Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Art of Asking - Internet’s diva shares inspirational notes

book review

Book: The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
Author: Amanda Palmer

The advent of the internet had a profound impact on the music industry. Artists were left scampering to keep up with the changing environment, their opinions divided over how to adapt to the rampant advances in technology. Some saw it as a threat — a sinister new platform that risked decimating their revenues by making their songs available online for free. Others embraced it as an opportunity — a way of connecting with their audience, making music more accessible to listeners, expanding their reach, extending their fame, and then capitalising on the many options presented by this new resource.

Amanda Palmer very emphatically fell in the second category. She took to the online world with gusto, and readily embraced blogging, tweeting, crowdsourcing, and crowdfunding, connecting with her listeners while building a solid community of loyal fans. That ardent fan base has since helped her continue her music career. She has asked them for money to make more songs and albums, couches to sleep on while she tours, and volunteers to perform with her, and her fans have yet to let her down.

Her aggressive internet presence, however, has also made her very divisive. Rabid admirers adore her and celebrate her fearlessness, while critics scoff at the entitlement and hypocrisy behind her approach. Detractors have repeatedly pointed out that Palmer wasn’t exactly an unknown indie artist when she started asking listeners to finance her recordings, having amassed at least a portion of her fan base during her years with a major label when resources were spent on promoting her internationally. And no one fails to point out that she is married to the famous writer Neil Gaiman, whose influence has given her access to a bigger audience that may have previously been unfamiliar with her.

But whether it is through her knack of connecting with people or a series of fortunate events (or perhaps a bit of both), Palmer’s approach does seem to be working for her. She raised nearly $1.2 million in a fan-funded Kickstarter campaign, and was then invited to deliver a (very successful) TED Talk on the art of asking, which in turn led to a book deal. The result is The Art of Asking, a part-memoir, part-inspirational manifesto in which she talks about her journey, explains why she thinks asking is “the fundamental building block of any relationship”, and inspires people to not be scared of asking for help, assistance, and support.

The book finds the musician discussing various topics from her working life. Palmer details her time working as a living statue; dressed in a wedding gown with her face painted white, she would stand on milk crates on a sidewalk, coming to life when someone gave her money, then handing her patron a flower in return. She also writes about her time with Evelyn Evelyn and The Dresden Dolls, living at the Cloud Club, touring with her new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, and the success of her Kickstarter, all the while highlighting the fact that asking played a huge role in her success. The lyrics of her songs serve as chapter breaks (and the singer has also made a Bandcamp playlist that readers can stream as they go through the book).

Intertwined with the inspirational notes and musical tales are stories from her personal life. Her friend and mentor Anthony Martignetti gets prominent mention in the book; she clearly seems to value his love, support, and advice, and is visibly affected by his battle with cancer. Also a repeated presence in the text is her husband Gaiman; from her reluctance to accept his financial help to intimate moments the two have shared, the singer mines their time together for anecdotes (and often ends up in TMI territory, although if you’re familiar with the singer and her website, you won’t be remotely surprised by the oversharing).

Throughout the book, Palmer’s boisterous personality shines through, and it’s hard not to admire her uninhibited nature and disarming frankness. Plus it’s thoroughly refreshing to hear from a musician who isn’t hell-bent on suing fans who can’t afford to buy her music and download it for free online, which is something she actually encourages. Her passion for the things she talks about appears to be genuine. But it does seem like she is stuck in a fan-base bubble and writes off any criticism being directed at her as the malicious effort of easily-offended haters and obnoxious trolls. Combined with the occasional tints of false modesty, her stance often feels dismissive and self-aggrandising.

Also, she never quite explains most of her points coherently. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that writing prose isn’t her strong suit. The book, which appears to take a stream of consciousness-styled flow, reads like an unfocused hodgepodge of thoughts, scuttling between various points without thoroughly examining any of them. Ideas are scattered throughout the book, and Palmer doesn’t bother to give them a cohesive shape. The anecdotes from her past — which don’t uniformly span her entire life — are more elaborate than the parts where she talks about the art of asking itself (or rather the art of networking, which is what it actually seems to be in this context).

Nor does she explain how her ideas would concretely apply to someone who isn’t an extrovert, attention-seeking, exhibitionist musician. Sure her crowdsourcing, couch-surfing escapades have served her well, but there isn’t a focused discussion on how those principles actually work or would work for people in general. The thesis, therefore, starts to feel myopic and at times even self-indulgent. Her TED Talk was a 13-minute speech. The book is a 300-page rambling version of the same topic, delivered with significantly less poise. And so the book just seems like an opportunistic attempt at capitalising on the success of the talk despite the fact that she doesn’t have anything truly profound to add to what she has already said.

Still, it paints the picture of a fearless woman who has led a very unconventional life, and that in itself makes it an interesting read. But there is nothing profound or life-changing here, and you have to glean for yourself how any of it actually works, or whether it would apply to anyone other than Palmer herself. Nevertheless, her fans who love everything she does are bound to love this too. And if you think she is a fascinating person and would like to know more about her or are just interested in a behind-the-scenes look at her crowdfunding success, then the book will adequately serve the purpose.

- Sameen Amer

Books & Authors - 31st January, 2016 *

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Coming Up: 2016 in television

tv talk

Instep takes a look at some of the most anticipated new (and revived) television series of 2016

Legends of Tomorrow
While DC’s small screen offerings have been far from spectacular, they have still been entertaining enough to attract viewers and build a considerable following, which is why the CW is adding another project to its DC roster this January. Legends of Tomorrow, a spin-off from Arrow and The Flash, brings together some familiar faces from the Arrow-verse – including Firestorm (Victor Garber), The Atom (Brandon Routh), White Canary (Caity Lotz), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) – as time-travelling rogue Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) recruits a team of heroes and villains to help prevent an apocalypse.

Lucifer
Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer gets his own Fox series starting this January. The dark comedy – based on the character that was created for the comic book series The Sandman and then given its own spin-off – follows the adventures of Satan (Tom Ellis), as he abandons Hell and starts helping the LAPD punish criminals. One Million Moms may not be pleased with the premise, but Gaiman fans are still very likely to enjoy this amusing fantasy.

Luke Cage
The partnership between Marvel and Netflix has given us two terrific series so far and that number will hopefully go up to three upon the release of their upcoming offering Luke Cage. The latest addition to the MCU tells the story of its titular superhero, a former convict with superstrength and unbreakable skin who fights crime. Mike Colter – who previously appeared as Cage in last year’s Jessica Jones – reprises the role.

Big Little Lies
Big stars are finding more and more reasons to embrace the small screen, so it is hardly surprising that two Oscar winners will soon be seen in an HBO series. Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are set to star in the comedy Big Little Lies, which is based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 book of the same name, and tells the story of a group of moms whose lives begin to unravel.

Colony
Aliens are in charge of planet Earth in Colony, Lost co-creator Carlton Cuse’s return to sci-fi which finds the human race coping with an extraterrestrial invasion. The series focuses on a couple, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Will Bowman (Josh Holloway), and their two children, who must make difficult decisions in order to survive. It’s not the most original idea, but if the show is handled with some competence, Colony could still be worth a watch.

Angie Tribeca
Nancy and Steve Carell have created a new comedy for our viewing pleasure, and we can’t wait to see how it pans out. A (hopefully hilarious) police procedural spoof, the TBS series premieres with a ten episode marathon in mid January, and stars Rashida Jones as the titular Angie Tribeca, a detective with the LAPD’s Really Heinous Crimes Unit.

American Crime Story
The true crime anthology series American Crime Story brings the murder trial of O. J. Simpson to television for its first season, subtitled The People v. O. J. Simpson, which commences in February on FX. The impressive cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr. as the footballer who was a suspect in the murders of his ex-wife and her friend; Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark; and John Travolta and David Schwimmer as the defense lawyers Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian respectively.

11.22.63
While his latest film is busy decimating box office records around the world, J.J. Abrams has been focusing on producing a number of television projects, including the Cameron Crowe drama Roadies, the action thriller Westworld, and the thriller 11.22.63, all three of which are among the most anticipated releases of the year. We’re particularly looking forward to 11.22.63, which is based on Stephen King’s bestseller about a man (portrayed by James Franco) who travels back in time and attempts to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Everyone who was left disappointed in Comedy Central for not picking Samantha Bee as Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show will be pleased to know that she has earned her own late-night talk show on TBS. Starting February, the comedienne will be putting her deadpan reporting style to good use on the weekly Full Frontal, using her sharp wit to dissect current issues, and will hopefully be a fresh addition to the all-male late-night environment. Her husband Jason Jones will also be seen on TBS, later in the year, in the comedy The Detour which has been created by the couple.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
The success of Criminal Minds led to the creation of the short-lived spin-off Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior in 2011 which wasn’t a success and lasted only one season. The CBS procedural now spawns another spin-off, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which begins in March and will hopefully fare better than Suspect Behavior. The series will focus on an elite team of FBI agents solving cases regarding American citizens on international soil. The cast is led by Gary Sinise and no longer includes Anna Gunn who has left the project since it was introduced in its parent series last year.

Fuller House
If you want to instantly feel very old, then just think about the fact that it’s been more than 20 years since the sitcom Full House went off air! Now, over two decades after they signed off, the Tanners return in February’s Netflix spin-off Fuller House, which focuses on eldest sister D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure) trying to raise her three sons with the help of her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and best friend Kimmy (Andrea Barber). Along with Bure, Sweetin, and Barber – none of whom have made much headway in their acting careers in the intervening decades – all the other principal cast members (except the Olsen twins, of course) will reprise their roles. Netflix has been doing well with its original series, and its solid track record gives us hope that it will be fun to revisit the cheesy goodness of the popular sitcom.

Prison Break
From its first to fourth season, Prison Break managed to go from gripping to grating. There are only so many prisons you can break into and out of before you lose the plot, but despite the fact that the series had nothing left to work with but conspiracies and hogwash by the end of its run, Fox has still revived the drama for a 10-episode limited series. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell are reprising their roles, although there is the small matter of Michael Scofield being slightly dead; the writers will have to creatively – or feebly, as the case may be – explain how he is still alive.

The X-Files
After running for nine seasons from 1993 to 2002, Fox’s The X-Files ended with a less-than-satisfying wrap-up, and even a follow-up movie wasn’t as exciting as fans would have hoped. Now the supernatural drama returns for a six-episode miniseries this January to take us down memory lane and hopefully leave us with a better resolution. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) return to try and find the truth, which is hopefully still out there. We want to believe that it will be worth a watch.

Also on our radar: an attorney (Paul Giamatti) goes after a hedge fund king (Damian Lewis) in Billions; a clown (Zach Galifianakis) struggles to keep his dream alive in Baskets; a man embraces a controversial faith in The Path; a criminal (Giovanni Ribisi) steals another man’s identity in Bryan Cranston’s brainchild Sneaky Pete; a young man attends a college of magic in The Magicians; Vinyl looks at the music industry in the ‘70s; Lewis and Clark tells the story of the American explorers; fantasy drama The Shannara Chronicles; and the War & Peace mini-series.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 28th January, 2016 *

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Good Dinosaur - not as evolved as most Pixar productions

movie review

The Good Dinosaur

Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A. J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, and Steve Zahn
Directed by: Peter Sohn
Tagline: Tiny but tough.

Despite establishing itself as the leader in its field by releasing a string of terrific animated films and dominating the genre for years, Pixar Animation Studios hasn’t been able to retain its position as the best in the business. Of late, the animation powerhouse has been struggling with quality and originality, a situation that became all the more palpable because of the visibly troubled production process of its latest film, The Good Dinosaur.

Originally slated for a 2013 release, The Good Dinosaur was first pushed back to 2014 and then 2015 as the project was revamped, its director and voice cast changed. The finished product has finally made its way to the big screen, and while it doesn’t quite have the magic of the studio’s standout releases from its peak in the 2000s, it still manages to be requisitely touching and charming while delivering the stand lessons about loyalty and courage.

Set in an alternative timeline in which dinosaurs avoided extinction and evolved into intelligent beings, the film tells the story of Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), a timid, young Apatosaurus who is the weakest member of his family and is struggling to make his mark in life, much to the dismay of his parents. But after he is accidently swept away in a river that runs near his family farm, Arlo finds himself facing the unknown dangers of the wild which force him to confront his fears. Aiding him along the way is an unlikely ally, a fearless young caveboy Spot (Jack Bright), who goes from being Arlo’s nemesis to his helpful companion. Together, they must brave the wilderness so that Arlo can make his way back home.

As with all Pixar movies, you can’t help but fall for the easily lovable characters that populate The Good Dinosaur. The proceedings prove to be engaging despite the fact that the way things unfold is quite predictable. While the premise is promising, the plot is fairly simple and it employs familiar thematic elements which bring The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and How to Train Your Dragon to mind. As a result, the movie is amiable, but it never proves to be nearly as creative as you would hope.

Visually, the film is beautifully rendered, and its landscapes are impressively stunning, but there is nothing exceptional about the storytelling. Also, the near-constant peril that pervades this pre-historic adventure might make the film too intense and dark for younger viewers.

On the whole, while The Good Dinosaur doesn’t quite match the lofty standards set by many of its predecessors, the film is visually remarkable and delivers its simple but touching story about overcoming fear poignantly and charmingly.

Rating: 3 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune website - 27th January, 2016 *

Sunday, January 24, 2016

In remembrance of David Bowie and Alan Rickman

in memoriam

Instep remembers and celebrates the lives of two stellar stars who died this month after a battle with cancer at the age of 69 

2016 certainly hasn’t gotten off to a very cheery start. We’re hardly four weeks into the New Year, and the world has already lost a number of talented individuals, including composer Pierre Boulez, entertainment manager René Angélil, the Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey, Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin, and actor Dan Haggerty.

But January really broke our hearts by claiming two of the most prominent names in the entertainment industry in quick succession. Singer David Bowie and actor Alan Rickman passed away within days of each other this month. In an uncanny coincidence, both the British legends – who both came from humble beginnings and went on to achieve global fame – died after a battle with cancer at the age of 69.

David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

He was Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, the Goblin King…

But before all that, he was David Robert Jones, a young man from Brixton, London, whose passion for music set him on the course to become one of the world’s most influential artists. He spent his teens striving to get his breakthrough with a succession of bands, before going solo in the late 1960s, adopting the name “Bowie” after the double-edged knife popularized by American pioneer Jim Bowie. But it wasn’t until the sweeping Hunky Dory (1971) and the ground-breaking The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) – the concept album about “a bisexual alien rock superstar” – that the artist truly came into his own, merging theatrics and curiosity to create a defining concoction of rock and roll.

Over the next decades – and over the course of 25 studio releases – he’d adopt many personas, but each incarnation would come with artistic poise and musical depth, cementing his place as one of the most innovative, interesting, and iconic names in music history. He championed change and acceptance, and helped pave the path for other artists to express themselves in their own creative ways. He released his final album, Blackstar, on his 69th birthday, just two days prior to his death from liver cancer. His music and style, though, will forever live on and will undoubtedly continue to inspire young artists for generations to come.

Alan Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016)

Few actors have had careers as wide-ranging and versatile as that of acclaimed British actor Alan Rickman. To younger viewers, he was Severus Snape, the dark, mysterious character in the Harry Potter franchise. To the rest of us, he was so much more.

The London native rose from a working class family in Acton to conquer both stage and screen, impressing the world with his intense acting and distinctive, unforgettable voice. From working with the Royal Shakespeare Company to starring in everything from action blockbusters to romantic dramas, Rickman made his mark on every project he graced. He portrayed many iconic characters; Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest (1999), the straying husband Harry in Love Actually (2003), the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) … the list goes on and on.

Not only was he was a patron on the arts, but he also changed lives with his charity work. One of his last acts was to voice a video for a charity project just prior to his death from pancreatic cancer earlier this month. Viewers of all ages with miss the man of many faces and his magnificent voice, and his absence will be deeply felt in the world of stage and cinema.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 24th January, 2016 *

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What If? - answers to the absurd

book review

Stepping outside the realm of plausibility, Randall Munroe dissects seemingly nonsensical impossibilities by applying scientific principles

Book: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe has been busy amusing the geeks of the world with his terrific webcomic xkcd for a decade. Intelligent and witty, his nerdy, stick-figure creations merge science humour with observations on life, offering insightful statements on the human condition that have won him a legion of ardent fans around the globe.

More recently, the former Nasa roboticist set up a section on his website where he fielded preposterous questions from his readers, using his impressive scientific knowledge and math skills to come up with elaborate, accurate explanations to seemingly nonsensical impossibilities. This feature has since spawned the book What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, a collection of delightfully bizarre user-submitted questions that have been answered with wit and wisdom by Munroe, and augmented with his signature stick-figure illustrations. Nearly half the book’s content is culled from his What If? blog, while the rest comprises of new discussions.

Like a poor man's MythBusters, What If? ventures into the world of oddities, unravelling theoretical conundrums that have been thought up by the writer’s very imaginative fans who are never afraid to step outside the realm of plausibility. Munroe dissects these problems by applying scientific principles and modelling the peculiar scenarios, and then keeps exploring the queries to their logical extreme, often eradicating humanity or destroying the planet in the process.

The content takes readers on a varied range of science fiction-esque adventures, while the xkcd-like drawings as well as the amusing footnotes add humour to the discourse. Munroe drains the earth’s oceans through a circular pool at the bottom of Challenger Deep in one answer, then dumps the water on top of the Curiosity rover on Mars in the next. Elsewhere, he details what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning but the atmosphere retained its velocity, discusses the impact of high-speed baseballs pitched at nearly the speed of light, looks into the complexities of travelling a billion years back or a million years forward in time, compares the computing power of humans and smartphones, finds out how many unique English tweets are possible, calculates the number of Lego bricks needed to build a functional bridge from London to New York, and delves into dozens of other nerdy scenarios with gusto. What Munroe doesn’t address in the book, however, is what would happen if a Tyrannosaurus rex is lowered into the Sarlacc pit, and the omission of that query, despite its illustration on the book cover, might make you feel a little cheated.

The book also proves, once and for all, that the person who said “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” was clearly lying. Interspersed throughout the text are “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox”. “If people had wheels and could fly, how would we differentiate them from airplanes?” asks one anonymous reader. “How many houses are burned down in the United States every year?” “What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?” asks another. Munroe doesn’t answer these queries, and those curious about the nutritional value of the human body or the logistic issues in raising an army of apes will have to look elsewhere.

The writer has a knack for finding logic in the seemingly illogical, and his very unique way of looking at things makes his voice distinctive and his work rivetingly interesting. For instance, while investigating how high a human can throw something, he measures height in “units of giraffes”, and when discussing genetics, he uses the Dungeons & Dragons “d20” system of character stats to represent a strand of DNA. The occasional pop culture references and allusions to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars will also please his target audience.

Both entertaining and informative, What If? makes you fall in love with science, but it might also leave you wishing that you’d paid a little more attention in school, because while Munroe does a good job explaining things in a simple manner so that the content can be easily comprehended by a layperson, you still need a basic understanding of fundamental science and math to really enjoy the book.

Munroe reminds us that science can be fun and encourages us to embrace the geek in all of us. If you have ever found yourself wondering about anything seemingly absurd — like what would happen if you tried to make a periodic table out of bricks of the actual elements, or if your DNA suddenly vanished, or if a Richter scale magnitude 15 earthquake hits a city — then What If? is the perfect book for you. (And if you’re looking for ways to destroy the world then What If? will serve as a handy manual.) Ultimately, the book will leave you armed with lots of awesome science trivia so that you can impress your nerdy friends and bewilder all the non-geeks around you.

 - By Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 17th January, 2016 *

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Teen Years - It’s Soch time!

interview: my teen years

Soch

Rabi Ahmed

Date of birth and star
17th January, Capricorn.

The best thing about being a teenager was
The carefree attitude.

The worst thing about being a teenager was
It ended so quickly and abruptly.

I was always listening to
Junoon, John Mayer, and jazz music.

I was glued to the T.V. for
Sports or movies maybe, as basically I was more of an outdoor guy.

My favourite movie was
It’s very hard to pinpoint any one movie but I enjoyed action and adventure genres the most.

My favourite actor was
Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Julia Roberts, to name a few.

My favourite book was
Not much of a bookworm but I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

My room was full of
Music CDs, guitar tutorial books, and self-tutorial musical guides basically.

My room walls carried the posters of
Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page and Santana.

My closet was full of
Clothes!

My friends were
The extended family I had the time of my life with (and still do).

My first crush/date was
With a classmate in the 8th standard. The good thing is that if by chance she is reading this, she’ll know I am talking about her. ;)

What hurt me the most was
Well ... the best thing about teenage was that there was no room for over-thinking and feeling hurt, apart from actual wounds, from all the sports and activeness, which hurt.

My dream was to become
With God’s grace I am living my dream.

I wish I had known then that
The Internet will make the world so small and accessible that you would be able to connect and share your creations with the world with the click of a button and feel love crossing all the boundaries.

Relations with siblings
Being the eldest one, I love babying them to the core, and with God’s grace we are all a tight knit troop.

Relations with parents
My two pillars. My mom is my best friend and my dad the biggest morale-booster.

My school was
Everything an institution should be. We looked forward to go [to school] and in the process we became better humans too.

Ragging at college/university
Sad practise. It is supposed to be a safe place, home away from home. I urge today’s youth to be better, be human.

My favourite subject was
Music, of course!

My least favourite subject was
History.

I couldn’t stand
Lies and bullies.

My favourite hangout was
The cricket ground.

My favourite food/dish was
My mother’s home-cooked chicken karahi; still is and always will be.

My favourite superhero was
He-Man!

My favourite sport was
Cricket all the way.

My favourite pastime was
Learning guitar or playing cricket.

I learned that
[You should] be true to yourself and the world, and if you do your level best your dreams will, sooner than soon, be a reality.

Adnan Dhool

Date of birth and star
14th January, Capricorn.

The best thing about being a teenager was
That I was always up to hit the roads of Khanewal - my Khanewal - on foot.

The worst thing about being a teenager was
Me taking time for granted.

I was always listening to
There were a lot of different genres of music that I used to listen to and still do.

I was glued to the T.V. for
I am not that much into television.

My favourite movie was
There are many, but I really enjoy the horror genre if done well.

My favourite actor was
Ryan Gosling.

My favourite book was
I don’t enjoy reading much.

My room was full of
A boy’s room is always full of clothes and stinky socks. I’m one of them too.

My room walls carried the posters of
I do not put up posters in my room.

My closet was full of
A lot of unorganized stuff.

My friends were
Genuine people who accepted me the way I am.

My first crush/date was
Like all other boys my first crush was my teacher.

What hurt me the most was
When deserving people were denied chances just because they lacked references and finances.

My dream was to become
A spectacular musician.

I wish I had known then
The art of correctly observing people at the right time.

Relations with siblings were
We’re three brothers and a sister and share a good bond, Alhamdulillah. However, I’m more close to my sister.

Relations with parents were
I’m extremely close to my mum; she’s a huge support, and my dad is my biggest fan.

My school was
The best time indeed.

Ragging at college/university
I was made to do a Bollywood dance in front of the whole group. That was funny.

My favourite subject was
Music!

My least favourite subject was
God, it was maths! Couldn’t ever understand the concepts.

I couldn’t stand
Being fake.

My favourite hangout was
Anywhere with my partner ... (now) my fiancé, I mean.

My favourite food/dish was
Anything homemade.

My favourite superhero was
Superman, for sure!

My favourite sport was
[There is] nothing like cricket.

My favourite pastime was
Exploring different musical instruments and sleeping.

I learned
That learning never stops. It has to go on and on. Also, I learnt to say “no” at the right time and to stand [up] for myself and [my] dignity no matter what the situation is. Being yourself and confident about who you are is very important.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 15th January, 2016 *

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - a force to reckon with

movie review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens borrows elements from previous George Lucas movies on more than one occasion

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega,  Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Tagline: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then George Lucas must be very flattered by J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens. The film enthusiastically rehashes plot points and thematic elements from the original trilogy to create an energetic, entertaining space opera designed to please ardent fans of the franchise.

Marking the cinematic return of one of the biggest series in the known universe, the movie serves as the first installment in a planned trilogy that takes place nearly three decades after the events of its chronological predecessor, Return of the Jedi (1983). Threatened by the sinister plans of the First Order, which has risen from the remnants of the Galactic Empire, the Republic wants to find and seek the help of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi, who has disappeared. The map that specifies his whereabouts falls in possession of a droid called BB-8, resulting in him being targeted by the enemies. As he tries to evade capture, BB-8 runs into a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) and a defecting stormtrooper (John Boyega), who then — with the help of a few familiar faces — try to get the droid to the Resistance so that he can lead them to Luke and help them save the galaxy.

J. J. Abrams has already demonstrated his prowess as a franchise reviver by helming the successful return of Star Trek, and he doesn’t disappoint with The Force Awakens either. The plot at its core may be standard good-versus-evil fare, but the non-stop action makes sure that the journey remains enjoyable. The cast, too, is impressive. Abrams seamlessly brings the old and new generations together; the newcomers deliver solid performances, and it is wonderful to see the actors from the original trilogy reprise their roles.

The movie retains the spirit of the original but sticks to the formula a little too closely by revisiting many of the plot points and character tropes from the Lucas films, and even mirroring a few arcs from A New Hope. The film-makers don’t attempt anything particularly distinctive in this chapter, which is why the movie isn’t as exciting as it should be. Their decision to revel in nostalgia instead of trying something different keeps them from expanding this imaginative universe and taking the story in a truly innovative direction.

Ultimately, while it may not be a cinematic masterpiece, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a well-made offering that, despite being derivative, makes sure it entertains its audience for two hours. The film does learn from the mistakes of the prequels, avoiding the traits that earned the latter adventures much derision. It is a promising start to the new trilogy as it sets things off on the right foot, and will leave viewers looking forward to the next installment, which is expected to be released in 2017, and is being directed by Rian Johnson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 10th January, 2016 *

Friday, January 08, 2016

MMXV - Just like MMXIV, only different

cover story

The planet that we call home completed yet another voyage around the Sun, taking us on a 365 day journey that was exciting and uplifting at times, and downright heartbreaking at others. Here’s a quick recap of what went down in 2015.

January
- Baga massacres: Militant group Boko Haram razed the town of Baga in Nigeria, killing hundreds (or, by some estimates, maybe even more than 2,000) people in the region. The world reacted by hardly batting an eyelid.
In the following months, ISIS bombings in Kobanî, Syria claimed 220 precious lives (June); a suicide bomb in Ankara, Turkey killed 100 innocent people (October); and a bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, left 43 dead (November). The world barely noticed.
- Charlie Hebdo shootings: An attack by Al-Qaeda gunmen on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (which is known for its irreverent content) left a dozen people dead. The world mourned. 
A subsequent barbaric attack, this time by ISIS terrorists, in Paris claimed 130 lives in November. The world wept.
Apparently, tragedies are tragicer when they happen in the West.
- Egyptian archaeological discovery: A Czech archaeological team discovered the tomb of formerly unknown Ancient Egyptian queen Khentakawess III (possibly the wife of pharaoh Neferefre) who lived during the Fifth Dynasty, a time when people did not have electricity, running water, natural gas in pipelines, and fuel at petrol pumps … so quite like Pakistan in 2015.

February
- 87th Academy Awards: A ceremony that reflected a small subset’s limited taste in films was held to honour the subjectively “best” cinematic work of the year. People thought it was a big deal, for some reason. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won the Best Picture award, and also won Alejandro G. Iñárritu the Best Director gong. Eddie Redmayne was deemed the Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Julianne Moore won the Best Actress trophy for her performance in Still Alice.

March
- Airplane crash: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 (which was on its way from Spain to Germany) into the French Alps, killing all 144 passengers and six crew members onboard. Another aviation tragedy – the deadliest of the year – happened in October, when Metrojet Flight 9268, en route from Egypt to Russia, disintegrated above Sinai, killing all 217 passengers and seven crew members; ISIS claimed responsibility for bombing the craft. Also, in July, some debris from the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 aircraft, which disappeared in March 2014, was found on Réunion Island, but the bulk of the plane still remains missing.
- 2015 ICC World Cup: The 11th cricket World Cup took place in Australia and New Zealand. Host Australia continued to annoy us by being stupidly good at cricket, and won the trophy for the millionth fifth time. Pakistan, meanwhile, made a cameo appearance in the tournament, just to remind the world that we still have absolutely no interest in winning anything. International cricket did, however, finally return to our country after a 6 year absence, when the Zimbabwe Cricket Team toured Pakistan in May.

April
- Gorkha earthquake: Nature’s fury hit Asia hard when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, leaving entire villages flattened, making hundreds of thousands of people homeless, and causing over 8,850 casualties in Nepal and more than 9,000 deaths overall. Later in the year, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the Hindu Kush region (and was followed by several aftershocks) in October, ten years after the devastating Kashmir earthquake; 279 people in Pakistan lost their lives, with the region suffering a total toll of nearly 400 deaths.
- Apple watch unveiled: Wearable tech was all the rage this year and the most coveted gadget was the Apple Watch. Yes, Apple released yet another thing you don’t really need (but really want) at a price you can’t really afford. It even came in a US$17,000 edition so that henceforth we can easily identify any pompous jerks in our midst.

May
- Picasso painting auction: Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s glorified ancient graffiti amazing specimen of modern art known as Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) became the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction when it was bought – in a shameless showcase of wealth inequality – for US$179 million by an anonymous buyer. The 1955 painting went into a private collection and will no longer assault our eyes let us revel in its artistic awesomeness.

June
- FIFA shakeup: Cases of bribery and corruption in FIFA came to the fore. “What? Corruption in sports?!! You don’t say!” we gasped, and then rolled our eyes just to drive the point home. The FBI-led investigation indicted several current and former football officials, including FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was suspended and then banned for eight years.

July
- Greek debt crisis: Still facing financial difficulties, Greece missed a payment to the International Monetary Fund, becoming the first advanced economy to do so in IMF’s history. The country also tried – and failed – to finance their deficit by asking Germany for World War II reparations, compensating them for damages for a war that ended 70 years ago. Other countries were left wondering if maybe they should now ask Greece for damages for Alexander the Great’s battles.
- Pluto images: Pluto posed for its close up, as the clearest photos of its surface were beamed to Earth by the New Horizons probe. Earthlings found the pictures of a spherical rock endlessly fascinating.

August
- European refugee crisis: The influx of refugees from war torn regions – like those displaced by the Syrian Civil War, which has caused millions to flee their homes – resulted in Europe facing its worst refugee crisis since WWII. The plight of those who travelled over harsh terrains and rough waters in search of a better future broke our hearts.

September
- Water on Mars: NASA announced that it had confirmed evidence that briny water flows on the surface of the red planet. Humanity predictably responded by trying to figure out how to ruin yet another planet by draining its resources.
Meanwhile, back here on Earth, hundreds of millions of people continued to suffer because of a lack of clean water. They did not make the headlines.
- Mina stampede: In the deadliest Hajj disaster in history, over 2,400 pilgrims lost their lives in a stampede. A couple of weeks prior, a crane crash in Mecca had resulted in more than 100 fatalities.
- Homo naledi discovered: The discovery of a new, extinct species of early humans was announced in South Africa, so we now know that we have yet another branch of ancestors who must be disappointed with how their descendants have turned out.
- Super Blood Moon eclipse: The heavens put on a show when the Earth and Moon aligned for a rare total lunar eclipse that coincided with a supermoon. Excitedly, we pointed our cameras towards the sky and took lots of photos; after the not-so-super results, we had to concede that we might need better cameras. As for those of you who missed it, you can catch the next one in September 2033.
- Jawani Phir Nahi Ani success: After more-than-usual activity in Pakistani cinema over the summer, Nadeem Baig’s comedy film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani came out and soon become the biggest Pakistani film of 2015, then went on to break the all time record, earning the title of the highest-grossing Pakistani film ever.
Globally, the biggest films of the year were:
1. Jurassic World (US$1.669 billion) – the reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise
2. Furious 7 ($1.515 billion) – the seventh instalment in the Fast and the Furious series
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.405 billion) – Marvel’s superhero crossover, the sequel to 2012’s The Avengers
(And it’s safe to presume that the recently released Star Wars: The Force Awakens will soon join this list, as it has been busy breaking earning records in the last few weeks.)

October
- Imran Khan’s short-lived second marriage: A week after tweeting that “The reports of my marriage are greatly exaggerated!” and mangling a Mark Twain quote in the process by substituting “death” with “marriage” (because that’s obviously an excellent omen), Imran Khan married “former TV weather girl” Reham Khan in January, making her the most infamous woman in the country. Much gossiping ensued when they announced their divorce in October.

November
- Adele’s 25: The massive success of Adele’s long awaited third album 25 proved once and for all that people love whiny music. The record sold by the bucket load and topped the charts in many countries all over the world.
- Russian doping scandal: The world staged an intervention for Russia because of their athletes’ inability to not take performance enhancing drugs during the 2012 London Olympics. “Pot, kettle, black,” Russia replied.

December
- San Bernardino tragedy: An attack by a couple of Pakistani descent left 14 people dead in the 353rd incident of mass shooting in America in 2015, as the country continued to grapple with the issue of gun violence. Earlier in the year, nine African Americans were killed by a white gunman during a prayer service at a church in Charleston (June) which had played an important role in the Black Lives Matter movement; two people were killed when a man opened fire during a showing of the film Trainwreck in Louisiana (July); and a news reporter and cameraman were gunned down by a former colleague on live television in Virginia (August).
- COP 21 summit: In a small, unspecific, non-binding victory for planet Earth at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, humans realized that maybe we might want to reduce emissions and limit global warming on Earth because, you know, it’s the only home we have.

So much happened in 2015. We debated whether that stupid dress was white and gold or black and blue; found out that Back to the Future had lied to us about hoverboards; were confusingly impressed (despite ourselves) by Justin Bieber’s comeback; and were left uncertain whether to be amused or horrified (or perhaps a bit of both at the same time) by Donald Trump’s U.S. Presidential bid.

But ultimately, it was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times. Here’s hoping the coming year moves us closer to the better end of the spectrum instead of dragging us in the wrong direction.

Happy New Year, everyone!

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 1st January, 2016 *

Replay: The Year 2015 in Film

year in review

Angelina Jolie’s vanity project By the Sea sank and Furious 7 left us teary-eyed

- Jurassic World infuriated moviegoers by not putting feathers on its dinosaurs, an oversight that was shocking because Hollywood is obviously known for its hundred per cent scientific accuracy. Viewers took their revenge on the movie by watching the hell out of it and making it the highest-grossing film of 2015. Serves it right!

- The Good Dinosaur featured some dinosaurs with feathers. The finicky subset of the world’s population was pleased.

- Inside Out was basically just Herman’s Head meets Brain Divided.

- Shaun the Sheep was the best animated film of the year, which presumably means it won’t be nominated for an Oscar, right Academy?! (Yes, we’re still miffed about The Lego Movie omission!)

- Hotel Transylvania 2 was Adam Sandler’s best film of the year, which isn’t saying much considering the other two were Pixels and The Ridiculous 6.

- Minions was a transparent (and lazy) attempt at capitalizing on the adorableness of everyone’s favourite little yellow henchmen. It succeeded in its evil mission of parting us from our cash.

- The Peanuts Movie was sweet.

- “The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.” You’re right Hawkeye, it really doesn’t. And let’s be honest – it wasn’t really the “Age” of Ultron, was it? More like the weekend of Ultron; fortnight at most.

- Paul Rudd charmed in the otherwise meh-inducing Ant-Man.

- The embarrassing failure of Fantastic Four was thoroughly entertaining, unlike the movie itself.

- Furious 7 left us teary-eyed.

- Spectre settled for being adequate.

- Mission colon Impossible dash Rogue Nation was an attempt to see how much punctuation can be squeezed into one title.

- Mad Max: Fury Road somehow managed to emerge unscathed from a nearly two decade gestation in development hell.

- Creed did the Rocky franchise proud.

- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 proved yet again that splitting the final book into two films continues to be a poor cinematic choice ... and a shrewd financial decision.

- The Divergent Series limped on.

- Terminator Genisys was a mess.

- Matt Damon found liquid water flowing on the surface of Mars! Or something.

- Steven Spielberg revisited the 1960 U-2 incident in the terrific Bridge of Spies, a fascinating, well-acted look at ... wait, the plane took off from an air base in Peshawar?!

- Undeterred by the fact that the Steve Jobs biopic and documentary thing has already been done to death since his death, Danny Boyle and co. decided the world totally needs another Steve Jobs movie. They were wrong.

- The Longest Ride offered no explanation as to why Nicholas Sparks’ novels are still being turned into movies.

- Johnny Depp continued to confuse us with his wildly uneven career by starring in the atrocious Mortdecai and the gripping Black Mass.

- Liam Nesson’s character killed a lot of people in order to prove that he isn’t a murderer in Taken 3, which was like a terrible remake of The Fugitive.

- Tomorrowland forgot to be entertaining.

- Trainwreck wasn’t a train wreck.

- The Entourage movie was like an overlong episode of the television series.

- Bradley Cooper scored a hat-trick of bad movies by starring in Aloha, Burnt, and Joy.

- The massive financial success of Fifty Shades of Grey left us disappointed in humanity.

- Rock the Kasbah was unwatchable. The world had the good sense to not even try watching it.

- The Point Break remake was pointless.

- Angelina Jolie’s vanity project By the Sea sank.

- Pan was panned.

- Shia LaBeouf wanted us to watch him watch all his movies. Because he hates us THAT much.

- Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt got together to explain the financial crisis to us.

- Spotlight impressed critics.

- Joseph Gordon-Levitt walked the walk.

- Leonardo Dicaprio went Oscar hunting in The Revenant.

- But more than anything, 2015 was ultimately the year of the new Star Wars film. We waited all year for the force to awaken, then flocked to cinemas upon its release, making sure that it grossed more in a weekend than most movies do in their entire run (even though it basically turned out to be a rehashed A New Hope.) And now we can’t stop thinking about how much we want a BB-8 action figure!

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 8the January, 2016 *

Friday, January 01, 2016

Rewind: The Year 2015 in Music

year in review

Coldplay, Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Björk surface with new albums while Radiohead release rejected James Bond theme

- Life stopped making sense when Justin Bieber suddenly decided to stop being atrocious, releasing a string of singles that left us asking ourselves, “did we really just like a Justin Bieber song?!” We’re still very confused about this.

- Like, if JBiebs doesn’t suck anymore, what does that mean for world equilibrium? Would someone awesome, say Coldplay for instance, have to make a really bland album to offset this disturbance in the order of things and restore balance to ... oh wait, so that’s what A Head Full of Dreams was for!

- Adele’s immensely successful new album 25 made us wonder how something can be so incredible and so incredibly boring at the same time.

- The One Direction soap opera saw Zayn leave the group (depriving Pakistan of our tenuous link to the world’s most popular boy band) and also break off his engagement to Perrie, and Louis expect a baby, before the group released their fifth album and went on a hiatus. We’ll miss the drama; the music, not so much.

- ‘See You Again’, Wiz Khalifa’s tribute to Paul Walker, hit us right in the feels. We still haven’t recovered.

- Walk the Moon told us to shut up and dance. We obediently complied.

- Years and Years released a very solid single. We could listen to it for years and years – ok, maybe days and days – and not get tired of it.

- Hilary Duff breathed in and out; Selena Gomez tried to have a revival; Demi Lovato was confident; Ariana Grande chilled; while Miley Cyrus was ... just plain weird.

- Katy Perry was upstaged by a guy in a shark costume at the Super Bowl halftime show.

- Nicki Minaj had a beef with, like, everyone.

- Taylor Swift gave us Mean Girls flashbacks when she formed a high school-esque clique of gorgeous, famous young women, and inspired young listeners everywhere that they too can hang out with her if they’re rich and beautiful.

- Ryan Adams released a cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Also, his marriage to Mandy Moore ended as she filed for divorce. We’re presuming these two things are related.

- Sufjan Stevens made a remarkably beautiful, crushingly poignant album about his mother Carrie and step-father Lowell, which was easily one of the best releases of the year. It was nominated for lots of Grammys ... haha, just kidding! It got zero nominations. But hey, Taylor Swift got 7 nods, so that should put the Grammys into perspective!

- Sia still didn’t get rid of those marbles in her mouth.

- The Internet was concerned that Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ sounds like D.R.A.M.’s ‘Cha Cha’.

- Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were ordered to pay US$7.4 million to Marvin Gaye’s estate in a plagiarism case ruling that left us torn between pointing out how ludicrous the verdict was and just taking the decision as proof that the whole karma thing is actually real.

- Kurt Cobain’s estate turned voyeurism into an art, milking the late singer’s legacy for all its worth.

- The absolute legend that is Dave Grohl broke his leg after falling from the stage during a Foo Fighters concert, then promptly came back onstage minutes later to finish the gig while a medic attended to his broken limb, making us feel really guilty about that time we stayed in bed all day because we had a cold.

- The Weeknd made us wonder why he can’t feel his face. Or spell his name correctly. He should seriously consider consulting a doctor. And a dictionary.

- Inspired by Mark Ronson’s infectious ‘Uptown Funk’, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis went ‘Downtown’.

- Elle King came to the world’s attention after releasing her catchy debut single ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’. Then we found out she is Rob Schneider’s daughter. Our brain is still not sure how to process that information.

- Jamie Lawson made a song in 2011. It became a hit in 2015. He probably wasn’t expecting that.

- OMI found the cheerleader he’d been looking for since 2008.

- Sigala reminded us of how amazing little Michael Jackson used to be.

- Noel Gallagher flew high with his High Flying Birds, who released their well-received sophomore record.

- Bleachers were fun.

- Kelly Clarkson made a comeback by continuing down the generic pop route.

- Carly Rae Jepsen made a pop song that was really, really, really, really, really, really catchy (and/or grating, depending on how many times you had to listen to it).

- Madonna continued to be desperate to stay relevant.

- LunchMoney Lewis worried about paying his bills

- The world was underwhelmed when the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince released two HITnRUN albums.

- Blink-182 sent fans into a meltdown when they parted ways with Tom DeLonge, subsequently hiring Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as his replacement.

- Blur released their first new album in more than a decade, then followed that up by creating their own brand of ice cream, because why not.

- Mumford & Sons suffered an identity crisis.

- Jason Derulo still kept singing his own name.

- Jess Glynne made a hit-fuelled debut.

- Newly crowned The X Factor winner Louisa Johnson made a rocky start to her career when her first song became the lowest charting debut single by a winner of the show.

- A capella fans were grateful for the existence of Pentatonix.

- Avicii told us stories.

- New releases from New Order, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, D’Angelo, Sleater-Kinney, and even Ugly Kid Joe (!) left us feeling like we’d fallen asleep and woken up in the wrong decade.

- The Libertines regrouped to make some anthems for doomed youth.

- The Corrs returned after a decade’s absence to show us that the sisters are still annoyingly, unfairly gorgeous.

- Radiohead released their rejected theme song for the recent Bond film, leaving us with the question: who the hell chose that Sam Smith song over this, and what on Earth were they thinking?!

- Ellie Goulding did a song for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. It gained constant rotation everywhere, and every time we heard it, it reminded us of the existence of that stupid movie. We will never forgive her for doing this to us.

- Chris Brown named his album after his daughter Royalty. It was simultaneously sweet and disconcerting.

- Fall Out Boy tried to make America psycho again.

- Kanye West named his son Saint West. Pete Wentz (father of Saint Wentz) may have been a little miffed.

- Paul McCartney ended his nearly three decade long top 10 drought by working with Kanye West on the Rihanna song ‘FourFiveSeconds’.

- And Kendrick Lamar, Björk, Courtney Barnett, Muse, Alabama Shakes, and Florence + the Machine impressed listeners around the world with their new albums.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 1st January, 2016 *