Saturday, July 23, 2011

A man of many talents

book review

The incredible journey of a genius entertainer

Book: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
Author: Steve Martin
Genre: Autobiography
Publisher: Scribner (2007)
Excerpt: “I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic: I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental steps studded with a few intuitive leaps. I was not naturally talented - I didn’t sing, dance, or act - though working around that minor detail made me inventive. I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from stand-up with a tired swivel of my head and never looked back, until now. A few years ago, I began researching and recalling the details of this crucial part of my professional life - which inevitably touches upon my personal life - and was reminded why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

He has starred in numerous hit movies, his comedy albums have sold millions of copies, his music releases have topped the US bluegrass charts, and his books have appeared on bestsellers lists. But before he was a successful film actor or novelist, Steve Martin initially earned his fame through stand-up comedy. Before becoming one of the biggest names in show business, he first performed in front of small crowds while building his repertoire. It is this aspect of his career that he encapsulates in Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, an autobiography — or “biography,” as he puts it, “because I am writing about someone I used to know” - which mostly focuses on his development as a comic.

The book chronicles Martin’s life from his early upbringing to his efforts at becoming a comedian, and then his eventual decision to give up performing stand-up. The pages relay how the writer ‘started from zero’, and then went "from a magic act, from juggling in my backyard, from Disneyland, from the Bird Cage" to becoming "the biggest concert comedian in show business, ever". He talks about the people who inspired him, relationships that shaped him, and the mentors who influenced him. He even touches on topics like his awkward relationship with his parents, studying poetry and philosophy, suffering from anxiety attacks, and coming to terms with fame.

Not a sensationalised view of events but a reflective take on the circumstances that shaped his life and career, the book puts forth a focused and serious look at the formative years of the comedian’s life, delivering most of the content in a matter-of-fact tone. The writer comes off as smart and honest, although the book does not attempt to function as an elaborate tell-all. The content is mostly focused on Martin’s development as a comedian and all the tangents eventually tie down to his work. And while the book follows him on his road to success, it does not detail his film work and later projects, and is therefore likely to appeal more to those who are interested in stand-up comedy, and remember, appreciate, or want to discover more about that part of Martin’s career.

Overall, Born Standing Up offers a meditative summary of the writer’s early years - from selling guidebooks at Disneyland as a child to developing his own vaudeville act and eventually earning acclaim - and presents a unique perspective on the evolution of an immensely successful comedian.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 23rd July, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Goings-On: Annie Khalid launches café in Lahore


On the evening of 4th June 2011, singer Annie Khalid launched her café, AK Lounge, in Lahore, with various media personalities in attendance at the inauguration. The café is located in Gulberg, and the singer hopes to make the Lounge stand out amongst the other cafés in the area. Ink got a chance to talk to Annie about her new project; here’s what she had to say:

Ink: How did you decide that you wanted to open a café? How did the idea of a café first come up?
Annie Khalid: I knew there was an opportunity to get a hold of the place that is now the AK Lounge, and I discussed it with my parents. They were 100 percent supportive so I went ahead with it. It was a very impulsive decision, not premeditated at all.

Ink: Why did you choose to go with your initials (AK) as the name of the café? And why did you choose to call it a lounge?
Annie: AK is Annie Khalid, and I like the word lounge because it brings visuals of a relaxed, atmosphere, sofas and friends, laughter and fun.

Ink: Who designed the interior? And what did you have in mind while conceiving the interior and ambiance of the café?
Annie: Ali Zeeshan did the interior. I wanted him to do it from the first day, because I had seen his wall art in various places, and had fallen in love with them. We sat down and I explained what I wanted, and left the rest to him. The walls are now a masterpiece.

Ink: What varieties of food does the café serve? And what are its specialties?
Annie: We serve café food at its best, but also go into warm meals as well. The Kit Kat shakes are one of the most popular; also our stuffed steaks are a favourite at the lounge. My personal favourite is the Chicken Mexicana. But I also like the club sandwiches – yummy!

Ink: How did you put together the menu?
Annie: We sat down with the chefs and came up with the menu. It was carefully revised and a lot of the dishes were modified to taste better than ever before.

Ink: What do you think is the most distinctive feature of AK Lounge?
Annie: The wall art is definitely a sight to behold! Also the atmosphere is very welcoming; unlike most cafes these days it’s not at all dark. It’s open, pleasant, and inviting.

Ink: Is there any specific segment of customers you're trying to target?
Annie: No, my aim from the beginning is to have an audience of all ages, just like my music! Everyone is welcome!

Ink: What is the experience that you ideally want the customers to walk away with after they visit AK Lounge?
Annie: I want them to walk away with a pleasant feeling, relaxed and tummy full!

Ink: Do you plan to open other branches of the café in the near future?
Annie: Yes, inshallah, I want to branch out into Karachi and Islamabad. Also into the suburban areas too...all in good time.

Ink: Have you faced any problems with the project so far?
Annie: There were minor glitches, but I think no project of this sort comes without hassles and problems. All very small and by the grace of God I had my Dad there the whole way to sort everything out. I’m so thankful to him and the rest of the AK Lounge team for their hard work in putting the place together!

Ink: You were recently featured in Look Magazine UK. How does it feel to be the first South Asian to be featured in the magazine?
Annie: I feel humbled, and lucky. It’s not just Annie Khalid in this feature for Look, it’s Pakistan. And to know that I’ve represented myself and my country in this magazine makes me proud of myself and I hope my country is also proud of me.

Ink: What are your future plans?
Annie: To keep on working as hard as possible and to give my fans the best of Annie Khalid.

(The AK Lounge location: Shop # 4-5, First Floor, B/3, Opposite Xinhua Mall Gulberg 3, Lahore.)

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine, Jul-Sep 2011

Saturday, July 09, 2011

A grab-bag of witticisms

book review

A decent share of amusing lines

Book: This Is a Book
Author: Demetri Martin
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (2011)
Excerpt: "Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things - and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.
I am a man.
And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.
I am "brother" and I am "son" and I am "father" (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go). Either way, I am moving very soon and not letting her know about it. I am asking you to keep that between us."

After serving as the 'Senior Youth Correspondent' on The Daily Show, Demetri Martin has gone on to star in his own Comedy Central series called Important Things With Demetri Martin, and appeared in various movies, including the lead role in the 2009 film Taking Woodstock. He has done stand-up, released comedy albums, and has now transformed his quirky style and wry humour into the shape of a book. Using the same comedic styling that he has employed in his performances, the comedian’s first book offers a variety of unrelated pieces that see the writer put an interesting spin on an assortment of ideas.

Titled This Is a Book, the tome serves as a grab-bag of one-liners, epigrams, drawings, charts and graphs, palindromes, and short humorous pieces. There is much on offer here on a variety of different topics. For instance, Ebenezer Scrooge gets a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect in a deleted scene from 'A Christmas Carol' ("I am here, Ebenezer Scrooge, to show you what shall have happened to you on a Christmas that will have passed at some point in the future."); a person describes his many super powers in 'My Powers' ("I am immune to poison, unless I ingest it"), and "the guy who was raised by the guy who was raised by wolves" airs his frustrations in 'Dad' ("Dad hated fairy tales. If you even mentioned one to him, he’d launch into one of his long, self-righteous speeches about wolf stereotyping and the damage done to the wolf community by the "prey-biased fairy-tale media."").

The writer also presents some suggestions for updating old flags ("The Olympic Flag: A white flag that has the words "Nice try, Finland" printed across the middle of it."), offers some zingers ("Coffee Shop - Me: (paying at register, looking at jar that says "Tips" and then knocking it over) Yeah, I guess it does."), and shares some tongue-in-cheek statistics ("100% of the people who give 110% do not understand math.").

While some ideas work better than others, the book is generally amusing, making use of smart observations, taking an offbeat look at situations, and playing with linguistics. That said, Demetri’s humour isn’t for everyone; some find his routines amusing, while others simply don’t, so if you’ve seen his performances and find his style grating, then it is very unlikely that the book will generate a different result for you; if you feel like Demetri is funny but his humour should only be taken in small doses, then This Is a Book might still work for you, as each of the pieces in this book is generally short and therefore a quick read; and if you’re a fan, then chances are that you won’t be disappointed.

Overall This Is a Book is a whimsical collection of clever musings that take a dig at everything from a cappella groups to healthy lifestyles, and while on the whole it isn’t exactly an indispensable masterpiece, it is very readable, is especially suitable for sporadic reading, and is likely to please readers who enjoy creative humour.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 9th July, 2011

Saturday, July 02, 2011

It's not waste until you waste it


Making the most of a piece of writing paper is another way to reduce waste on campus

In the back row of a classroom, a pair of mischievous hands expertly transform a dull handout into a paper plane. As soon as the teacher looks the other way, the projectile is launched, and flies gracefully over the heads of the two girls who are busy passing messages back and forth on torn scraps of paper and the boy who is doodling on his notebook instead of taking notes, before landing a few feet from its destination: the wastepaper basket. Little do they realize that all four of them have just contributed to the waste of a precious resource: paper.

From books and notebooks to answer booklets, printouts, and handouts, paper is an integral part of school and university life, silently and faithfully helping students with the learning process. Perhaps because it is so ubiquitous and easy to take for granted, we hardly ever stop and think about it; even more so, it is often easy to overlook the fact that paper is made from trees, and that its wastage has both economic and environmental costs.

Beginning from the admission process with the brochures and applications, and ending at the answer booklet for the very last exam (or even at receiving the final transcript and degree), students leave behind a long paper trail. But as inevitable as this usage may be, it sometimes goes unnoticed that there is occasionally an unnecessary waste of paper.

This misuse is prevalent at all levels: students print on one side of a paper, sometimes even write on one side of the sheet, and discard notebooks at the end of a semester even when there are blank pages left; teachers print unnecessary handouts, and ask students to turn in printed or written work instead of emailing it; prints are taken without proofing, and then discarded because of minor errors; at some places that offer free printing facilities, pages that were printed are never picked up; multiple sheets are stapled together to make answer booklets for examinations, and even if one page is used, the entire booklet becomes obsolete; and much more.

Such waste, however, can be avoided to conserve resources if and when possible by taking small steps such as the following:
  • Avoid printer abuse: For rough drafts, print on both sides of the paper, try to use narrow margins, and reduce font size if possible; if the document is for submission, make sure that it is error free before clicking print.
  • Reuse paper: Utilize old notebooks with unused pages for rough work; reuse erroneous printed documents as scrap paper for notes; use the blank sides of pages no longer required as a scratch pad.
  • Use electronic transmission and copies: Ask to submit assignments electronically, if possible; use softcopies of documents when convenient; see if the notes that are being sent to parents can be emailed, or use a sibling list to prevent duplicates.
  • Minimize waste in other areas: Recycle unwanted paper; photocopy on both sides; go for reusable cups and plates in the café instead of paper ones; carry a handkerchief instead of using tissue papers; avoid the use of paper towels; minimize the use of post-it notes; and submit books no longer needed to a library or book bank.
If we try, we can all find ways that are most relevant to our situation, and can help save paper and the resources used to make it as well as decrease the waste created by its misuse.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 2nd July, 2011

Friday, July 01, 2011

Summer movies 2011

cover story

The summer brings with it the usual raft of ‘must see’ movies, at least according to the movie promoters. Every year offers more proof that Hollywood loves to repeat itself for some reason, and this summer is no exception; the big screen will once again be invaded by franchise films, with a number of sequels, reboots, and adaptations coming to the cinemas. Some of them will be impressive, some mildly entertaining, while others will probably be an affront to the concept of filmmaking. At any rate, here is what Hollywood has in store for your viewing (dis)pleasure this summer:

There’s an onslaught of sequels and prequels in the action genre, as a lot of big names make their way back to the screen. The season has already kicked off with force with the return of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May), and a prequel to the X-Men series in the form of X-Men: First Class (June), as well as the release of the comic book superhero movie Thor (May). The other big releases of the summer include Green Lantern (June), the comic book adaptation which stars Ryan Reynolds in the lead; the third Transformers’ film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (June); Captain America: The First Avenger (July) in which Chris Evans brings the superhero to life; and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (August), a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, starring James Franco.

More action comes in the form of sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens (July) starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford that sees a group of cowboys try to defeat the aliens that attack their town; and the drama thriller The Debt (August), a remake of a 2007 Israeli film about three former secret agents who undertook an important mission in the ‘60s. Elsewhere, the Spy Kids return in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (August); a warrior avenges the slaughter of his village in Conan the Barbarian (August); Dominic Cooper’s character is forced to become Udey Hussein’s body double in The Devil’s Double (August); a female assassin hunts down her parents’ killer in Colombiana (August); and Harry Potter bids farewell to cinema a decade after first rocketing into the general public’s awareness, as the fantasy series draws to an end with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (July); expect to see teary-eyed Potterheads at a cinema near you very soon.

If you fancy a midsummer nightmare, then there are a few films that you might want to watch: a fugitive picks the wrong house for refuge in The Perfect Host (July); a street gang fights off an alien invasion in Attack the Block (July); survivors of a bridge collapse try to cheat death in Final Destination 5 (August); a young girl is pursued by evil creatures in the remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (August); and a teenager suspects that his neighbour is a vampire in the remake of Fright Night (August).
Then there’s the upcoming comedy Zookeeper, but that’ll be a horror for completely different reasons.

We get to revisit familiar friends in the world of animation this summer:
- Kung Fu Panda 2 (May): Jack Black once again lends his voice to Po, the panda that won the hearts of viewers (and helped DreamWorks Animation make over $631 million) in his first outing in 2008. In the sequel, the Dragon Warrior is on a mission to protect the Valley of Peace alongside the Furious Five, and it turns out that both the critics and the box office still love him!
- Cars 2 (June): Cars might not have been Pixar’s most critically acclaimed work, but a $461 million gross and lucrative merchandising ensured the return of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), and co. for a sequel, as the cars head to the World Grand Prix and get embroiled in a spy mission.
- Winnie the Pooh (July): Based on stories from the books written by A. A. Milne, Christopher Robin’s toys set off on another adventure led by Winnie the Pooh, as the silly old bear and his friends try to save Christopher Robin from an imaginary creature.
- The Smurfs (July): Featuring the voices of celebrities such as comedian Jonathan Winters and singer Katy Perry and live action roles played by actors including Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays, the live-action/CGI film sees the little blue inhabitants of Middle Earth being chased out of their village by Gargamel (Hank Azaria), and then making their way to present day New York.

The comedy genre has a lot in store for the summer, and successful comedies like The Hangover: Part II (May) and Bridesmaids (May) have already set the ball rolling. The most prominent film in the coming weeks is Horrible Bosses (July) which is led by a very promising cast (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Jason Sudeikis) and sees three friends team up to murder their awful bosses with disastrous results.
Then there is the usual barrage of romantic comedies (because critics need something to bash!): Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts team up for Larry Crowne (July); Leighton Meester, Selena Gomez and Katie Cassidy pose as wealthy socialites in Monte Carlo (July), Justin Timberlake woos Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits (July), and gets wooed by Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher (June); and Steve Carell is left to navigate the single scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love. (July), which also stars Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei.
Others attempts at humour include the Kevin James led Zookeeper (July); Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman swap bodies in The Change-Up (August); Jesse Eisenberg is forced to rob a bank in 30 Minutes or Less (August); and Paul Rudd disrupts the lives of his three sisters in Our Idiot Brother (August).

While these movies will almost certainly avoid making history as far as revenues are concerned, here are some flicks you might still be interested in if you crave drama:
- Another Earth (July): This science fiction film is set around the discovery of a duplicate planet and two people whose lives cross paths after a tragic accident, and received a standing ovation at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
- The Whistleblower (August): Inspired by actual events, the film tells the story of a policewoman (Rachel Weisz) who helps uncover a human-trafficking scandal in postwar Bosnia that involved U.S. military contractors and the United Nations.
- One Day (August): The romantic drama follows the lives of two friends, portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, over two decades, revisiting them on the same date – July 15th – each year.
- The Help (August): Based on Kathryn Stockett’s very successful 2009 novel The Help, the movie tells of the unlikely friendship of three women and stars Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer.
Summer movie scorecard (so far)

X-Men: First Class
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon
A prequel to the X-Men film series, First Class tells the back story to the franchise and does so in a more impressive way than one would have expected. Powered by a very competent cast and mostly good acting, the film is visually impressive, and viewers are likely to enjoy the spin it puts on the X-Men saga.
Grade: A

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgård.
The god of thunder finds himself on Earth in Thor, a middling summer popcorn flick. The story isn’t exactly the most imaginative, but the acting is mostly agreeable, and overall the film is largely inoffensive. Will you miss much if you don’t watch it? Not really. But if you need some easy viewing to while away a lazy summer evening, then Thor will serve the purpose adequately.
Grade: B

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, and Geoffrey Rush
The fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides follows the pirates’ quest to find the fountain of youth, and yields a movie that is quite the opposite of the first one – it’s tired, lazy, and even manages to turn Jack Sparrow into a parody of himself. Yet it’s nearing the billion dollar mark in revenues, even though it’s hard to recall the last time a film insisted on its own pointlessness with quite as much ferocity.
Grade: C

The Hangover Part II
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, and Ken Jeong
The sequel to the most successful R-rated comedy of all time, and a case of milking the cash cow by giving us what we’ve already had and convincing us we still love it, The Hangover Part II is basically the same shtick, only it’s taking place in a different country. This time it’s Stu (Ed Helms) who’s getting married, and it’s Bangkok where the friends wake up in a hotel room with no recollection of what happened the night before or where the bride’s brother is; predictable antics ensue. If you want to find out just how lazy Hollywood can get, look no further. But hey, it’s still more entertaining than, say, your average Adam Sandler comedy; then again, most things are.
Grade: C or B or… oh what does it matter, you know you want to watch it anyway.


Each year, a couple of movies catch the world’s fancy and score high at the box office. Here are some of the successes of the last few years (along with their worldwide gross revenues):
  • Toy Story 3 (2010): $1,063,171,911
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): $933,959,197
  • The Dark Knight (2008): $1,001,921,825
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): $960,996,492
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): $1,066,179,725
- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 1st July, 2011