his brother’s incentive, comes to Liberty City (a fictional town based on New York) in pursuit of the American dream. Upon arrival, Niko discovers that instead of living the perfect life, his brother is running a small cab company and having trouble with the mob, and finds himself getting involved in the violent gangster world while helping his brother get out of trouble. The action-adventure game follows an interesting storyline, with the story taking different turns depending on your choices, and makes use of engaging missions (the Irish gangsters bank robbery mission is one of the best missions ever), and great movie-like graphics. The game also offers fun multiplayer options (you can play 15 multiplayer modes online). On the downside, the environment feels a bit samey, and while you can move around freely in Liberty City, the game is a bit restrictive as you can’t explore the outskirts of the town like you could in GTA: San Andreas. Overall, the game lets you experience a great gangster drama. Plus there are two episodic expansion packs available for GTA IV The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony – so you even have the option to continue playing beyond the game’s original storyline and see Liberty City through the eyes of other gangsters. (But be warned: GTA IV is rated M/R/18+ for extreme violence, drug/alcohol use, and adult content.)

Heavy Rain
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Remember those interactive games from the 90’s that played like a sequence of movie scenes with your choices determining which clip ran next? More like interactive movies than games, the idea didn’t fare too well and had fallen out of fashion by the late 90’s. Quantic Dream’s unique new offering Heavy Rain reminds one of those games. Heavy Rain follows an incredibly unique and dynamic story and comes up with a new take on the video game concept and experience. With its dark theme and story reminiscent of movies like Memento, Se7en, and Saw, the game merges the crime, drama, and thriller genres, and sees tragic events unfold during a period of heavy rain. The plot revolves around the kidnapping of a child by the infamous Origami Killer. You, the player, can take on the identity of one of four different characters – a private detective, a cop, the missing child’s father, and a journalist – as you hunt for the kidnapper; each character that dies is taken out of the game, and the outcome of your quest will depend on if and how you manage to solve different situations. The game feels a bit more like an interactive movie than a game, and is not recommended if you crave action or want to feel like you have full control of your characters. It, however, employs an engaging storyline and delivers a creepy ambience, and its uniqueness also makes it stand out in the gaming arena as something new and fresh.

Race Driver: Grid
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
The latest release in the TOCA Touring Car series, Race Driver: Grid is a racing game developed by Codemasters. The player starts as an amateur driver, renting their driving services till they make enough money to buy their own car. The ensuing races advance in difficulty with each level, subsequently using faster, better cars and offering higher prize money. You can choose between races involving American muscle races, European touring, and Japanese tuners, and the race types include almost everything from track racing to drift races and destruction derby. You have to watch out for other drivers who drive quite aggressively (which can sometimes make it feel like things are a little too much out of your control) and can damage your vehicle that will then affect your car's drivability. You can gain sponsorships for successfully completing races, eventually have your own racing team, and even compete against other players online. The game also has a unique flashback feature that can come in handy in case of a crash. The graphics are amazing – some say they’re even more stunning than Gran Turismo 5 – and the cars and their environment look extremely realistic. In short, Race Driver: Grid has everything it takes to satisfy your racing needs, and unless you are looking for that perfect simulator and are more of an arcade racing fan, this is a great substitute for the newly released (and much more expensive!) Gran Turismo.

Red Dead Redemption
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
A much-needed addition to the western games genre, Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption is like a less twisted, western-themed version of the Grand Theft Auto games. In RDR, the player takes the form of former outlaw John Marston who is forced to hunt his former gang members after his wife and son are kidnapped by the FBI. The game also offers various other activities besides the main storyline; you can hunt animals, catch and ride wild horses, play various games like poker and black jack, and much more. You can play as a law-abiding citizen or an outlaw, and as with many games these days, your actions have consequences. Throughout, the scenery and graphics are incredible, attention to details impeccable, and the main story is solid, and the game can easily keep you occupied for more than forty hours. On the downside though, some of the missions are a little short and simple, and seem to lack the imagination that can be found on other Rockstar Games. Its strengths, however, more than make up for its flaws, and fans of GTA and/or Clint Eastwood spaghetti western movies are very likely to enjoy this one.

- By Daniel & Sam

 Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar 2010

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Resolutions revealed

Every year, people around the world resolve to improve their lives and reform bad habits as the New Year rolls in. The ensuing 365 days yield varying degrees of success; some achieve their goals, some falter, while others can’t even recall what their resolutions were to being with. Famous people are no different. We asked celebrities about their resolutions for 2010 and whether they were able to accomplish their goals, and what they have resolved for 2011. Some said they don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions; here’s what the others had to say:

Annie Khalid – singer: Family comes first
  • 2010: My New Year’s resolution for 2010…I can’t even remember what it was! I’m a bit of a procrastinator so I always start something and never finish it off.
  • 2011: I have some really simple New Year’s resolutions. One of them is to take my brother on a holiday; I planned it last year but couldn’t do it simply because I was so tied up with many different things. My 19-year-old brother is the love of my life, I love him to death and I just want to spend some time with him because I hardly get to see him. This year I want to take him somewhere really fantastic so that’s definitely something I want to do. Also want to stay fit and spend as much time with my mum and dad.

Hammad Khan – director: Grow bigger and better
  • 2010: I made a resolution to complete my first film and get it out into the world. I am grateful that I achieved that goal.
  • 2011: To grow as a human being and a filmmaker by breaking free of the comfort zones of the mind and heart. In other words, to embark on the second journey.

Natasha Saleem – vj/actress: Learn and travel
  • 2010: I don’t think I made one. I was too busy feeling happy and grateful.
  • 2011: To learn a foreign language and then travel to that country, or vice versa; I’m not picky that way.

Sajid Ghafoor – musician: Go with the flow
  • 2010: My New Year’s resolution for 2010 was not to have any resolution and just to go with the flow of things and see how it works.
  • 2011: For this year I plan to change a few things I am not happy with and leave the rest as it is. Going with the flow certainly did help. Happy New Year to everyone reading this!

Juggan Kazim – model/actress: Get more sleep!
  • 2010: My resolution for the year 2010 was to work harder and get myself to a place where I can make a decent amount of money without much work. I believe I have achieved my goal for 2010.
  • 2011: I would like to get more sleep. Between my son and work, I have no time to breathe. I want to get ample sleep so I can feel like a human being again.

Ayesha Toor – model, actress: Wants to be a millionaire
  • 2010: I planned to be a multi-billionaire, but I didn’t do anything to achieve it.
  • 2011: This time I want to be a millionaire at least, but haven’t set any goals yet for achieving it.

Abbas Ali Khan – musician: Fight against fears
  • 2010: I did not have any resolutions for 2010.
  • 2011: I will fight my fears, get in the music scene again, grow my animation studio and be optimistic.

Sanam Agha – fashion designer: All work and no play
  • 2010: I did accomplish my goals for 2010, which was to launch in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore and also in one international city, which was New York.
  • 2011: Work wise, for 2011 I’m looking forward to the Islamabad Fashion Week and intend to supply to other stores abroad. I am also working on opening up a flagship store in Karachi, Inshallah.

Mustafa Zahid – musician: Make friends quit bad habits
  • 2010: I made a resolution in 2010 that I will always be honest about my relationships because a lot of my friends felt that I wasn’t being honest, and I accomplished it.
  • 2011: I will make my friends quit smoking cigarettes and sheesha, in contrast to what they made me do last year.

Sana Mir – cricketer: Get more active
  • 2010: My resolution for the year 2010 was to focus on what I can do rather than what others are doing.
  • 2011: I would like to continue the last one with an addition; to be more active and organised and not procrastinate.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 2 January, 2011