Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rewind - Hollywood's biggest fails of 2016


Films fail in different ways. There are financial failures – good movies that earn critical praise but just don’t excite audiences, thereby disappointing at the box office. There are critical failures – bad movies (like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the downright shambolic Suicide Squad) which earn the ire of critics but still interest viewers and make bucket loads of cash. And then there are films that hit the double whammy of failure – critics hate them and so do moviegoers, making them derided box office bombs. Here are ten such movies that simply couldn’t please anyone and ended up among Hollywood’s least successful projects of the year:

Max Steel 
Budget: $10 million
Box office: $6 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Metacritic: 22
Just when you thought Fantastic Four was the biggest superhero failure, along came Max Steel to show you that it can actually get worse. The adventure based on the Mattel action figure didn’t get a single positive review from critics (as per online review aggregators) and failed to recoup its budget, becoming one of the year’s biggest flops. Dull, unexciting, and unoriginal, Stewart Hendler’s cinematic dud was ultimately just a waste of everyone’s time.

Budget: $100 million
Box office: $94 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 25% 
Metacritic: 38
Instead of trying to come up with something original, Hollywood decided it would be a good idea to make an adaptation of Ben-Hur. Again. For the fifth time! It’s baffling that someone thought it would be wise to readapt the 1880 Lew Wallace novel after the 1959 historical epic not only proved to be the definitive cinematic version of the story but was also deemed one of the greatest films ever made, willing a record 11 Academy Awards in 1960. It’s even more baffling that someone reckoned Jack Huston had the talent and charisma to step into “Charlton Heston’s sandals”. Ultimately, the CGI drenched film only managed to turn the epic into an epic failure.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 
Budget: $28 million
Box office: $16 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Metacritic: 45
It’s quite hard to figure out why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies exists. Sure, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular books in the world. And yes, zombies are kinda popular. But Pride and Prejudice AND zombies? Why? Why would humanity, as a whole, let that happen? Should we blame Seth Grahame-Smith for writing the novel, or the person who decided to turn that novel into a ridiculous movie? What happened to the intelligence of everyone involved in the project? Did the film lack brains because the zombies ate them all?!

Ratchet & Clank
Budget: $20 million
Box office: $13 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Metacritic: 29
Ok, so the Ratchet & Clank movie wasn’t AS terrible as its review scores make it seem, but it was so lacking in originality and depth that the film was ultimately downright disappointing. The project was such a missed opportunity considering the success of the video games series that it is based on. The viewers weren’t interested, the critics didn’t like it. It’s a shame the potential movie franchise just failed to take off.

Keeping Up with the Joneses 
Budget: $40 million 
Box office: $28 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 19%
Metacritic: 34
Jon Hamm could pretty much read the phone book and still make it riveting. That should give you some sense of how bad the script of Keeping Up with the Joneses must have been that even Hamm’s presence couldn’t make the film watchable. Isla Fisher tried her best. Zach Galifianakis was basically just there (and his other film Masterminds was similarly also a dud). So much comedic talent ... if only the filmmakers had put it to better use.

Budget: $35 million
Box office: $25 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Metacritic: 44
The often controversial Sacha Baron Cohen is something of an acquired taste, but his latest film was just too, well, tasteless for most viewers. The British-American action comedy was your typical Cohen affair and just as polarizing as most of his other work. The bright spot: Mark Strong, who was quite good in the otherwise lame movie, although it did feel sad to see him in such a shoddy mess.

Yoga Hosers
Budget: $5 million
Box office: $39,585
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Metacritic: 23
Celebrities keep trying to buy their offsprings a career. They don’t always succeed. Case in point: Yoga Hosers, director Kevin Smith and actor Johnny Depp’s attempt at giving a boost to the acting careers of their respective daughters, Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp. The reviews and earnings were both dismal. Almost no one watched it. And almost no one who watched it liked it.

I Saw the Light 
Budget: $13 million
Box office: $1.8 million
Rotten Tomato: 21%
Metacritic: 47
When making a biographical drama about an American country music legend, it probably isn’t the best idea to cast a British actor in the leading role. Had someone shared this nugget of wisdom with Marc Abraham and his team while they were planning the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light, it would have spared us from the resulting controversy and a film that just didn’t work (despite Hiddleston’s best efforts).

The Disappointments Room 
Budget: $15 million
Box office: $4.9 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Metacritic: 31
Wentworth Miller is awesome. His script for The Disappointments Room, unfortunately, is not. A horror movie devoid of scares and a project altogether devoid of creativity, the aptly titled film was indeed a disappointment, both in terms of revenue and reviews.

Budget: $7 million
Box office: NA
Rotten Tomatoes: 3%
Metacritic: 27%
If there was a “what were they thinking?!” award, Nina would be the leading contender for 2016. One of the worst cast, most misguided films of the year, the Nina Simone biopic was such a misconceived mess that it was slammed from all directions and only got a limited release. Critical of Zoe Saldana’s casting in the lead role, Simone’s estate even declined to endorse the film.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 24th December, 2017 *

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Allied - average, unexciting, and forgettable

movie review


Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, and Lizzy Caplan
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Tagline: The enemy is listening.

The hoopla around the real life of thespians can occasionally overshadow their work, but few films have been upstaged quite as ferociously by gossip as Allied has. The movie found itself being thrust in the middle of the Jolie/Pitt split (quite like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) landed in the centre of the Aniston/Pitt divorce around a decade ago). It doesn’t bode well for the film, however, that its alleged – and categorically denied – involvement in the Brangelina breakup is perhaps the most exciting thing about this otherwise mediocre project.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Robert Zemeckis’ romantic thriller tries to evoke the feel of classic Hollywood cinema but struggles to create a memorable, moving drama.

Allied tells the story of a Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), and a French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who are partnered with each other for a mission in Casablanca. The duo have to pose as a married couple while planning to assassinate the German ambassador, but end up developing real feelings for each other.

The couple eventually get married, settle in wartime England, and have a child. Their life is interrupted one day when Max is informed by his superiors that Marianne is suspected of being a Nazi spy. Devastated at the possibility that the woman he loves might be betraying him but convinced that his wife can’t be a traitor, Max tries to find out if the whole thing is a test or if he is actually being deceived.

With a plodding pace and unexceptional story, the film pales in comparison to the movies – like Casablanca (1942) – that it is trying to emulate. The filmmakers appear to value style over substance, as they create stunning period settings but fail to populate them with engaging characters and events. Even actors of Pitt and Cotillard’s calibre can’t breathe much life into their on-screen romance.

The proceedings become more implausible with each clumsy turn. The movie feels overlong; its 124 minute running time begs for better editing. Some scenes are so drawn out that you can figure out where things are going long before they actually happen. There are some extraneous characters, like Max’s sister (portrayed by Lizzy Caplan) who adds nothing to the storyline.

Allied is slow and inconsistent. Its action lacks suspense; its heavy-handed emotions are unconvincing. The plot has potential, but Allied is never given the chance to develop into a riveting thriller because of its dull script and uneven execution. The project wastes the talent of its (remarkably good looking) cast and ultimately just comes off as average, unexciting, and forgettable.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 22nd December, 2016 *

Friday, December 16, 2016

Remembering Junaid Jamshed

in remembrance 

Goher Mumtaz: Don’t know from where to start writing, as I haven’t been able to come out of shock. I still remember the day when we were about to go on stage. He asked me, “Goher! Since I can’t sing the songs of Vital Signs [anymore], so can you sing your favourite Vital Signs songs?” As I knew all their songs and sensed that he really wanted to sing a few now, I started one line of ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and he sang the rest (without music). I saw him closing his eyes, grabbing my hand. He made me sit on the stairs – maybe he just wanted to tell me to sit with him and sing so the world wouldn’t judge him. I felt that I made him happy by making him sing all those songs in front of the LUMS crowd without letting anyone judge him. He had such a beautiful voice, such charisma and presence, that at one point I started looking at him as a fan who used to have his posters all over my room, a fan who dreamt about making a band like his, to be as cool as he was. But nothing can buy this moment. He is Junaid Jamshed, a great friend, brother, and inspiration for all of us. He is going to live in our hearts forever.

Naukhez Javed: Junaid Jamshed was a legend. It all started when I saw Music 89, a music show hosted by Nazia and Zohaib Hassan where they introduced new bands, including Vital Signs and Jupiters (Ali Azmat). From that time onwards, Junaid bhai was my crush. I was a diehard fan of his. I started my musical career in school by singing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’. At the time, Junaid bhai was a heartthrob. I used to collect Pepsi bottle caps and other stuff in order to get the latest cassette of Vital Signs. I never thought that when I’d grow up, I will be a musician and a renowned vocalist and in the same league as Junaid Jamshed.
I met him in person when he transformed himself for the path of Allah. He had a very helpful, caring, thoughtful personality. I discussed my career in music with him and he guided me for the future. I asked him “Junaid bhai, you don’t feel like singing again?” He replied “Naukhez yaar, shayed nahi, but dunya kisi haal main jeeney nahi deti.” I felt that there was still a passion for singing inside him, but the path he chose was above all other passions. And then his song haunted me after this incidence – “hum kyoun chaley us rah par jis rah par sab hi chaley, kyoun na chuney woh rasta jis par nahi koi gaya”. Junaid bhai, you were a legend and you will be missed by us forever. Rest in heaven!!!

Junaid Jamshed Khan (1964 – 2016)
  • Born on the 3rd of September 1964 in Karachi, Pakistan.
  • Aspired to become a fighter pilot in his youth.
  • Graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore.
  • Started singing and performing in the 1980s, joining pop group Vital Signs as their lead singer. The group gained fame in 1987 with the release of their hit ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, and made four albums before parting ways in the mid ’90s.
  • Pursued a solo career, releasing three studio albums, before giving up music to devote his life to religion.
  • Also started the successful clothing brand J.
  • Died, along with his second wife, on the 7th of December 2016, when PIA Flight 661 – en route to Islamabad from Chitral – crashed near Havelian. Is survived by his first wife, Ayesha, and four children.
- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 16th December, 2016 *

Sunday, December 11, 2016

“All the stories in the world have already been told ... but our stories have not been told from every angle.” — Robert Glancy


After amusing us with the tale of an amnesiac lawyer in his debut novel Terms & Conditions, Robert Glancy now takes us to a fictional African kingdom in his second book, Please Do Not Disturb, which takes a poignant look at the downfall of a dictator. In this conversation with Books & Authors, Glancy tells us about the inspiration behind his latest novel and shares his experiences of the beautiful continent where he was born and raised.

How would you describe your latest novel?
Please Do Not Disturb follows five very different people in the lead-up to the Big Day, which is a huge independence day celebration of a small, crumbling African kingdom. More importantly, it is the only day in the year that the ailing king comes out to talk to his people. He is a cuckoo-clock dictator — he only pops out from time to time. The book has a very colourful cast of people, from hip-hoppers, hustlers, buffaloes, and drunken Irish men to a dictator who is madder than a bag of snakes. There is something in there for everyone.

How much of Please Do Not Disturb was inspired by your childhood in Africa?
I stole liberally from reality. I peeled lots of the events right out of my life experience.
Bwalo is a very thinly veiled version of Malawi. Tafumo, the fictional dictator, is based on Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s real dictator. He was a strange man who controlled Malawi with an iron fist. He banned all media bar the BBC, which whispered in on the airwaves; he banned miniskirts; he didn’t let men grow their hair; he got rid of people who stood up to him; and he dressed like an Englishman. Having lived in Britain for so many years, Banda was a chimera, part British and part Malawian.
Charlie is a warped version of me, inspired by memory and a hilarious diary I found from when I was young, which reminded me how naïve I was. Sean is based on a crazy friend of my father’s, Hope is a mix of my mother and her nursing friends from Malawi, and Josef and the rest are reflections of real people who I knew, or knew of, in Malawi.

The story is told through the eyes of five characters. Why did you decide to use this multiple-perspective approach?
 Each time I wrote it from an omniscient perspective I hated my own voice in it. The characters were rich and real enough without me bumbling into the picture. Also, to avoid proclamations about Malawi or Africa in general — the world is already stuffed with plenty of those — I wanted it all to be tightly woven into the point of view of very different characters.
I was conscious of two things. Of Chinua Achebe saying: “We should welcome the rendering of our stories by others, because a visitor can sometimes see what the owner of the house has ignored. But they must visit with respect.” The second was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s superb lecture ‘The Danger of a Single Story’. And I felt that I resolved the potential pitfall of the single story trap by splitting the story into five complementary, and at times conflicting, narratives.

How did you choose the main narrators of the story? You could have told the tale from the point of view of a number of other characters such as the Hotel Mirage’s owner or manager, or someone from pop star Truth’s entourage. What made Charlie, Sean, Josef, Hope, and Jack the best choices?
Great question! All the stories in the world have already been told; we’ve been telling them to each other since time began, but our stories have not been told from every angle. So I spent a lot of time just looking for the most interesting angles to tell this story, and the best angles were Sean, Jack, Josef, Charlie, and Hope.
In some sense the book is a dichotomy between Charlie’s very innocent view of his utopian world, balanced by Hope’s rather more cynical view of her dystopian world.
If I’m being honest, it all sounds so calm, calculated, and academic now, but in truth I spent years writing the book from so many angles until finally these five characters won the war and came out as the most entertaining.

It is particularly interesting that King Tafumo himself hasn’t been given a voice here...
Yes, I knew there was no real point in giving him a voice. First of all, leaders like him are very limited in their self-reflection. More to the point, leaders, and particularly dictators, are to some extent merely amalgamations of the false images they project. I liked the idea of just sewing Tafumo together with all these false images and the ‘idea’ of who he was. To some he is a god, to others the devil.
I’m a huge fan of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and reading those books you see that the main characters — Kurtz and Gatsby — are, in fact, rarely given their own voice. You see them mainly through the eyes of the other characters; they are constructs of fragmented assumptions, prejudices and misconceptions. That fascinated me. The technique allows the characters to go beyond the limits of a human — they become an ideal, and then, most interestingly, they fall short of that ideal.
Also, these old dictators spend their lives preaching, patronising, and spreading their voice and propaganda. I figured they have enough airtime in real life without me devoting a book to more egomaniacal ramblings.

Did you consume a lot of African literature in your youth?
 My parents had an amazing library full of Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, lots of Paul Theroux. Although Theroux’s books were banned in Malawi, my parents had a few illegal copies stashed away — illicit books hidden in brown paper bags. Gosh, the intrigue! No wonder I became a writer. Also, I love William Boyd, Nkem Nwankwo, Giles Foden, Peter Godwin, Alexandra Fuller, and, more recently, the wonderful Adichie and NoViolet Bulawayo.

Please Do Not Disturb is both thematically and stylistically very different from your first novel. How did the experience of writing the second novel differ from the first?
 Every book is a reaction to the last. Terms & Conditions was strangely placeless; it sort of existed in a corporate bubble in some ways, as I didn’t want descriptions of place to slow the comedy pace. But I knew Please Do Not Disturb was all about place, about building a country, a very surreal country that had to be carefully framed to be believed. That I loved, and I loved writing it. Because this book was so personal to me, I really was pleased that I managed to translate a lot of my own life into entertainment that I hope brings some joy to people.

What can you tell us about your next novel?
I always have a couple of books on the boil at the same time, so it’s a question of which one wins the race to the finish. One is almost, nearly, not-too-far-off finished. Although I’ll temper that by saying the last mile of the marathon is always the hardest. It’s a very different book again, a coming-of-age story about two boys told through their diaries. It’s about idolising people and the dangers of that; it is about the dulling effect of time on hopes, dreams and ideals. Which makes it all sound a bit heavy. Ha! It’s actually quite a funny book.

Any message for readers in Pakistan?
I was so pleased people in Pakistan enjoyed Terms & Conditions and I know Please Do Not Disturb is a very different book. But I hope some people enjoy the crazy story of Charlie and the amazing Hotel Mirage. 

- Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 11th December, 2016 *

Please Do Not Disturb - out of Africa

book review

One day, one event, seen through five very diverse points of view

Book: Please Do Not Disturb
Author: Robert Glancy

With its dichotomous backdrop of beauty and turmoil, Africa has provided fertile ground for the imagination of writers, inspiring several literary works that have explored the region’s many complexities. A recent venture into this fascinating landscape comes from author Robert Glancy, who paints a dark but witty portrait of “a broken nation” in his new novel, Please Do Not Disturb.

The story is set in the fictional eastern African country of Bwalo, the “sweet soul of Africa”, with events revolving around the nation’s independence day when the state’s ruler, King Tafumo — the man who brought freedom to the land, ridding it of its British oppressors before himself turning into a brutal dictator — emerges from his palace and delivers his annual address to the public. The tale is told through multiple points of view, its intersecting first-person narratives ultimately converging to a violent crescendo that will shake the nation and have far-reaching consequences.

Five different voices come together to weave the threads of the yarn. Some of the narrators are natives, others are expats, but all unwittingly become tangled in a life-changing experience.

Charlie is the son of Scottish parents, brought up in a country of “black people, tea and sunshine”. His father manages the Mirage Hotel, giving him access to the establishment’s assorted guests. His habit of eavesdropping on the adults often gives him the chance to overhear secrets that he is too young and innocent to fully understand.

Sean is an Irish writer and teacher struggling with his second novel. He drinks too much, is in a toxic relationship with his crazed fiancée, and is very upset about a wonky, rotten bookcase in the university library which, to him, has come to symbolise everything about “this wonderful, beautiful country, bursting with so much potential and greatness” that he knows will never be realised.

Josef is a minister in Tafumo’s government as well as the reason Tafumo has a government — he paved the way for the latter’s rise to power, creating the myths that helped the dictator transcend from “real man to false god”. But Josef knows too much, and when he finds himself blacklisted and fallen from favour, he realises that his life is in danger.

Hope is Josef’s first wife, a woman who married “a brave man who risked his life to free [the] nation” but then saw their marriage fall apart. She works as Tafumo’s nurse, helping the old man maintain the illusion of power while he wastes away behind the scenes.

Finally there’s Jack, a smuggler bringing something into Bwalo. Just as Jack starts to realise what’s in his possession, the reader starts to get a sense of what’s about to unfold.

The dictator who stifles the voices of dissent is, ironically, not given a voice here. Instead, the novel relies on Charlie, Sean, Josef, Hope, and Jack — as well as occasional, brief snippets from DJ Cheeseandtoast’s Bwalo Radio broadcasts — to help readers see the stark reality of a struggling nation as it prepares for its ‘Big Day’. The characters tell us about their situations, sometimes experiencing the same events and relaying them from different angles. It takes a while for things to fall into place and for readers to get a clearer idea of what is actually going on. And when they do, the picture that emerges is distressing, poignant, and disturbingly authentic.

The narrators don’t get an equal share of focus. Some, like Jack, for instance, only exist to further the story. Others are fully developed and play an intrinsic role in the drama that unfolds, although sometimes their interactions and dialogues seem a bit affected. Nearly all are flawed, either harbouring secrets about their past, battling their own demons, or struggling with the consequences of their actions and choices. They may not be the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across, but these individuals are distinct enough to be interesting and while the situations they find themselves in are quite exceptional, their views still make them relatable.

The author contrasts Charlie’s innocence with the jadedness of Sean, Josef and Hope, and even though the style and tone at times betray the fact that there is just one hand behind the prose, the multiple-perspective technique is still successful in presenting an engaging story. It is to Glancy’s credit that a novel with such underlying darkness remains entertaining from start to finish. Please Do Not Disturb isn’t as emotionally intense as other African novels that are tonally harsher, and the levity shows that even a gentle touch can effectively convey heavy issues. Meanwhile, the dry wit keeps the book from becoming too morose even when the themes at its core explore harsh terrains.

As the characters relay their tales, their accounts unveil the backstory of the land and its people. It is impressive how the writer brings the sights and sounds of the region to life by skilfully entwining the imagery into the story instead of droning on in dull, descriptive paragraphs. The vivid world that Glancy has created in Please Do Not Disturb seems sadly realistic, and the dictatorship angle feels all too familiar for a reader in a country with a history of military men derailing democracy by anointing themselves head of the state.

Perhaps the realism also comes from the fact that the author actually has first-hand experience of his subject matter. Glancy — who was born in Zambia, raised in Malawi, educated in the UK, and currently lives in New Zealand — seems to have drawn upon his own experiences of growing up in Africa. The character of young Charlie, in particular, appears indebted to Glancy’s upbringing in Malawi, and one can’t help but wonder if the writer felt any of Sean’s frustrations in writing his second book. Glancy’s first novel, the corporate comedy Terms & Conditions, that was peppered with footnotes and built around the idea that no one reads the fine print of contracts, was a quirky, fun read, but it shares almost no similarities with the writer’s second effort. While that illustrates the author’s range, it also means that if you liked or disliked the previous book, there is no guarantee you will feel the same way about his new one.

On the whole, Please Do Not Disturb is a well-crafted, thought-provoking look at a difficult reality. Its story may be deeply rooted in the soils of Africa, but you don’t have to belong to the region to find its premise relevant. The novel’s exploration of the horrors of dictatorship in a struggling, postcolonial region is realistic and arresting, and despite its heavy themes, the author’s affable style makes the book an enjoyable read.

- Sameen Amer 

Books & Authors, Dawn - 11th December, 2016 *

Keeping Up with the Joneses - dull and devoid of any significant laughs

movie review

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Patton Oswalt, and Kevin Dunn
Directed by: Greg Mottola 
Tagline:  The lived a normal life ... until the Joneses moved in.

There are two basic things that you can logically expect from a film that is marketed as an action comedy: action and comedy. That detail may seem pretty obvious to you, but somehow Hollywood still hasn’t quite managed to grasp this fairly straightforward concept. The least an action comedy can do is entertain you with its excitement and wit, but ever so often, the movies that supposedly fall in this genre fail on both counts. The latest such project is Keeping Up with the Joneses, a spy adventure that despite being powered by an impressive, talented cast (and Gal Gadot) is disappointingly dull and devoid of any significant laughs. 

The film takes us to a suburban neighbourhood that is home to HR executive Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and his wife Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher). But their peaceful lives are interrupted when new neighbours – travel writer Tim (Jon Hamm) and his cooking blogger wife Natalie Jones (Gadot) – move into the cul-de-sac. Karen is immediately suspicious of the newcomers who seem a little too perfect. She soon realizes that the Joneses are actually spies, blowing their cover in the process. The Gaffneys then find themselves in the middle of an espionage plot.

Improbable, predictable, and largely unfunny high jinks ensue. To be fair, the film doesn’t come off as an unmitigated disaster. But everything about it only manages to generate an indifferent “meh” from viewers. The action is bland. The comedy never surpasses the mildly amusing mark. The storyline just feels generic, as does the movie itself. Director Greg Mottola and writer Michael LeSieur simply don’t seem interested in rising above the spy comedy clichés or even using those tropes to create an entertaining satire.

As for the cast, Fisher is the only one who seems to be really trying to make something out of her part; her presence exudes the verve that most of the others lack. Galifianakis and Hamm are amicable but their performances are basically unremarkable. Gadot continues to be gorgeous but her stunning looks can’t hide the fact that she still can’t act; a cardboard cut-out would have been just as effective in the role.

Keeping Up with the Joneses is unsurprising and uninspired, and it feels even more disappointing when you realize that (almost) everyone involved in this film has helped create significantly better projects in the past. This movie, too, could have been more entertaining had the writer and director used their imagination and put in a little more effort.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 11th December, 2016 *

Friday, December 02, 2016

Savage Stone Age - darker themes from the past

book review

Book: Savage Stone Age (Horrible Histories)
Author: Terry Deary
Illustrator: Martin Brown

Brutality is often exorcised from the history books that are intended for young readers, especially the volumes that students come across in their school curriculum. These sanitized, censored works don’t necessarily convey the dark aspects of the past or paint a complete picture of how things really were. The Horrible Histories books are on a mission to change that. A view of history “with the nasty bits left in”, the series aims to present not just a black and white version of accounts but detail the many interesting greys that shaded the picture.

Savage Stone Age, one of the many volumes in the Horrible Histories series, is an exploration of the earliest known period of human culture that sheds light on how people used to live ... and die.

The book chronicles the timeline of the development of early hominids and shares interesting tidbits from the life of our ancient ancestors. Amusing illustrations accompany the words, making the book more attractive for younger readers, while the text details lots of peculiar facts that even grownups can enjoy.

The contents of the book include chapters that talk about the foul foods, groovy games, batty beliefs, and rotten rituals of ancient times among other, equally offbeat, topics. You can read about the first ever horrible human history event (a family of nine hominids killed in a sudden disaster), see evidence of early sexism (men were buried with meat and tools, women with nothing), and find out about everything from the first houses to the world’s oldest barbecue.

The book doesn’t shy away from presenting the less flattering aspects of the human condition. The pages talk about how ancient humans hunted some animals to the point of extinction, pinched corpses from killer animals, ate all sorts of nasty things, and even committed mass murder.

The volume is very likely to help readers, who aren’t interested in history, develop a fascination with the subject by giving them an alternative view of the past. But as is obvious from the title of both the book and the series it is part of, Savage Stone Age is probably not best suited for sensitive readers. And some of its darker content - like the disturbing tale of an archaeologist who committed suicide because new methods of archaeology proved his research wrong and made his books outdated - is likely to be upsetting for those who are experiencing some sadness or loss.

Also, the book makes you wish that the author had cited the sources of the information he is including in the book for those of us who’d like to read more about certain topics that the text touches upon.

The past isn’t as attractive as it may seem, and if darker themes upset you then this definitely isn’t the book for you. But if you are either curious about bygone eras or simply think that history is boring, then you might want to give Savage Stone Age - or some other volume in the Horrible Histories series for that matter - a try. Its friendly, humorous tone along with its focus on information you are unlikely to find in conventional history tomes make this an interesting book that readers, both young and old, are likely to learn from.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 2nd December, 2016 *