Thursday, February 27, 2014

5 movies to watch before the Oscars

list: awards fever

The award season culminates this Sunday as the 86th Academy Awards honour the best in the business. With the ceremony just days away, now would be the perfect time to catch up on the movies that are vying for the top prizes. The list is long and offers much variety, but if you don’t have time to see them all, then here are five movies you must watch before the show commences. Ready the popcorn, fire up the DVD player, and press play...

1. 12 Years a Slave
Number of nominations: 9
A free man is kidnapped and sold into slavery in director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, the harrowing story of Solomon Northup, based on his 1853 memoir. Driven by a strong performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role, 12 Years a Slave is a powerful look at a tough subject and a difficult chapter in American history that is very likely to leave a lasting impact on viewers.
The film's stark depiction of cruelty and brutality is shocking and moving, which is precisely why the movie does not make for an easy viewing. Widely predicted to be the frontrunner for the Best Picture honour, the movie has also received nominations in categories including Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley), as well as nods for Production Design, Costume Design, and Film Editing.

2. Dallas Buyers Club
Number of nominations: 6
Follow Matthew McConaughey's recent trail of awards and you will be led to Dallas Buyers Club, one of the most affecting films of 2013. The movie is based on the real story of electrician Ron Woodroof, who, after being diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s and given an estimated 30 days left to live, starts smuggling unapproved drugs for himself and his fellow sufferers who are unable to get the help they need through the medical system. A heart-wrenching tale of struggling with a terrible disease and getting stonewalled by the system, Dallas Buyers Club is powered by two of the most terrific acting performances of the year. With his remarkable physical transformation, McConaughey has a well deserved place in the Best Actor category. Equally deserving of acclaim is Jared Leto's depiction of a transgender AIDS patient, making him a worthy contender in the Best Supporting Actor category. Also a Best Picture contender, Dallas Buyers Club has additional nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Film Editing.

3. Gravity
Number of nominations: 10
Designed to have you perched at the edge of your seat for its 90-minutes running time, this survival thriller may not focus on a heavy issue, but its ambitious technical execution has wowed critics and viewers alike. Gravity centres on two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) left adrift in space following an accident, trying to survive as time runs out. Tied for the most nominations with American Hustle (10 each), Gravity is up for the Best Picture award and its director Alfonso Cuarón is a contender in the Best Director category. Sandra Bullock's performance has earned her a place in the Best Actress list, and the movie is also vying for the Best Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Visual Effects awards.

4. American Hustle
Number of nominations: 10
Critics love David O. Russell's vibrant crime drama American Hustle, based on the ABSCAM operation that was set up in the late 1970. Flashy and over the top, the film is about two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who are busted by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), then forced to be a part of a sting operation on corrupt politicians. American Hustle's cast - Christian Bale (Actor), Amy Adams (Actress), Bradley Cooper (Supporting Actor), and Jennifer Lawrence (Supporting Actress) - has been nominated in all four acting categories, a rare accomplishment for any movie. The film also has a presence in the Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, and Film Editing categories.

5. Frozen
Number of nominations: 2
Disney's latest princess movie is also one of its best and most successful. The Broadway-ready Frozen follows the tale of two sisters; after elder sister Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) inadvertently sets off an eternal winter on her kingdom and flees, younger sister Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) goes after her in the hopes of making things right. With its focus on sisterhood and efforts to take a few steps away from Disney clichés, Frozen has won over a wide audience, grossing more than all the Best Picture nominees (it is second only to Iron Man 3 in last year's highest earners), and generated rave reviews from critics. Nominated for the Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (for 'Let It Go') awards, the movie is very likely to be victorious in both its categories. And even if it doesn't win, you'll still be grateful for the fun reprieve it provides after the onslaught of the heavy subject matters of most of the other Oscar contenders!

- By Sameen Amer

27th February, 2014 - Instep Today, The News on Sunday *

Sunday, February 16, 2014

“This is the year we take up the space that’s reserved for us in the world!” – Farhad Humayun


Overload have a busy year ahead of them, with a string of tours abroad, an album that front man Farhad Humayun insists must come out this year, a music video for ‘Nimmi Nimmi’ in the works, and the upcoming second season of Live at the Apartment, the once Youtube- and now Vimeo-hosted project that features Overload’s live sessions with up-and-coming underground musicians, ‘the underdogs’ of the music industry, as Farhad calls them.

In a chat with Instep, Farhad talks about his band’s recent performance at a special event, their current activities, and upcoming projects.

Performance dedicated to minorities

Instep: Overload recently performed at the Peace for Justice event that was held in support of minorities last month. What inspired you to join this cause and perform this concert?
Farhad Humayun:
Well, there are many things we disagree with in the world at large and in Pakistan. I feel equality is the basis of human coexistence. The Pakistani flag assures the rights of minorities as much as it does of the Muslims. But that’s not the prevailing practice. We don’t support divisions between people. It’s a multicultural and hybrid world which makes life beautiful and adds colour. Overload supports unity, positivity, and love for all!

Instep: How was the experience of being a part of this event, and what do you hope this campaign will achieve?
I think any campaign needs continuous reinforcement. If such events and a dialog portal continue to remain open, the public at large will register this as a cause that needs to be addressed.


Instep: You are now setting out on a tour of India. How many shows will you perform there?
It’s a mini tour. Our scheduled shows were six in number, but due to the late issuance of visas from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, we had to cut out some amazing venues in Mumbai. We will now only be going to Jaipur and Delhi to play four shows.

Instep: What is your response to the recent attack on Mekaal Hasan Band in Mumbai? And how do you feel about touring India now?
It’s unfortunate that something like that happened and there’s so much adversity on both sides of the border. But one must see that there’s a lot of goodwill and a positive genuine feeling of respect between other enlightened groups of both populations as well. The Shiv Sena doesn’t represent the emotion of the entire country of India just like the Taliban or the mullahs don’t represent Pakistan. We are musicians and we will continue to go where people invite us and give us love and respect.

Instep: Overload also has a U.S. tour lined up. You must be excited about that…
Indeed, we’ve never played as one outfit in the U.S. It will be fun. We have 19 dates but I’ll only be excited if we get visas. Unfortunately Pakistanis aren’t really getting a welcome from an embassy at this time.

Instep: How many other countries has Overload performed in? And how would you compare the experience of performing abroad to performing in Pakistan?
Since 2003, Overload has played in UAE, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Norway, France, and Spain. The response has been overwhelming. By the grace of God, we have never had a bad show or a lukewarm response. Audiences have always walked away with an experience of a lifetime!
Although I don’t support dictatorship, I have to say that music and art flourished the most in Musharraf’s tenure. We were playing three concerts a night, three times a week. It was hectic but we loved it and the crowd felt safe. Now there are no concerts because no one is safe. The Sharif government doesn’t really want music to be played which is why music performance in particular is heavily taxed. This is another reason why music has shifted to being in the form of corporate campaigns. That’s why all our music and art is being exported abroad and artists are working in Mumbai and Hollywood.
So, to answer the second part of your question, we absolutely love Pakistani audiences and performing here, but it’s heartbreaking that we can’t. We can’t put thousands of people’s lives at risk.

Instep: Do you also have any concerts planned for Pakistan? How do you feel about the current landscape of the Pakistani music industry?
Right now we are only playing corporate concerts at their privately hosted events, which is never exciting because nobody really appreciates a band while eating dinner or discussing politics or shoes and bags over a round table.
Channels won’t play us because they want to run Bollywood which isn’t what we do. Radio doesn’t play us much because they want to be cool and “international”.
I think the music scene is experiencing an all time low. Yet Overload takes risks and initiatives and makes enough money to finance its own videos and projects which is what I’m thankful for!
The upside is that in times of depression people work harder and write songs that are from the heart. I think that can be heard in the music of some new artists who are coming up.

New video and album

Instep: You guys are also currently working on the video for your song ‘Nimmi Nimmi’. Please tell us about the song and its video.
It’s a power ballad and is very heartfelt, raw, and emotional. It’s dark, yet melodic. Every friend of mine who has heard it so far loves it. Porsche is on board with us to support us. I’m talking to various other brands to fund it because I take my videos and music very seriously. I believe every song can be an event in people’s lives. We must use that opportunity well.

Instep: Who is directing the clip? And has it been shot yet?
I’ve spoken to a photographer friend who is super busy so I don’t know if he’ll do it, but in all probability I’ll end up directing it myself because deadlines are important to me. End of February is the scheduled time [for the shoot].

Instep: You also have an album in the pipeline. How much progress have you made so far? How far is it from completion?
We’ve got songs we’ve collected over a few years. We are finishing and polishing them but that’s taking a while because we are financing it ourselves and are running out of funds quickly. Session players and studio overheads are quite exorbitant these days. I’d say it won’t be ready before the summer but we have some surprise guests on it.

Instep: Can we expect to get our hands on it this year?

Other activities

Instep: After a few issues and line-up changes, Overload seems to be in a good place now. What is the current band dynamic like?
Myself and Sheraz have always played music for the love of music. We believe it’s what we are born to do. When there are factors in a band who disrupt the sensitive process of creation, they often have to be rectified. We are stronger and more popular than ever. We feel more free and energized and productive. Honestly I can’t complain. Overload is doing very well right now, thanks to God and our families and all the fans who support it.
Sheraz and I do the creative work independent of each other. We are both private people so we bring our ideas to the studio and develop each other’s demos into songs. There’s a stark difference between our compositions but we give Overload a cohesive sound together.

Instep: The band appeared on the fifth season of Coke Studio a couple of years ago. How was your experience of performing on the show? And how do you feel about Rohail Hyatt’s departure from the show?
I believe that we really achieved our high note and recognition and, in the words of Rohail Hyatt, became “a force to be reckoned with” after Coke Studio. The public saw the true potential of Overload and it’s versatility by comparing ‘Neray Aah’ with ‘Mahi’, and I personally got the opportunity to play drums with such amazing friends. Besides, Coke Studio is a worldwide campaign followed by millions all over the world which is something no other Pakistani brand has achieved due to lack of vision.
Rohail has been the biggest role player and a leader in changing the game and earning respect for Pakistani musicians who were almost forgotten. I think he will be missed in CS but I’m sure he has another plan, whether it’s his retirement or another big project.

Instep: Live at the Apartment is set to return later this year. Is there anything you can tell us about the coming season?
I’m planning to cut it down to a minimum number of instruments to focus more on the melody, nuances, and lyrical content and also because it’ll cost less to produce. I’m not taking any sponsorship for it because I want it to be a true account of each artist who is on it. Corporate sponsorship brings with it an agenda which always interferes with the quality of music.

Instep: Are the band members working on any other projects (individually or as Overload) that you can tell us about?
As you can see, we have our hands full. I was given the opportunity to produce two big corporate funded shows for TV, but I feel I need to get my own pending work out because other than being a producer I would like to play a lot more.

Instep: What else can we expect from Overload in the coming months?
This is the year we take up the space that’s reserved for us in the world!

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th February, 2014 *

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Misfits galore: The Family

movie review

The Family **

Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, and Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Luc Besson
Tagline: Some call it organized crime. Others call it family.

If you have only paid attention to Robert De Niro’s work after the turn of the century, you’ll probably be confused about how or why the actor is considered a cinematic legend. But if you have been following his career from the start, then most of his recent output will simply leave you wondering what such a great actor is doing making these movies. It’s a pity then that with his latest film, The Family, De Niro’s career can not arrest its freefall.

A supposed dark comedy, The Family centres on the Manzoni family who have landed in an unfamiliar town and are now struggling to fit in. Mobster Giovanni Manzoni, his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), son Warren (John D’Leo), and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) along with their dog Malavita (which also happens to be the name of the Tonino Benacquista novel on which the film is based) are sent off to the witness protection program after Gio decides to rat on his cohorts for reasons that never really become apparent. Wanted by the people he snitched on and unable to assimilate in a number of towns, the family is relocated to Normandy, as we begin to see why they haven’t been able to fit in anywhere: they can’t leave their criminal ways behind. They each come with short fuses, and, much to the chagrin of their handler Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), are ever ready to beat, bash, destroy, or kill anyone who crosses them.

As they become embroiled in various shenanigans, it gets harder and harder to care for them. You get the feeling that Luc Besson (who directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the film) thinks his characters are in some way likeable, although he never expends any effort on making them appealing or giving the viewer a reason to root for these despicable people who have absolutely no redeeming qualities. It’s like watching a group of unlikable, stereotypical caricatures whose nastiness is supposed to be amusing and in turn somehow makes them endearing.

Its ideas, while not novel by any means, could have potentially made an amusing movie had the filmmakers spent a little more energy on coming up with a better script and showing more character development. Instead, opportunities for humour are squandered, and rather than giving us something clever or sharp, the movie just doles out gratuitous violence to make up for its lack of substance. The Family shifts gears at will, and by the time its characters’ past catches up with them, it completely forgets its own tone and turns into an all out action thriller.

The cast might be top notch, but there’s not much they can do here when they’re being asked to portray a bunch of sociopaths with stereotypical afflictions, flimsy backgrounds, and no development. Michelle Pfeiffer is game but wasted on this material. Glee’s Dianna Agron is flat-out miscast. Tommy Lee Jones appears to be sleepwalking through his role. And while Robert De Niro’s presence is, in itself, theoretically amusing, all his tired semi-satirical self-mockery does is remind you that, believe it or, once upon a time he used to make good movies!

Ultimately, The Family is more dark than it is comedic, and it isn’t nearly as amusing or fun as it could and should have been. Despite all its in-jokes and Scorsese references, this isn’t a sharp satire, nor does it have any significant substance, and you most certainly shouldn’t go into it expecting clever twists or inventive touches. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer do have chemistry, but the film is mostly a waste of their talent. In the hands of a more skilful filmmaker with better comedic instincts though, it could probably have been a lot better.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 9th February, 2014 *

A classic re-imagined


One half of the Inteha duo, Nausher Javed takes a break from his rock compositions to show his softer side

While Lahore-based duo Inteha awaits the release of its second album, the group members have been working on their solo material. Their latest release comes from guitarist Nausher Javed, who has just unveiled his version of the classic ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’. Instep caught up with the musician to ask him about his solo outing and to find out more about the band’s upcoming album.

Instep: You have just released your rendition of the ghazal ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’. Why did you choose to cover this song?
Nausher Javed: I have grown up listening to this ghazal, which my parents used to dedicate to each other and play on their audio systems. And whenever I see its video, in which Farida ji is singing live in a mehfil, the way people were listening is like… mahol banana. That always motivated me to do a cover of it. ‘Zid Na Karo’ is pure music with heart-touching lyrics, and it is so soulful that even in this modern era whenever it is played it leaves an impact on the hearts and minds of listeners. Selecting ‘Zid Na Karo’ as my first tribute to the legends is because this song literally gives me goose bumps every time I listen to it, especially when Farida ji sings the line “haey mur jain gaey, hum tau lut jaein gaey”. So it is my sincere effort to revive this classical melody. And I am happy that my cover is getting a massive response. In two days, it has been shared by many people, liked by many people, and I have received various phone calls appreciating the version.

Instep: Please tell us about your version of the song.
Nausher: Once I was listening to A. R. Rahman’s version of ‘Zid Na Karo’ on the Indian Coke Studio and with all honesty I was so disappointed by the fact he couldn’t even deliver the exact words. I always respect his work – he is a legend, but the way he sang ‘Zid Na Karo’ is like humiliating the ghazal, so I decided to do a cover and give it my best. I invested my days and nights, making music arrangements and all, but in the end it is all about the melody and the expression, so I have rearranged all the composition on guitar chords, arpeggios, keeping in mind that the essence of the song remains the same and it gives the same feel as before.

Instep: The track will appear on your upcoming album, which will serve as your debut solo release. Please tell us about the album.
Nausher: My upcoming solo album is a soft rock album, having songs which are mostly on acoustic guitars, unplugged, soft and soulful melodies, unlike our band Inteha which is a true rock band. My album consists of ten songs. The next song whose video will be released is ‘Kho Gaya’, which to me is very promising and I am sure it will touch the hearts of listeners.

Instep: How soon will the album be released?
Nausher: My solo album will be out in June ’14. The title has not been decided yet. Also, the tribute to legends is a social media project, so we will also be launching it as a compilation by the end of this year.

Instep: What prompted you to do a “tribute to the legends” project?
Nausher: In these days as you know a lot of quantity is coming into the market, especially from youngsters who are coming out with new songs, but I think they lack quality and the soul-touching ability in their compositions. In this way we are parting away from our roots. These classic old melodies are the base of our music. The modern generation should listen to them and learn this school of thought as well. They should incorporate such a feel in their composition. Each classic song is a complete school of its own. So Naukhez and I decided to revive these classics in a new way and will release one tribute every month on social media in order to attract the corporate music platforms, telling them that these are the actual compositions/songs which need to be reproduced rather than airing pieces of crap. So every month you will see a reprised version of classic melodies.

Instep: Why are you and Naukhez releasing solo material instead of recording this material as Inteha?
Nausher: In a band, everyone has their own opinion and preferences, but you come out with a song or melody which has a mutual effort in it. Individually, choices always somewhat differ from one another, so bringing out our own projects is satisfying our individual music appetite.
Nausher’s two-member band Inteha professes a commitment to pure rock rhythms, which is why he branches out on his own to fulfill the desire to make a different kind of sound...

Instep: When can we expect the new Inteha album? What can you tell us about it?
Nausher: Inteha’s album is all set to be released in February 2014 by Times Music India all across the globe. The album has been titled as Inteha-e-Rock. This album is more commercial and more mature than the first one, comprising of eight tracks which I surely believe will take Inteha to the next level.

Instep: Are you working on any other projects (with Inteha, or solo, or with anyone else)? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Nausher: Currently I am working on a few projects simultaneously – launching our band’s second album, plus a series of concerts all across the sub-continent and Europe. Also, I am producing some artistes in my production house Chordiology Studio, and directing TVCs and music videos.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 9th February, 2014 *

Friday, February 07, 2014

U2 emerges from hiatus with ‘Invisible’

music mix

After a nearly three year absence, U2 made a triumphant return last year with the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated song ‘Ordinary Love’, a tribute to Nelson Mandela which accompanied the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Now, as the band readies their much anticipated new album (which will be their first studio release since 2009’s No Line on the Horizon), the group has unveiled a new single to whet our appetite.

Produced by Danger Mouse, ‘Invisible’ was released to support the charity (RED), which U2 front man Bono co-founded to help fight AIDS. The track was initially made available as a free download on iTunes for a 24 hours period with Bank of America donating $1 per download to the charity, before going on sale with proceeds being donated to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The electronic-tinged ditty doesn’t wander too far from the band’s established sound, but bears enough interesting touches to feel fresh. Beginning with a Joy Division/New Order reminiscent intro before giving way to crisp guitars that bellow The Edge’s unmistakable signature style, ‘Invisible’ sees Bono singing about self-worth and unity. The song is perhaps a tad safe, but also effortlessly sublime and it grows on you with each spin.

There might not be anything dramatically different or groundbreaking about ‘Invisible’, but it will certainly appeal to U2 fans, even if it doesn’t win over their detractors. Plus, it does have a positive cause attached to it and has raised over $3 million within days of its release, and that’s a distinction that very few songs will ever achieve!

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 7th February, 2014 *

Sunday, February 02, 2014

This one’s (only) for the fans

album review

When The Boss makes an album, everyone sits up and takes notice, but his latest will only please the most ardent of fans

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: High Hopes
Compilations of outtakes and covers aren’t usually the most exciting projects, and more often than not seem like stopgaps that signal a lull in creativity… unless they’re coming from someone like Bruce Springsteen. Everything The Boss does generates high hopes, and when he announced that his eighteenth album would be a collection of covers, outtakes, and reimagined versions of old tracks, it didn’t dampen the world’s excitement. Surely, if Springsteen thinks this material warrants a release, then it must be amazing. Unfortunately High Hopes doesn’t quite meet these expectations.

The album comprises of 12 songs that come from different sources and eras, reworked and updated by the singer with the help of The E Street Band (including contributions by the late Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons) and guitarist Tom Morello. These include original songs and covers that Springsteen has previously performed live but never recorded in the studio before, and new versions of a couple of songs that have appeared in some of his earlier albums. Put together, these tracks form an interesting set, but still seem uneven and struggle to cohere.

To its credit, High Hopes doesn’t seem like it has been thrown together carelessly or sloppily. You can hear the effort that has gone into these tracks; individually the songs are well made, and you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone of Springsteen’s calibre. But put together, the album isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. It certainly isn’t a bad set of songs; the individual tracks have some merit and you can see why Springsteen thought he should record them. And he certainly recorded them with his typical grit and enthusiasm. But the album certainly isn’t exceptionally memorable either, and it is never more than a set of unrelated singles.Bruce-Look

The rousing gospel-flavoured ‘Heaven’s Wall’, the playful country-tinged ‘Frankie Fell in Love’, and the Celtic- inspired ‘This Is Your Sword’, for instance, are all good songs, but it never becomes apparent what they are sonically or thematically doing together on an album. Similarly, Springsteen’s heartfelt cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ is warm and affecting, and his rendition of The Saints’ terrific ‘Just Like Fire Would’ is one of the highlights of the album, even though the singer doesn’t really bring anything new to the song. Also, Tom Morello adds energy to the reworked ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, although some might find his contribution a little too jarring.

But for an artist that makes records as solid as Bruce Springsteen does and who has put together a stunningly impressive discography over four decades, High Hopes doesn’t quite fit the bill of a Springsteen studio album. You don’t have to know the record’s background to figure out that this is a compilation of odds and ends; the material is disparate enough to make this fact apparent on the very first listen. High Hopes will be most appreciated by Springsteen’s diehard fans, especially those who have seen him perform live and have been yearning to get their hands on a proper studio version of some of these songs – like ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’, the somewhat controversial tribute to Amadou Diallo who was gunned down by police, and ‘The Wall’, which was inspired by a visit to the Vietnam Memorial – that have previously appeared in his live sets. It will help us bide the time till he unveils his next studio album, but ultimately High Hopes won’t be remembered with the same fondness as most of his other studio albums.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News n Sunday - 2nd February, 2014 *