Saturday, February 27, 2016

The 5th Wave fails to make waves

movie review

The 5th Wave

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, and Liev Schreiber
Directed by: J Blakeson
Tagline: Wave 1: Darkness. Wave 2: Destruction. Wave 3: Infection. Wave 4: Invasion.

The massive popularity of young adult franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games has inspired Hollywood to transform other YA sagas into film series. Few of them, however, have gained significant traction with audiences while most failed to even make it beyond the first instalment.

The latest such attempt comes in the form of the teen thriller The 5th Wave, a middling effort to generate a franchise out of a Rick Yancey alien invasion trilogy.

The story revolves around teenager Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), a normal high school girl living with her family – father Oliver (Ron Livingston), mother Lisa (Maggie Siff) and younger brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) – and harbouring a crush on football player Ben (Nick Robinson). But her life takes a drastic turn after an alien spaceship starts hovering in the sky over Earth. The vessel belongs to an extraterrestrial species, referred to as The Others, who want to destroy the human race. Their invasion efforts are unleashed in waves which include successively dismantling the world’s power, causing earthquakes and tsunamis, decimating the global population with a strain of the avian flu and finally inhabiting human hosts and controlling their actions with the ultimate goal of taking over the planet. Amidst the mayhem that ensues, Cassie ends up on the run, unsure who to trust, while trying to find and save her brother.

The film is well cast and the actors deliver serviceable performances, but sadly they don’t have much to work with, as the story forces the stereotypical characters to stumble from one cliché to the next. In typical YA tradition, the protagonist has been given two love interests, neither of whom are very interesting.

Most of the characters don’t have enough backstory, nor are they developed beyond one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, giving us no reason to be invested in their missions or care about their fate. The adult cast in particular – especially Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello as the army personnel training young recruits to fight off the invasion – is completely squandered in the film.

The premise promises an exciting sci-fi thriller, but then decides to turn into a tedious teen drama instead. Half way through, The 5th Wave starts to drag, and then completely loses its footing, taking a nonsensical turn with the fourth and (ambiguous) fifth waves, when the aliens decide to follow up strategically shrewd attacks with a final strategy that is too moronic to have been developed by advanced, intelligent beings. Like its characters, the film starts to wander around aimlessly, trying (and failing) to find a compelling direction to go in, ultimately ending up in overly familiar territory.

You are never in any doubt about how things will pan out for the protagonist and none of the developments come as a surprise. The ending too is unsatisfying as what it really leaves you with is the premonition that there might be a sequel. The movie doesn’t offer anything impressive visually either. With a relatively low budget, the film doesn’t have a chance to dazzle us with particularly spectacular special effects or striking, memorable visuals.

Despite a promising start, The 5th Wave fails to develop its potentially interesting setting into something unique and instead treads the same path that has been travelled by many post-apocalyptic adventures before. It’s hard to tell what director J Blakeson’s influence has been on the project, since there is nothing that sets this by-the-numbers teen dystopian drama apart from the many similar movies that we have already been subjected to. And while it may not be as embarrassingly bad as some of the worst offenders in the YA category, it still proves that both writers and film-makers need to inject some originality in this oversaturated genre if they want to keep the audience interested.

Rating: 2 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune website - 27th February, 2016 *

2016 BRIT Awards - highs and lows

awards season

Adele dominated the winners list while Coldplay won the Best British Group

The biggest names in the music industry gathered to celebrate the year’s best British and international offerings at the glittering 2016 BRIT Awards that were held at The O2 in London and live-streamed on YouTube for music lovers around the world.

The ceremony

Hosted by the ever-popular Ant & Dec, the program kicked off with Coldplay performing their latest single ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ (sans Beyonce). Various popular acts subsequently took the stage in the two and a half hour ceremony, but the performances, on the whole, were safe and unsurprising. Jess Glynne performed a medley of her hits; Little Mix danced their way through ‘Black Magic’; The Weeknd sang ‘The Hills’; and James Bay performed ‘Hold Back the River’. Bay also accompanied Justin Bieber for the stripped down ‘Love Yourself’ before The Beebs went off for a more elaborate performance of ‘Sorry’.

Rihanna stood out with a lively rendition of her songs ‘Consideration’ and ‘Work’, with Drake joining her for the latter. And Adele impressed, as always, as she closed the show with a smooth rendition of ‘When We Were Young’.

The highlight of the ceremony, however, was a tribute to David Bowie. Annie Lennox paid her respects to the late singer, remembering his genius and praising his contributions to the industry, before Gary Oldman accepted the Icon Award on Bowie’s behalf. Singer Lorde then performed ‘Life on Mars’ accompanied by Bowie’s backing band, bringing together the old and the new for a moving homage. The legendary singer’s son Duncan James later described the tribute as “just... beautiful” on Twitter.

The winners

The award show was predictably dominated by Adele, who topped the charts around the world last year with her single ‘Hello’ and album 25, and was a favourite in all the major categories. The reigning queen of music took home the British Female Solo Artist and BRITs Global Success awards and also won the British Album of the Year trophy for 25 and the British Single of the Year award for ‘Hello’. In her acceptance speeches, she proclaimed her support for Kesha (who is fighting a legal battle against producer Dr. Luke), broke down in tears, and hoped that British astronaut Tim Peake (who virtually presented her an award) isn’t too hungry.

Coldplay were awarded the British Group gong for the fourth time; Chris Martin won praise for drawing attention to the plight of refugees, then faced the wrath of One Direction fans with his quip saying thanks “from Harry, Zayn, Liam, and me, Niall,” naming the group’s former member Zayn while failing to mention Louis. Despite being on hiatus, 1D still managed to snag an award, the fan-voted British Artist Video of the Year, for ‘Drag Me Down’; one half of 1D – Liam and Louis – appeared on stage to accept the trophy.

Other winners included Aussie band Tame Impala (Best International Group), Justin Bieber (International Male Solo Artist), Catfish and the Bottlemen (British Breakthrough Act), and Björk (International Female Solo Artist).

Here’s the complete list of winners:

- British Male Solo Artist: James Bay
- British Female Solo Artist: Adele
- British Group: Coldplay
- International Group: Tame Impala
- British Breakthrough Act: Catfish and the Bottlemen
- Critics’ Choice: Jack Garratt
- MasterCard British Album of the Year: Adele – 25
- British Single of the Year: Adele – ‘Hello’
- International Male Solo Artist: Justin Bieber
- International Female Solo Artist: Björk
- British Producer of the Year: Charlie Andrew
- British Video: One Direction – ‘Drag Me Down’
- BRITs Global Success: Adele
- BRITs Icon Award: David Bowie

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 27th February, 2016 *

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Fishermen - coming of age in Akure

book review

Book: The Fishermen
Author: Chigozie Obioma

Receiving a Man Booker Prize nomination is an impressive achievement; getting it for a debut novel is all the more remarkable. The most recent person to achieve this feat is Chigozie Obioma, a promising new voice from Africa, who has made quite an impression on the literary world with his first book, The Fishermen. Set in a small Nigerian town in the 1990s, the tome follows the story of four brothers whose bond is about to be put to the test.

The novel starts as a coming-of-age tale, as we meet Benjamin, the narrator, who is recalling events from his childhood. The fourth of six siblings, he lives in Akure, a city in south-western Nigeria, with his tight-knit family. His mother runs a fresh food store in the open market, while his father is an employee of the Central Bank of Nigeria, who, as proceedings commence, is being transferred to a different city, moving to a region plagued with sectarian violence.

Taking advantage of their father’s absence, the four older brothers — Ikenna, Boja, Obembe, and Ben — take to fishing at the nearby Omi-Ala River every day after school, ignoring the dark rumours and warnings about the mysterious waters. When their parents discover the boys’ secret activities at the forbidden location, their reaction is stern. Little do they know that the damage has already been done, albeit not in the way anyone would expect.

Things take a biblical turn when it emerges that the town’s vile madman, Abulu, has made a dire prediction about the fate of the eldest brother, Ikenna. Little by little, the prophecy starts to rip the siblings apart, as the family unravels, their aspirations of a brighter future forever shattered. The consequences unfold like a Shakespearian tale, leaving destruction and heartache in their wake.

Obioma’s literary prowess is instantly impressive from the very start of the novel, and his skill of conjuring up imagery is praiseworthy. As he spins this tragic tale, the author paints a vivid picture of ’90s Africa, sketching the environs in considerable detail so that the sights, sounds, and smells of the struggling town come to life as you read each descriptive passage. The brothers’ predicament mirrors the state of a region in social and political shambles, where superstitions still hold power and brothers turn on each other in a Cain and Abel-esque manner.

The book enthusiastically explores its Nigerian roots, with allusions to Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart and references to figures like M.K.O. Abiola, although you’d need basic knowledge of African history, literature, and folklore to fully understand some of these references. The author’s style is both confident and fluid, and The Fishermen, in general, is quite well written. But the novel also inadvertently ends up highlighting the difference between good writing and effective storytelling.

Obioma chooses to revel in beautiful sentences instead of focusing on the characters and their situation, and doesn’t quite realise when to throw similes at the reader and when to refrain and focus on the characters and events in order to add more emotional depth to the proceedings. How things unfurl would have seemed more convincing and less improbable had the thoughts and motives of some of its players — especially Ikenna during his metamorphosis — been relayed more effectively.

The prose is infused with similes and metaphors, some of which are remarkably well-constructed, while others feel a bit forced and awkward. The frequent use of this literary technique starts to feel repetitive as the novel progresses. Add to that the overly explanative descriptions, and the narrative slows down, halting the progress of the tale as the scene is fastidiously set, at times without adding anything essential to the story itself.

The storytelling too takes a circuitous route, with the narrative jumping back and forth in time. As Ben recalls incidents and uses reminiscences to piece together the account, the execution isn’t as seamless as it should be and the result is a tad disjointed. Also, despite the fact that the book wants to touch on important subjects, it doesn’t deliver its themes with enough subtlety to leave us with much to chew on or interpret though the lens of our own imagination.

Despite its shortcomings, The Fishermen is without a doubt an interesting read. The book not only offers a glimpse at African culture, it also highlights its historic complexity, while delivering a moving account of the destructive powers of suspicion, distrust, and revenge. Obioma portrays the consequences intensely, and if you shy away from crudity and violence (especially when it involves children), then this isn’t the right book for you. Even with the repetitiveness of both, the content and style, as well as its tendency to be tediously detailed, The Fishermen still marks a very promising start to Obioma’s career as a novelist. By honing his storytelling skills and polishing his style, the writer is very likely to come up with some remarkable works in the future.

- Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 21st February, 2016 *

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Superhero battles

upcoming movies

Instep takes a close look at superhero outings that are heading to the big screen

Another year, another onslaught of superhero flicks! As per usual, Marvel and DC Comics are behind some of the most anticipated films of the year, and 2016 has a lot in store for fans of superhero outings. We will be introduced to some new characters and reunited with many familiar faces throughout the year. Here’s a quick preview of what we can look forward to in the coming months…

Deadpool (February)
If you have been lamenting the lack of R Rated superhero movies, then you’re in luck – Marvel’s unconventional, foulmouthed superhero Deadpool is making his way to the big screen this year … which is something you already knew, thanks to a marketing campaign so aggressively unrelenting that it will either leave you bursting with anticipation or tired of the film before it has even been released. Tim Miller’s directorial debut will be coming to a cinema near you this February (probably after it has been censored to within an inch of its life), and tells the story of an ex-special forces operative who was subjected to a rogue experiment in an effort to cure his cancer but ended up with powers and turned into a mercenary. Former Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds – who briefly playing this character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – has been cast in the titular role.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March)
First the world had a collective meltdown when former Daredevil Ben Affleck was cast as Bruce Wayne, then glimpses of Jesse Eisenberg’s cringe-worthy portrayal of Lex Luthor in the movie’s trailer only made matters worse. Add to that the fact that Man of Steel (2013) wasn’t exactly everyone’s favourite superhero movie, and it’s clear to see why Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t really drawing very high expectations. But curiosity will still lead us to cinemas this March, so that we can find out why the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) are going up against each other. And who will win the fight between Batman and Superman? DC Comics and Warner Bros. Pictures, of course, because ultimately, it’s all about the Benjamins!

Captain America: Civil War (May)
A more exciting duel is brewing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is set to pit Captain America (Chris Evans) against Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). The Avengers team is fractured into two opposing factions, one led by Steve Rogers and the other by Tony Stark, as Captain America’s trilogy wraps up this May. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) are all set to make an appearance, while Spider-Man (Tom Holland) will make his debut in the crossover franchise. Dire consequences are expected, and the rumour mill is abuzz with speculation that an important character might even be killed off.

X-Men: Apocalypse (May)
Marvel’s mutant band of superheroes returns as things take a darker turn in the ninth instalment of the X-Men franchise. Man of the moment Oscar Isaac joins the series as the baddie, a powerful mutant who wants to cleanse humanity, leaving it up to Professor X (James McAvoy) and his crew to save the world. Bryan Singer once again occupies the director’s chair, and everyone who liked the last few instalments will probably enjoy the new episode this summer.

Suicide Squad (August)
Marvel had a blast with its oddball collective of misfits turned heroes in the terrific Guardians of the Galaxy. Now DC is following suit as it puts together its own antihero team in Suicide Squad, which, at least based on its trailers, looks like it’s trying to be an edgier GotG. The film finds a group of supervillains executing dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency. Will Smith stars as Deadshot, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, and the Joker will be played by Jared Leto (cue whining about how he is no Heath Ledger).

Doctor Strange (November)
Another addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe arrives in November when the mysterious Doctor Strange makes his first big screen outing. The project already has a tie-in with the current season of Agent Carter which is meant to share elements with the film, and has assembled an impressive cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tilda Swinton, with the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead character (much to the chagrin of everyone who would have liked to see Oscar Isaac – who was a contender for the part – in the role). The story revolves around a neurosurgeon who, after being injured in a car accident, starts learning the mystic arts from his mentor, Ancient One (Swinton).

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 14th February, 2016 *