Sunday, June 16, 2013

Some child stars should just stop there, like Demi Lovato…

album review

Okay so Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake made it big as Mouseketeers by that doesn't mean every one will

Singer: Demi Lovato
Album: Demi

Despite a promising start to her career that helped her win over a massive fan base, Demi Lovato hasn't been as successful at defining herself as her more prominent Disney peers Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. After going from Disney princess to troubled teenager, then seeking treatment for “physical and emotional issues” in 2010 and subsequently leaving Sonny with a Chance, the former child star has put her acting career on hold and instead chosen to focus on music as well as joining the judging panel of the faltering U.S. version of The X Factor.

With the release of her fourth album Demi, however, her music career's lack of direction is becoming more apparent and feels quite confusing. Following two pop rock albums and one R&B tinged set, the singer has decided to tone down the urban flavours of her previous record in favour of bland bubblegum pop. On offer here are synth ridden dance tracks, uplifting ditties, and lovelorn ballads, all of which come off as nothing more than generic teen pop fodder.

There is little if anything about Demi that distinguishes it from music that, say, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift would make. In fact, the set feels like it pilfers elements from the pop charts and rehashes them to familiar effect. For instance, 'Made in the USA' feels Miley Cyrus-esque; 'Neon Lights' brings Rihanna, David Guetta, and Taio Cruz to mind; 'Nightingale' and 'Warrior' evoke Christina Aguilera; songs like 'Really Don't Care' (featuring Cher Lloyd) and 'Something That We're Not' channel Ke$ha; and 'Warrior' rehashes the singer's own previous single 'Skyscraper'. The tracks aren't necessarily shoddy; just unimaginative, generic, and lacking personality. And its run of the mill production doesn't do the material any favours either.

Also, the overdramatic, blaring vocals generally don't help the album. Displaying vocal chops is one thing; mistaking screaming for singing is quite another. Lovato does have the ability to deliver smooth vocal performances when she hones back her overly breathy dramatics and opts to convey something more tender. Softer songs work better for her, and subtler moments, like 'Nightingale' and 'In Case', make better use of her voice.

Ultimately, despite its title, Demi doesn't reveal who Demi Lovato really is, nor does it try to be personal and confessional like 2011's Unbroken. The only thing we do find out about her is that she is desperate for a hit. This is just another set of by the numbers teen pop that might be catchy and even enjoyable, but is also completely predictable, indistinct, and entirely forgettable. The singer sounds like she is still trying to develop her style and discover the direction she wants to take, and is, in the meantime, content with borrowing elements that have been successful for others and hoping they work for her too. Listeners who enjoy the current hits on the charts will probably like this album, but anyone who is looking for something that has a little more flavour and is a bit more distinct than average radio friendly pop is bound to be disappointed.

- By Sameen Amer
Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th June, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

The summer of sequels

cover story

Plus a few reboots and a couple of prequels...
Who says Hollywood is running short on ideas?

Aliens, zombies, monsters, and minions are all set to take over the big screen as Hollywood unveils its latest blockbusters this summer. Get ready for some exciting, big budget adventures that the film industry is going to churn out in the next few months in the hopes of entertaining you (and making them billions of dollars in the process). There is a lot in store for movie buffs; whether you like action, animation, comedy, or even boy bands, there is something on offer for everyone. So prepare the popcorn (and turn off the neurons, just to be safe) and get ready to be entertained…

Prepare to be shocked ... the most anticipated film of the year is a superhero movie! Yes, I know. Somebody call Ripley’s! As always, franchise flicks make up most of the summer’s biggest offerings, as Hollywood seems convinced that we want to revisit the same subject matter over and over again. But who can blame them? The box office keeps validating their beliefs. Hence it should surprise no one that a number of franchises are making a return. Several action flicks – like Iron Man 3 (disappointing), Fast & Furious 6 (entertaining), After Earth (atrocious), and Star Trek Into Darkness (awesome) – have already been released during the last few weeks, but many of the big ones are still to come.
- Man of Steel (June): It’s a bird, it’s a plane ... no, it’s just a Superman reboot. An alien from Krypton raised by adoptive human parents has to confront his heritage and utilise his superpowers after Earth is attacked by members of his race in Man of Steel, the new superhero movie helmed by director Zack Snyder (with Christopher Nolan serving as a producer). Brandon Routh is out and Henry Cavill in as Clark Kent/Superman; joining him are Amy Adams as love interest Lois Lane and Russell Crowe as Superman’s biological father Jor-El. It’s all quite promising. Be cautiously optimistic.
- World War Z (June): Someone somewhere thought the world needed yet another zombie movie. And then someone decided to spend $200 million (or even more, as per some rumours) on it. Then someone figured it would be a good idea to rewrite, re-rewrite, and re-re-rewrite the script, and reshoots parts of the movie, delaying its release by months. It’s a wonder we still want to see this over expensive, over hyped flick, but with Brad Pitt in the lead role, how could we ever resist? Adapted from Max Brooks’ novel, the movie sees Pitt take on the role of a UN employee who is trying to solve a zombie epidemic. After watching it, we’ll hopefully be able to answer the all important question of why it was made.
- The Lone Ranger (July): The Lone Ranger comes to the big screen in Gore Verbinski’s new action adventure western comedy that tells the story of how “a man of the law” turns into “a legend of justice”. Two reasons to watch the movie: it stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp!
- Pacific Rim (July): Did anyone think Hollywood could go a year without an alien attack? Obviously not. Fighting off the extraterrestrials are giant robots piloted by humans in Guillermo del Toro’s latest project that stars Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day.
- The Wolverine (July): Our favourite Aussie Hugh Jackman returns as the Wolverine, as he confronts an old enemy in Japan and faces his own inner struggles. Need we say more? Tickets please!
- Elysium (August): After the wealthy move to a man-made space station leaving the rest of the population on a ruined Earth, it is up to Matt Damon to bring back equality in Elysium.
- The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (August): Based on the first book of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, City of Bones follows the story of a teenage girl (Lily Collins) who discovers things about her past after her mother (Lena Headey) is kidnapped by a demon.
- Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (August): Take Greek mythology and multiply it by fun! Percy Jackson is back in this sequel to 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Based on the Rick Riordan novel, the film sees the demigod son of Poseidon (Logan Lerman) continue his adventures as he searches for the Golden Fleece to stop an evil force.

This summer is light on prominent live action comedies for younger viewers, and, even worse, there’s going to be a sequel to an Adam Sandler film. WHO LET THIS HAPPEN?!
- Grown Ups 2 (July): They didn’t grow up the first time round, and now they’re back to give it another shot. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade are joined by Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, and Maria Bello in this ensemble comedy that serves as a sequel to 2010’s Grown Ups. Can you imagine the LOLz this movie will exact? Me neither.
- The Internship (June): Two out of job salesmen get an internship at Google in The Internship, a comedy that reunites Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Unfortunately though, the initial reviews don’t seem very favourable.
- The Way, Way Back (July): A lot more promising is the comedy drama The Way, Way Back, which sees a teenager (Liam James) befriends the manager of a water park (Sam Rockwell). With Toni Collette and Steve Carell also starring, this relatively low budget movie is getting a positive initial reception and could potentially be worth a watch.

2013 has a lot to offer for animation fans. We’ve already had Escape from Planet Earth and The Croods, and the summer slot seems more active than usual with animated releases, although most of them – shockingly! – come from established franchise.
- Epic: William Joyce’s children’s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs gets transformed into an animation in Epic, the story of a young girl (Amanda Seyfried) who finds herself in the middle of a battle between good and evil and joins a group of characters to save their world. It might be getting mixed reviews from critics, but the film at least deserves props for not being a sequel, prequel, midquel, or any other kind of –quel. And, seeing the rest of the offerings this summer, that in itself seems like an achievement … of epic proportions.
- Monsters University: One of the most anticipated films of the year, Pixar’s Monsters University reunites us with our old friends from 2001’s Monsters, Inc. A bid by Pixar to return to form following two films that haven’t met the critical acclaim generally associated with the animation powerhouse, this prequel is set for a July release and takes a look at the relationship between Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) during their days as university rivals. Cue nostalgia and hope the film amuses us just as much as its predecessor did over a decade ago.
- Despicable Me 2: Gru and his adorable minions return in this Despicable Me sequel, scheduled to be released this July. In his second outing, Gru (Steve Carrell) faces a new super criminal. (And fans of the minions can also look forward to their own spinoff that’s slated for next year.)
- Turbo: Race to the cinema this July to watch the story of a garden snail whose biggest dream is winning the greatest race in the world...
- Planes: ...and then cheer for Dusty the plane who dreams of competing in a famous aerial race, but happens to be scared of heights. Intended as a spin-off of the Cars franchise, this Disney film is set for release in August.
- The Smurfs 2: Good news for everyone who thought that 2011’s The Smurfs wasn’t a complete and utter travesty, bad news for the rest of us: the second instalment of the trilogy is being released this summer. Very creatively titled “The Smurfs 2”, because, you know, it’s the second film in the series, this live-action and animation hybrid takes the Smurfs to Paris, after Gargamel (Hank Azaria) kidnaps Smurfette (Katy Perry) and it is up to the rest of the gang to rescue her. Get ready to not see it this July.

There is usually a music documentary from the latest pop sensation – be it the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, or Katy Perry – out every year, and capitalizing on that trend this year are the lads of the British group One Direction.
- One Direction: This Is Us (August): Who doesn’t love a boy band formed on a reality show churning out cookie cutter pop hits? That’s right, most of us. But expect rabid fans of corporate mannequins pop group One Direction to queue outside the cinema when Zayn, Niall, Liam, Harry, and Louis release a music documentary that charts their meteoric rise to fame. Put down that hatchet and back away slowly, Taylor Swift fans.
- Battle of the Year (September): In the neighbouring territory of dance movies, Josh Holloway, Chris Brown, Laz Alonso, and Josh Peck team up for Battle of the Year, as dance crews from all over the world compete in an international b-boying tournament. The film is based on director Benson Lee’s documentary Planet B-Boy, and is very likely to be all kinds of atrocious. Watch at your own risk.

So pick the movies that strike your fancy, escape into a cinematic adventure, and enjoy. Have a nice summer!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 14th June, 2013

Good things come in small packages

book review

Book: Size Matters Not: The Extraordinary Life and Career of Warwick Davis
Author: Warwick Davis

If you have seen the Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Leprechaun film series, then you must be familiar with Warwick Davis’ work. Yet it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t have the slightest idea who he is. Hidden inside an Ewok costume in Return of the Jedi, disguised as a depressed robot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and concealed under layers of prosthetics and makeup in the Harry Potter and Leprechaun films, the actor has forged a career in film, despite – or perhaps because of – being smaller than the average person: he is only 3 feet and 6 inches tall.

Born with the rare (and thoroughly unpronounceable) “spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital” disorder to average sized parents, Warwick chanced into an acting career at a young age, and has since gone on to be part of some of the most successful series of all time. His acting and personality have impressed the people around him so much that George Lucas even wrote the film Willow with Davis in mind for the titular role, and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant helped him create the mockumentary Life’s Too Short (2011) in which he portrayed a fictional version of himself.

His career, as you can tell, has been quite impressive, and in his autobiography Size Matters Not: The Extraordinary Life and Career of Warwick Davis, the actor shares his many struggles and achievements – both personal and professional – with the readers in a very engaging and amusing way.

After battling physical problems right from birth – no one knew he was going to be born little – Warwick was given a grim prognosis; doctors thought he would be “wheelchair-bound and dead by his teens, if he survives these first few months”. “This, as it turned out,” he writes, “was completely, utterly, and entirely incorrect.” Despite the medical problems he faced as a child, Warwick had a fairly “normal” upbringing. “What I lacked in inches I made up for in explosive energy,” he pens. Then, at the age of 11, he got a chance to audition for a role in the new Star Wars film after his grandmother heard a casting advert on the radio, thus giving a start to his acting career, much of which he details in this book.

Warwick shares his experience of working on Star Wars and the many subsequent projects that he has since been part of, and also talks about marrying actress Samantha Davis (who has achondroplasia) and their heartbreaking struggle to start a family, as well as setting up the talent agency Willow Management with his father-in-law Peter Burroughs which represents other performers who are under five feet tall.

The actor’s personality shines through in Size Matters Not. He talks about his family lovingly and he discusses his career with passion, and by the end of the book it is hard not to be impressed by Warwick Davis and his unique take on life. His sense of humour is delightful, his determination and enthusiasm are remarkable, and his candid discussion on life as a little person offers a very interesting perspective on what it’s like to be short. Fans of the movies he has been a part of can also find behind the scene anecdotes that they might find interesting. Ultimately, Warwick’s unique voice makes Size Matters Not an interesting read, and his amusing style of writing is very likely to win you over.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 14th June, 2013