Friday, November 17, 2017

The immaculate cat

cover story

Fluffy, king of the garden
Cats are awesome, and they know it. They are so amazing, in fact, that they were even worshipped as deities in ancient cultures (and if you’ve ever met a cat, then you know this historic divine status is something that the feline has never forgotten). But popularity breeds haters, and that is exactly what has happened in the case of these magnificent furry creatures. There are some misguided – and, let’s face it, clearly quite envious – humans who have been levelling completely baseless accusations against our feline overlords companions, calling them things like annoying, aloof, fickle, and – excuse me while I gasp – useless. But that smear campaign ends today, for not only are cats cute and cuddly and altogether adorable, but they also happen to be the most selfless, hardworking, and useful creatures that have ever set paw on planet Earth. That’s right; the cat diligently serves many functions in various capacities all around us, tirelessly toiling all day long just to help others. All you need to realize its many roles in our lives is a little bit of love (and a lot of imagination).

Renovation instigator
You are lazy. That’s ok, I’m not judging you. But we both know that if it were up to you, you’d never bother to renovate your living space and would just end up with the same curtains and sofas and blankets and carpets for a decade. Left to your own devices, your life would be stagnant. Thankfully though, the cat is always there to help you, slowly nudging you on by shredding your drapes and using your rugs as his own personal scratch pad, all in the hopes of inspiring you to give your house an overhaul. The cat isn’t doing any of this for himself; the cat is doing this all for you. Because he loves you and cares about you. You’re welcome.

Alternative interior decorator
If you are a human being, then i) I’m sorry for your luck, and ii) chances are you keep all your possessions inside cupboards/drawers or on tables. O ye of little imagination! We humans are bound by mental constraints revolving around things like “order” and “arrangement”, but unlike us, the cat is not afraid to think outside the box. “What would everything look like if it was on the floor?” the cat wonders, before promptly throwing everything on the ground. Because changing the way the room looks has a positive impact on the mood, of course. Sure you may not be very pleased that your porcelain doll has parted ways with its head and your favourite coffee mug is now in pieces, but that’s just a small price to pay in order to enjoy the cat’s creative decorating skills.

Kitty in a tree
Nature documentary participant
The majestic cat moves with impeccable grace. Ain’t she a beauty! Suddenly, she sees a sparrow in the distance. She slowly, stealthily moves towards the unsuspecting bird. Crikey! She jumps at her prey, lunging towards the sparrow … and promptly smacks straight into the window between her and the bird that she had failed to take into account!
Cats are funny.

See: nature documentary participant.

Digging? Check!
Grass pruning? Check!
Applying fertilizer? Check!

Jolly performing a balancing act
The cat is an acrobat and the world is her circus. The consummate entertainer, the feline gymnast will swing from trees, climb to vertigo-inducing heights, make astounding jumps, and (cat)walk on impossibly thin beams, all in a noble attempt to keep us humans amused.

Financial advisor
The cat keeps meowing. I think she’s saying she wants something to play with. I should get her some toys. ($10)
Aww, doesn’t the cat look cold? Time to buy her a little cat house. ($15)
Yikes! The cat is coughing. I should take her to the vet ($50)
Oh no, we’re almost out of dry cat food. Must get some more. ($25)
Almost forgot, also need to get the wet cat food. ($25)
Might as well pick up some treats while I’m at it. ($10)
Doesn’t the cat seem like she could use some…
Wait, why am I suddenly broke?!

Motivational meower
Yes, you better not lose your job or the cat is going to have you for dinner. Work harder, human! The cat needs those fancy yumyums!

Alarm clock
The cat is nature’s alarm clock, guaranteed to wake you up in the morning. And by morning I obviously mean the middle of the night at a completely random time of her choosing. The cat knows that spontaneity makes life more exciting. Dependable digital alarm clocks that wake you up at a time of your choosing – where’s the fun in that?

Paradox generator
Just ask Schrödinger.

Lee proving that chairs are redundant
Humans invented chairs.
Cats discovered that humans are idiots who come up with redundant inventions, because if people had the slightest common sense, they would’ve figured out that just about everything can be used as a chair.
Cats are clearly smarter than humans.

The cat has been the muse for many artists, writers, and filmmakers, dutifully inspiring them to produce some iconic works that would have simply been inconceivable without the feline.
Just think about it.
Would people have flocked to the cinemas to watch That Darn Hyena? I think not.
What would have become of Puss in Boots? Dog in Clogs just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
The Cat in the Hat simply wouldn’t have worked without our furry friend, because The Dolphin in the Beret doesn’t even rhyme!
And Lewis Caroll would’ve been in a real pickle if it weren’t for the cat. The Cheshire Carp? Cheshire Caribou? Cheshire Cassowary? Cheshire Cormorant? Cheshire Chamois?! That’s just madness, I tell you, madness!

Uggy striking a very elegant pose
Aware of its natural beauty, the cat is always gracefully catwalking and striking a pose to give you a chance to capture its gorgeousness in photos, which is a good thing because otherwise you wouldn’t know what to do with your smartphone camera.

Internet content provider
As we all know, the Internet was invented so that we could share cat photos and videos with each other. If the cat were to suddenly disappear, the World Wide Web would turn into a barren, desolate wasteland, with tumbleweed blowing down its fake news streets filled with depression and despair. But that will never happen, not on Lil Bub, Maru, Colonel Meow, Venus, and Tardar Sauce’s watch!

Jolly, always there to help when I'm working
The cat makes a very effective bookmark. When you’re reading something, there’s a very high chance the cat will sit on it. WHILE you’re trying to read it.
Also quite effective as a paperweight.
Come to think of it, the cat is not just a bookmark and paperweight but, in fact, a full personal assistant, personally assisting you no matter what you’re working on by helpfully sitting on whatever it is you’re working on. Always so helpful.

Lucky the brave explorer
Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Neil Armstrong, and, of course, our good friend felis catus – some of the world’s greatest explorers who have boldly partaken in brave and daring expeditions all in the name of discovery.

Food critic
That thing you just spent an hour chopping, shredding, mixing, boiling, cooling for the cat? Yuck. Discarded. Because your cooking sucks.
That thing the cat found lying on the ground that had been sitting out there, getting coated in dust for a week? Yum!

Christmas tree ornament
Aussie, my friend Anny's beloved cat, displaying how to be a Xmas tree ornament

Fur donor
Real fur is cruel and fake fur looks, well, fake. But don’t worry – the cat knows how weary you are of both fox and faux fur. That is why it very helpfully leaves a layer of fur on all your clothing. Now you too can be posh and trendy and proudly walk around with a real fur covered top or sweater, cruelty free and prepared for you with love by your very considerate feline friend. See? The cat gives and it gives…

Hitler impersonator
Hitler, pensively wishing I had named him Chaplin instead
Hail Kitler! Because we must remember the past so as not to repeat it in the future. Or something.

Friend filter
What kind of a person doesn’t like cats? Block, delete, buh bye!

Fitness trainer
Like we talked about earlier, you’re lazy. Don’t worry, still not judging you. But laziness isn’t good for your health. That’s why the cat is worried about you. And since he only wants what’s best for you, he has made it his life’s mission to keep you on your toes. No need to join the gym when you are owned by a feline, because the cat takes his responsibility as your fitness trainer very seriously. Yes, he has you running around doing chores for him all day, but that’s just because he wants you to get some exercise. And when he goes missing and makes you frantically search for him all over the neighbourhood, it’s because he wants you to get that extra cardio.

Social interaction initiator
Speaking of frantic neighbourhood searches…
In a tech obsessed world that is leaving many of us increasingly isolated, where our messed up priorities have ended up trapping us in the 24 hour news cycle… we somehow seem very pleased with ourselves for knowing what’s happening in a random place on this planet a million miles away, yet have no idea what’s going on with our own neighbours. The cat realizes that this needs to chance. That’s why she keeps coming up with different ways to get you out of the house and socialize with the people around you. The cat wants you to know your neighbours, and for your neighbours to know you too, so that the next time they see you, they can think “ugh, there’s that insane woman who keeps showing up at our house looking for one of her five million cats. Quickly hide before she sees us and comes over again and starts jabbering away about how great cats are. Oh no, too late…”

So yes, cats are awesome, and they know it. And it’s about time everyone else knew it too.

- By a crazy cat lady Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 17th November, 2017 *

Friday, November 03, 2017

I, Tonya - a darkly comical biopic powered by Margot Robbie's charm

trailer review

Sports rivalries can add excitement to games by raising the stakes and making the experience more intense and thrilling for both the participants and viewers. But there is also a dark side to such rivalries, especially when they get out of control and turn ugly as overzealous fans or over-competitive athletes take things to dangerous levels. That is exactly what happened in the case of American figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, when the former went too far in her attempt to surpass the latter in a shocking 1994 incident. The story of this scandal and the woman at its centre is now being brought to the big screen in the film I, Tonya.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, the biographical sports black comedy is based on the real life of Harding (portrayed by Margot Robbie), who rose to infamy because of her involvement in the attack on her fellow skater.

The trailer suggests that the film takes a look at various stages and aspects of Harding’s life. The movie sheds light on her tough upbringing – the wonderful Mckenna Grace plays the protagonist as a child, while Robbie portrays the former U.S. champion as an adult. Also explored in the biopic is her relationship with her eventual ex-husband Jeff Gilooly (Sebastian Stan), who, along with her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), hired an assailant to break the leg of her competitor, Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), to keep her from competing at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Robbie seems like a good choice for the lead role. The Australian actress has already proven that she is great at putting comedic and crazy together in her terrific performance in (the otherwise disappointing) Suicide Squad. While her character in I, Tonya is completely different from Harley Quinn, Robbie seems to be bringing the same charm and pizzazz to this performance, which will hopefully make for an enjoyable viewing experience. The other standout actor in the trailer is Allison Janney, who is very well cast in the supporting role of Harding’s strict mother, coldly pushing the young girl both on and off the rink.

I, Tonya combines an interesting real-life tale with an impressive cast. The film seems to posses all the major component that make a movie compelling and entertaining, and the trailer definitely leaves you looking forward to its release this December. It remains to be seen if Steven Rogers’ script is as sharp as the project deserves, but from its first few glimpses, this sports comedy sure looks like it could potentially be a winner.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 3rd November, 2017 *

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Hitman’s Bodyguard - clichéd action, terrific cast

movie review

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, and Richard E. Grant
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Tagline: Get triggered.
Even when the script they have to work with isn’t quite exceptional, talented actors still have the ability to elevate the mediocre material they’re provided and turn it into an entertaining cinematic experience for the audience. That is exactly what Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson have done with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, an otherwise middling action comedy that benefits from the chemistry and charisma of its leads.

The actors portray two bitter rivals who must set aside their differences and work together to evade countless armed baddies on a journey across Europe.

Reynolds appears in the role of Michael Bryce, a “triple A rated executive protection agent” whose reputation takes a hit after one of his clients is shot in the head. Jackson portrays Darius Kincaid, a notorious contract killer who is incarcerated and facing two dozen counts of murder in ten countries. When a ruthless dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), is put on trial for crimes against humanity, Kincaid agrees to testify against the brutal tyrant in exchange for the exoneration of his beloved wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek).

But when even a squad of Interpol agents can’t protect Kincaid from Dukhovich’s assassins, Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), the inexperienced agent in charge of transporting the witness, is forced to ask a very reluctant Bryce – who happens to be her ex-boyfriend – for help. Not eager to protect his long-time nemesis, the bodyguard eventually agrees to accompany and transport Kincaid to The Hague so that he can testify against the vicious despot at the International Court of Justice.

Protecting his new client, however, is easier said than done. The duo is chased by armed criminals for much of the film’s duration. There are car chases, combats, fights, explosions … and it all starts to get a bit tedious. The problem isn’t that the action scenes aren’t competently shot or well executed but it’s simply that there are just too many of them and they often go on for longer than they should.

Luckily, though, the action is accompanied by a near-constant stream of banter, and the combination – while too violent and profane for some viewers – works quite well, primarily because of Reynolds and Jackson’s acting talents and their seemingly effortless ability to exchange barbs like pros. Also terrific in the film is Hayek in a performance so amusing that you’re left to wish her part in the film had been longer. And Oldman is suitably menacing in the role of the film’s antagonist.

That said, even the entertaining acting performances can’t hide the fact that the proceedings are predictable, the story is clichéd, the script isn’t very inventive, and the movie on the whole is overlong and repetitive. This isn’t the first – and it certainly won’t be the last – time that a Hollywood film has tried to generate humour by putting together two opposite or conflicting personalities. But even though director Patrick Hughes and his crew have mostly stuck to the generic, conventional route here, it’s the competence of their impressive cast that has rescued this vehicle and made it amusing and watchable.

On the whole, while it isn’t exactly an example of great filmmaking, The Hitman’s Bodyguard does take you on a fun, two hour long ride. Just don’t expect it to bring anything new to the genre or surprise you in any way.

Rating: 3 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 19th October, 2017 *

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner - an impactful, impressive cinematic effort

movie review

Beatriz at Dinner

Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Chloë Sevigny, David Warshofsky
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Taglines: She was invited, but she's not welcome.

It’s a clash of personalities and perspectives as two very different people end up at the same gathering in Beatriz at Dinner, an odd but touching drama with an impressive cast and a terrific performance by its lead actress.

The protagonist is Beatriz (portrayed by Salma Hayek), a massage therapist and spiritual healer who works mainly with cancer patients at an alternative clinic. One of her private clients is the wealthy Kathy (Connie Britton), the mother of a Hodgkin’s survivor, Tara, who Beatriz helped during her cancer treatment and recovery.

After a session at Kathy’s posh residence, the masseuse heads back to her car, hoping to drive home where her beloved dogs and goat await her, only to realize that her run-down VW won’t start. Sympathetic to her predicament, her client invites her to stay over for dinner and attend a party that Kathy and her husband (David Warshofsky) are throwing for some of their business associates.

The working class immigrant soon finds herself in the company of the mega-rich. Among the dinner guests is Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a real estate mogul who likes to hunt animals in Africa for sport.

Things get awkward as the classism manifests itself and the ideals begin to clash. It’s an intriguing premise and a compelling piece akin to watching a stage play. Clearly a lot of love has gone into the making of this film, and director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White deserve props for bringing this offbeat project to life. But the filmmakers haven’t quite been able to make the most of Beatriz at Dinner’s promising plot and setting. Its humour is understated and subtle, but the politics are so in-your-face that the movie often ends up sermonizing instead of offering a sharp or incisive satire. And the characters sometimes seem more like caricatures than well-crafted individuals – there aren’t enough shades of grey at work here to make the film as forceful as it should be.

But even when the tension is lacking or the movie seems a little lost in itself, the cast always elevates the material. Britton is sublime as the privileged Kathy and Lithgow masterfully embodies the despicable Doug. But the MVP here is Salma Hayek, who delivers a riveting performance, perhaps the best of her career. Her gentle portrayal of the sensitive and sincere but a tad unhinged Beatriz is absolutely outstanding. As it starts to become clear that the protagonist is going through some sort of a breakdown, Hayek handles the role deftly. The actress expresses her character’s emotions so well that it becomes impossible not to be affected by what Beatriz is feeling and going through.

It’s a piece more sombre than comedic, more dark than humorous. And while one may wish that the filmmakers had made the setting more claustrophobic and the ending more satisfying, Beatriz at Dinner is still a very impressive cinematic effort that – thanks in large part to Hayek’s acting – makes a powerful impact on viewers and leaves you with something to think about.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 17th October, 2017 *

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Logan Lucky - a slick, fun heist comedy

movie review
Logan Lucky 

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, and Daniel Craig
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Tagline: See how the other half steals.

Steven Soderbergh makes a triumphant comeback with Logan Lucky, a heist comedy that sees the acclaimed director return to filmmaking after a four year hiatus from big screen ventures. The movie – his first directorial effort since 2013 – follows the adventure of three siblings who are attempting to pull off a daring, elaborate robbery.

Things aren’t going too well for the down-on-their-luck Logan family as the film commences. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) – a Southern, blue collar construction worker who once had a promising football career that was derailed by a knee injury – is let go from his job “for liability reasons involving insurance”. His brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) – a war veteran who lost his left forearm in Iraq – runs a bar, while their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough) – the only one of the siblings who seems to have escaped the Logan curse – works as a hairdresser.

Struggling with financial and family issues (which are exacerbated by his ex-wife Bobbie’s (Katie Holmes) decision to move with their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) to another city), Jimmy hatches the plan to carry out a robbery during a NASCAR race by exploiting the pneumatic tube system that the race track uses for moving money. After his siblings are on board with the scheme, Jimmy has to recruit the convicted Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them get into the vault; the latter insists that his dim-witted brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) must also be brought in on the plan.

This motley crew of felons and would-be criminals must work together to pull off everything from a prison break to a vault breach (that uses a combination of bleach, gummy bears, and a salt substitute as an explosive) to make off with their loot and evade the FBI.

Will things go according to plan? And will the Logans finally be able to turn their luck around? The film takes you on a suspenseful and often amusing ride that delivers a few twists and turns along the way before you finally get the answers to those questions.

You can easily tell the same hand that was behind the Ocean’s Trilogy is at the helm of this project as well. Logan Lucky may be low-key and stripped of the glamour of the director’s Clooney-starring heist capers, but the execution is just as slick here.

Despite the overall impressive filmmaking though, there are a few subplots that aren’t handled quite as smoothly as the main arc. The rift between a snooty businessman (Seth MacFarlane) and his sponsored driver (Sebastian Stan) doesn’t really add much to the proceedings. Plus the FBI investigation towards the end – featuring a lacklustre performance by Hilary Swank as an agent assigned to the heist case – could have been more interesting instead of just seeming like a drag.

As for the cast, Tatum and Driver embrace their Southern characters as well as the film’s deadpan tone and are very well-cast in their roles. Keough also has an impressive screen presence. And Craig easily steals the show whenever he’s on screen.

All in all, this caper comedy may not bring anything particularly new to its well-worn genre but it still offers an enjoyable adventure populated with well-crafted characters. Logan Lucky probably won’t be the most memorable film you watch this year, but it will still take you on a fun, entertaining 2-hour-long ride.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 14th October, 2017 *

Friday, October 13, 2017

Vet to the rescue

cover story: interview

Any animal lover will readily tell you that having an animal friend in your life can be very rewarding. But just like us, our little companions too can suffer from the occasional malady. It’s a good thing then that veterinary doctors are on hand to provide both preventive and curative treatment to our furry, feathered, and scaled buddies.

Dr. Faheem Ahmad is one such vet, dedicated to helping the animals – both pets and strays – that are brought to his clinic. In a conversation with Us, the veterinary surgeon tells us about the experience of both studying and working in his field of expertise …

Us: Please tell Us a bit about yourself.
Dr. Faheem Ahmad: I’m a veterinary surgeon. I’m the eldest child in the family – I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister. I recently got married, so now I feel I have more liabilities, fulfilling not just the responsibilities of a son and brother but a husband too. I completed my D.V.M. (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree in 2015 from University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) Lahore and recently completed my postgraduate (M.Phil.) degree in veterinary surgery from the same university. Professionally I am running my father’s private clinic, Saleem Veterinary Clinic and Pet Shop, in Lahore.

Us: What prompted you to become a veterinarian?
Dr. Faheem: Since I opened my eyes, I was involved with animals as my father is a vet. Growing up, I became more interested in them. My father used to take me along with him when he used to go for visits, and gradually I started indulging in his clinical activities. I simply loved watching him and sometime even assisted him in handling the animals. I was very intrigued. It was then that I decided I would become a veterinary surgeon and Alhamdulillah (by the grace of God) I am one now.

Us: How has your experience of studying at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Lahore been? And how do you feel about the standard of veterinary schools in Pakistan as compared to their international counterparts?
Dr. Faheem: It was a different type of experience, as university is a unique part of life where one has to prepare oneself to get into a practical field. I learnt a lot at university; I was one of the most active students and was the university proctor (representative) throughout my university life. I was a member and held key posts in different student veterinary clubs. Under the banner of those societies, I organized many free deworming, vaccination, and medical treatment camps at different villages, especially before Bakra Eid festivals. I also managed to take part as a veterinary officer in a carpet vaccination program organized by the Livestock Department. We went to flood affected areas of Pakistan to provide free veterinary services. So it was a very active, practical experience.
University provided me with a platform to sharpen my skills. UVAS is always thriving hard to get advanced equipment and impart the latest knowledge so that we can easily compete with the world.

Us: What are some of the salient features of the veterinary science curriculum?
Dr. Faheem: It is a very diverse field. From learning the basic anatomy of large and small domestic animals to getting familiarized with the physiology, understanding the basic pathological pathways, genetics, bioinformatics, drugs and clinical medicine, along with surgery. It also involves the knowledge of animal products, like milk, meat, wool, etcetera.

Us: Can you please tell Us about your work experience so far?
Dr. Faheem: I did internships at Lahore Zoo, Bahawalpur Zoo, and with Houbara Foundation Pakistan. I was also nominated for training by International Fund for Houbara to U.A.E. for the duration of 45 days. I received training at Falcon Hospital Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Zoo, and National Avian Research Centre, Sweihan, U.A.E. I just returned from China after attending a training program on traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and acupuncture techniques in animals. Adding to that, I have also attended many other international and national trainings and workshops. I am also serving as a consultant at an equine farm. I have not given up on voluntary work, most importantly stray animals on the streets. I provide free check-ups for the stray injured animals at the clinic. I ran a pilot project of shelter for small, stray animals with the collaboration of USAID back in 2013. Currently I am working on a proposal for the welfare of stray animals.

Us: How is the experience of working as a veterinarian in Pakistan? Have you felt a significant difference between working in Pakistan and abroad?
Dr. Faheem: It’s very challenging to work here, as for most owners their pets are not their priority. There is bare concept of regular health check-up and no proper vaccination or proper care is given to pets. So far, I have experienced that the majority of people bring their pets to the clinic in very poor condition after trying home remedies which makes it very difficult for us to treat them. In my opinion, this lack of attention to pets is due to the care free attitude of most of the owners who complain of their busy schedules, although getting an appointment from a vet is easier and the cost that is incurred is a lot cheaper than in the west.  

Us: You have treated many different animals so far. Which animal is the easiest to deal with? And which is the most challenging?
Dr. Faheem: In my opinion, no animal is difficult to treat if it is being regularly checked up and brought to the clinic for early diagnosis. On the other hand, every animal becomes challenging when brought at a critical stage specially when the initial stages were ignored or the animal wasn’t given proper care.

Us: You must come across animals that you can’t save. How do you cope with that?
Dr. Faheem: I believe every patient brought to my clinic, or those I treat elsewhere, is my responsibility. Being a surgeon and physician, I always try my best to save their life. Despite the fact that God is in charge of both life and death and one can only try, let me tell you honestly, seeing them go away or putting them down when there is no solution has never been easy for me. 

Us: Along with the animals, you also have to deal with their owners. Is there anything you wish pet owners would do differently?
Dr. Faheem: Yes indeed! I have many times faced great problems as we don't only have to treat the animals but also deal with the owners. We should only keep a pet if we can take care of it like our own children. There are many owners who keep a pet just to boast about – it’s more of a status symbol. They don’t bother to take proper care, like general check-up, vaccination, grooming, etcetera and it is only when their pet is in critical condition that they feel the need of seeking medical help and rush to us, the vets. Secondly, they should trust their vet. Most importantly, animals are very sensitive to care and love in terms of not only getting proper healthy nutrition but also time and attention; otherwise animals go into stress.

Us: What advice do you have for animal lovers who can’t afford veterinary care?
Dr. Faheem: Call a veterinary clinic that provides free consultation for those who can't afford treatment, like our clinic – we give subsidized rates to people who can’t afford it. But do get them checked in time.

Us: Human medicines seem to generally be prescribed to animals in Pakistan. Why are veterinary medicines not (easily) available here? Is there anything that can be done about this issue?
Dr. Faheem: Yes, unfortunately we have no option other than prescribing human medicines due to the lack of proper finances and attention to veterinary pharmaceuticals as far as small animals are concerned. 

Us: You did internships at the Lahore and Bahawalpur Zoo. How was the experience? How do you feel about the state of zoos in Pakistan? And how do you feel about zoos in general?
Dr. Faheem: It has always been an amazing experience working in zoos. We have huge potential and it needs further assistance by government and non-government bodies.   

Us: You are passionate about helping stray animals. What can the rest of us do to help?
Dr. Faheem: The most important thing is, if you see an injured or sick animal, give them first aid only if you have the knowledge about it; otherwise bring it immediately to the nearest veterinary clinic for proper treatment.

Us: Do you have any advice for students who are considering adopting a career in veterinary medicine?
Dr. Faheem: It's simply the best and most satisfying career, especially seeing an animal recover. It is a vast and diverse field; after D.V.M., one can join several areas, like dairy, meat, poultry, wildlife, etcetera. If you have passion for animals and you know that you can handle it, then you should go for it. Good luck.

- Sameen Amer

Have any questions for Dr. Faheem about animal care or want to know more about the veterinary field? Then send Us your queries at sameenamer [at] hotmail [dot] com, and we’ll print his replies to your questions in an upcoming issue.

Us Magazine, The News - 13th October, 2017 *

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The family friendly fluff of Fuller House

series review

Fuller House
Season 3 (part 1)

Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas, Dashiell and Fox Messitt, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Scott Weinger, John Brotherton, and Adam Hagenbuch
Created by: Jeff Franklin

It may not have impressed critics, but – just like its predecessor – Fuller House sure seems to have struck a chord with the viewers. The sequel to the popular sitcom Full House – which ran from 1987 to 1995 on ABC – arrived on Netflix last year when the streaming service brought the cast back together for this spinoff revival, which focuses mainly on the recently widowed D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure) raising her three sons with the help of her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber).

Thanks to the massive nostalgia-driven popularity of the first outing, the show was quickly renewed for a second season, which arrived later in the same year, and was soon followed by the news that the sitcom had been given the thumbs up for an 18-episode third season which was to be split into two parts. The first of these instalments was recently unveiled by Netflix on the 22nd of September, which marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of its parent series.

Despite being released on the first day of fall, this 9 episode set takes place during summer break.

The adults are navigating the same kind of familial and romantic issues that you’d expect from the sitcom. D.J. continues to be torn between her feelings for her boyfriend and colleague, Matt (John Brotherton), and her high school sweetheart, Steve (Scott Weinger), who is now engaged to C.J. (Virginia Williams) and planning their wedding which is set to take place in Japan. Stephanie, who has a broken ankle (to accommodate Sweetin’s broken leg), and Kimmy’s brother, Jimmy (Adam Hagenbuch), are still an item, and the middle Tanner daughter is also struggling with the fact that she can’t have children. Kimmy is still being wooed by Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace) who has bought and renovated the old Gibbler house.

The kids are off from school, all except Jackson (Michael Campion) who is forced to take summer classes to improve his grades. Max (Elias Harger) is very excited about the holidays and dreams of having the “best summer ever”. And Ramona’s (Soni Nicole Bringas) relationship with Popko (Isaak Presley) has been going steady but is about to hit a snag.

Clearly its themes aren’t very clever or cerebral, but it wouldn’t be wise to expect that from Fuller House in the first place. These are your basic sitcom storylines, centred on a love triangle/will-they-won’t-they relationship that would be tiresome had viewers not already been invested in it, although the fact that episode 9 ends on a cliff-hanger and gives us no resolution to this romantic entanglement just becomes a test of patience.

As for the cast, while they will probably not be showered with Emmys anytime soon, they do perform their comedic duties with fervour. The young actors seem more comfortable in their roles, and have honed in some of their more grating tendencies. And the grownups – especially the members of the “She-Wolf Pack” – appear to be having fun making the show, and their joy can be somewhat contagious.

As for the rest of the original Full House regulars who have recurring responsibilities in this spin-off, they only make sporadic appearances in this set of episodes. There are no big family reunions in the first half of season three. John Stamos, Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, and Lori Loughlin appear in one episode each; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are still a no-show. As a result, this season is relatively light on throwback moments so far and makes you hope that this will be rectified in the second half. While the series may be trying to establish itself in its own right, the writers and showrunner would be wise to remember that this show exists solely because of the powers of nostalgia. (Also, if Jeff Franklin and co. are so enamoured with doing songs and musical performances, then they could at least make them seem less shoehorned and more natural.)

Ultimately, just like Full House, Fuller House, too, specializes in family friendly fluff – everything is always drenched in saccharine sentimentality, and there are scenes featuring cute animals and babies sprinkled throughout each episode so that the audience can go “aww” every few minutes. It all ranges from cheesy to corny, and whether you’ll find it heart-warming or cringe-worthy simply comes down to preference. If you want something intelligent, then this clearly isn’t the best option for you, and obviously there are plenty of other shows that you can watch instead. This is Netflix after all; if you want something dark or edgy, then House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are just a click away. But if you’re a fan of traditional sitcoms and in the mood for some silly fun, then this 9-episode arc of Fuller House will keep you entertained for a four hour long binge watching session.

Rating: 3 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 8th October, 2017

Friday, October 06, 2017

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie - delightfully zany

movie review 

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie 

Starring: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele, and Kristen Schaal
Directed by: David Soren
Tagline: You've seen Britain, you've seen France ... but you've never seen anyone like this guy.

Its title may not make the film sound very promising, but Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a delightful animated romp that is very likely to entertain its viewers.

To be fair, the animated feature’s style is rooted in the silly, juvenile humour that its name suggests, but writer Dav Pilkey’s offbeat premise – the film is based on his popular children’s novel series – and the creativity and energy with which director David Soren and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller have approached the material make the project surprisingly fun.

The story revolves around best friends George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), two imaginative elementary school pranksters whose favourite hobbies include making comic books and antagonizing their mean-spirited principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Tired of their mischief, Krupp decides to annihilate the boys’ friendship by putting them in separate classes. To prevent this from happening, George and Harold use a hypno-ring – a cereal box prize – to transform Krupp into one of their comic book creations: Captain Underpants, a superhero who fights crime while wearing only underwear and a cape, and whose primary superpowers appear to be extreme delusion and complete stupidity. Little do they know that they will soon need their hapless superhero’s help when supervillian Professor P. (Nick Kroll) arrives at their school with a nefarious plan of ridding the world of laughter.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is significantly more enjoyable than something called “Captain Underpants” has any right to be. Sure there is a lot of juvenile humor, but there is so much more to the film than that. It’s a story about friendship, and the magic of boundless imagination unbridled by logic or propriety. There are amusing references to other superheroes as the film deftly skewers the genre. And there are visual sequences that are creative and entertaining.

The voice cast, overall, is also solid. Hart and Middleditch make amicable, likable protagonists. Helms and Kroll, too, give good performances as the superhero and supervillain respectively. (Kristen Schaal’s voice is a tad grating but that’s a minor complaint as her character – a shy school lunch lady who has a thing for Mr. Krupp – plays a very small role in the film.)

Soren has done a terrific job transforming Pilkey’s work and taking it from page to screen. It may not have the gravitas of a Pixar outing, but that’s because this simply isn’t one of its goals. The film is unabashedly silly and full of creatively and laugh out loud wit. Captain Underpants feels like intelligently done lowbrow comedy. It is very likely to win you over even if you aren’t a fan of such humour, and leave you hoping that the project will spawn a sequel. If you are in the mood for something zany, offbeat, and a lot of fun, then give this movie a chance. The film is highly recommended to younger viewers as well as older viewers who are still young at heart.

Rating: 4 out of 5

- S.A. 

Us Magazine, The News - 6th October, 2017 *

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Unfiltered - Lily Collins turns to writing

book review

Book: Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me 
Author: Lily Collins

Not all celebrity memoirs are created equal. The most impressive ones are written by artists who have interesting, intriguing stories and experiences to share, and are willing to candidly discuss tales from their unusual lives. The least impressive ones come from celebrities who don’t have much to say and just seem to be cashing in on their fame by putting together a dull volume.

Lily Collins’ book, unfortunately, falls in the latter category.

The 28-year-old daughter of English musician Phil Collins published her first book, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, earlier this year. Part memoir, part self-help manual, the slim volume sees the British-American actress coming up with a collection of lacklustre, trite essays that try to give the illusion of being deep but in reality barely scratch the surface of the subjects they examine.

Collins’ romantic struggles, family issues, and insecurities are briefly mentioned in the book, none in a way that would give you a complete or clear look at any of these facets of her life. She writes about initially being insecure about her eyebrows, dating an addict, being ghosted by her boyfriends, her close relationship with her mother, and her father’s battle with alcoholism, but does not discuss these topics in a satisfying way.

The one issue she does open up about is her battle with eating disorders. The actress struggled with anorexia and bulimia in her teens, and was overly focused on losing weight, restricting what and how much she ate, binging and purging, and even becoming addicted to diet pills and laxatives during an emotionally unstable time in her life. She has since overcome her eating issues, in part by delving into cooking and baking, and says that she makes “progress with [her] disorders” with “every passing day”.

While sharing snippets from her life, the actress also tries to inspire her readers to love and value themselves, encouraging them to “embrace [their] differences as things that make you unique and special”, speak up and be more assertive, be more open and communicative, and turn their shortfalls into triumphs.

But none of her inspirational words ever rises above generic clichés. It’s a relentless onslaught of platitudes and hackneyed, worn out ideas delivered with absolutely no originality or creativity. As a result, everything she says starts to sound like meaningless tripe that does not make an impact on the readers or help them better themselves in any significant way.

If there is any original thought in Lily Collins’ head then she hasn’t bothered to include it in this book. Everything she mentions has been written more eloquently and convincingly in countless books before, and the actress adds nothing new to the discussion. Nor does she give you a particularly candid, close look at her professional or personal life (aside from her battle with eating disorders). If you want a straightforward take on her life as a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood and the daughter of one of the world’s most famous musicians, then you’ll find the lack of details in this book very disappointing. If you want to find out more about her budding acting career, like her experiences from the sets of The Blind Side or Mirror Mirror or how she feels about the failure of The Mortal Instruments series, then this isn’t the book for you as none of that is discussed in Unfiltered. And if you want to read an inspirational tome that encourages you to love yourself, then you’d be wise to pick any of the countless other books that have been written on the topic, most of which are significantly better than this one.

It also doesn’t help that Collins just isn’t a good writer. She doesn’t know how to structure her thoughts or convey her ideas coherently. Even though she is 28 years old, her voice comes off as that of a teenager who is writing for tween readers. Only very young girls are likely to find any of the material in this book revelatory or inspirational, although even the majority of them might find some of the things she says unrelatable. For instance, she writes that when she was studying at school, her mother used to take her to the countries – from India to places in Africa – that she was learning about because “the best way to learn [about different places is] to immerse ourselves in the cultures and experience them as locals do”, and seems oblivious to how privileged her upbringing has been or how unpractical this idea is for the majority of us who simply do not have the means to do so.

Ultimately, all Unfiltered proves is that repeating corny clichés does not make for a compelling read. Only her diehard fans will appreciate this effort as it will give them a quick glimpse at her life and thoughts. Everyone else will be better off giving this volume a pass, as it lacks substance, details, originality, and just about everything that makes a book interesting.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 1st October, 2017 *

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mastering the Art of Cooking

sam's kitchen

Not by Julia Child, clearly 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for entertainment purposes only. The author and magazine will not be responsible for the mess you make if you try any of these recipes, which, the writer assures you, are 100 percent inaccurate and result in the preparation of food that is completely inedible.


* Puff pastry bites 

•    1 cup flour
•    1 stick butter
•    Chopped mixed vegetables
•    1 egg
•    1 pack mozzarella cheese
•    Salt
•    Pepper

 -    Turn on the oven. Notice that it isn’t working. Call the repairman. Wait for repairman to show up and fix the oven. Pay the repairman.
-    Turn on the tap. See that the kitchen sink is blocked. Call the plumber. Wait for plumber to show up and fix the drain. Pay the plumber.
-    Decide you’re tired and need a break. Turn on the computer. Discover that the computer isn’t working. Call tech support. Yes, it is plugged in. Yes, you tried restarting it. Yes, this isn’t an ID-Ten-T error. Wait for technician to show up and fix the computer. Pay the technician.
-    Spend the next three hours looking for a website that says appetizers aren’t trendy anymore. Decide you love that website, and skip straight to the main course.

* Quick nibbles 

•    1 pack biscuits
•    1 pack crisps
•    1 pack peanuts
•    1 pack avocado dip
•    Carrots

-    Go to the cupboard. Take out a packet of biscuits. Taste biscuit. Discover it’s stale. Throw out biscuits.
-    Go back to the cupboard. Take out a packet of crisps. Try one. Gag. Ask who the hell was stupid enough to buy the chilli and beetroot flavour. Throw out crisps.
-    Go to the drawer. Take out a packet of peanuts. Try one. Decide that they're too tasty to share and keep them for yourself.
-    Go to the fridge. Take out the avocado dip. Open lid. Gag from toxic fumes. Read label – NOT avocado dip; actually hummus ... mouldy hummus. Throw out dip.
-    Go back to the fridge. Take out the carrots. Decide that just because there’s no dip doesn't mean you can’t have dippers. Consider suggesting it’s an existential dip and all in the mind. Grin at smug, pretentious suggestion. Look at carrot. See that carrots aren't meant to be that floppy. Throw out carrots.
-    Remember reading on a website that appetizers aren’t trendy anymore. Recall that you loved that website, and skip straight to the main course. Eat another peanut.


* Curry 

•    1 cup lentils
•    1 medium onion chopped
•    1 sm … ah, screw it!

 -    Go to your nearest dhaba and just buy a plate of daal. Where’s the sense in spending your time and energy cooking something that is readily available? Be smarter than that!

* Meat pie 

•    3.14159 kg boneless meat
•    3.14159 cups flour
•    3.14159 sticks of butter
•    3.14159 eggs
•    3.14159 teaspoon spices
•    3.14159 teaspoon salt
•    3.14159 teaspoon pepper

 -    Take some veal. Stare at the veal. Think about where it came from. Realize this was once a baby cow. You can’t possibly eat a baby cow. Why did you even buy this in the first place? Put away the veal.
-    Take some beef. Stare at the beef. Could this have been the baby cow’s mom? Or dad, you don’t know the gender. You can’t eat someone’s mom or dad. Put away the beef.
-    Take some mutton. Stare at the mutton. Realize this was once a beautiful sheep or goat. Feel sad. Put away the mutton.
-    Take some chicken meat. Stare at the chicken meat. Think of how cute chickens are. Put away the chicken meat.
-    Feed the meats to the cat.
-    Become a vegetarian.

* Stir fried vegetables 

•    Vegetables
•    Seasoning

 -    Oh come on! The dish is called “stir fried vegetables”. You take vegetables and stir fry them. You need a recipe for that? Seriously?!


* Boiled rice

•    1 cup rice
•    1 cup water

-    Go to the kitchen.
-    Put some rice in a pan along with an equal amount of water.
-    Place the pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium.
-    Go back to your room and start doing something else.
-    When the smoke alarm goes off, you’ll know that the rice is done.
-    Just take the unburnt rice from the top and serve.

* Salad 

•    Lettuce
•    Tomato
•    Feta cheese
•    Capsicum
•    Cucumber
•    Avocado

-    Chop the cheese into small pieces. Eat a few pieces of the cheese to get a good sense of its flavour.
-    Now cut some cucumber. Try mixing it with some of the cheese you just chopped and see how you like the combination.
-    Cut the tomatoes and capsicum. Add these to the remaining cheese, and see how your pallet feels about it.
-    Cut the avocado. Eat.
-    Finish the remaining cucumber.
-    By now you’ll only be left with the lettuce. Chop the lettuce, put in a bowl, and serve.


* Cake

•    3 eggs
•    ½ cup sugar
•    1 cup self-rising flour
•    1 stick butter

-    Gather all your family members in the kitchen.
-    Find a nice, comfortable chair to sit on. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable.
-    Ask your mom to whip together the eggs until fluffy, mix the butter and sugar, and then fold in the flour.
-    Direct your little sister to grease a cake tin.
-    Tell your brother to preheat the oven.
-    Now pour the mixture your mom prepared into the pan your sister greased and stick it in the oven your brother preheated, and leave it to bake.
-    After 30 minutes, ask if your dad could please take the cake out of the oven and place it on a rack to cool.
-    Serve with buttercream along with a generous helping of self-compliments regarding your baking proficiencies.

* Fruit Surprise

•    Cherries
•    Pineapple
•    Peaches
•    Strawberries
•    Apples 

-    Open a can of cherries.
-    Open a can of pineapples.
-    Open a can of peaches.
-    Open a can of strawberries.
-    Open a can of apples.
-    Put all the fruit in a bowl. Now add a tin of peas for the surprise. Mix. Serve.


* Potato cutlets 

•    You know, cutlets and stuff

-    Decide that you want to eat potato cutlets.
-    Realize that you don’t have any cutlets. Run to the shop to get some frozen cutlets. Return.
-    Realize that you don’t have any bread. Run to the shop to get some bread. Return.
-    Realize that you don’t have any ketchup. Run to the shop to get some ketchup. Return.
-    Realize that you don’t have any mayonnaise. Run to the shop to get some mayonnaise. Return.
-    Heat the cutlets, put each between two slices of bread with some ketchup and mayonnaise. Realize that you don’t have any soda…and one can’t possibly eat cutlets without soda. Run to the shop to get some soda. Return.
-    Realize you’re super tired from all the running, and take a nap. Wake up. Decide the cutlets are now cold and you don’t feel like eating them anymore. Throw them out.

* Macaroni and cheese 

•    1 box mac and cheese

-    Buy a box of macaroni and cheese.
-    Follow the instructions on the box. You’re smart enough for that, aren’t you? Good.
-    Serve.

* Pizza 

 •    Flour
•    Yeast
•    Olive Oil
•    Water
•    Cheese and toppings
•    Salt

-    Mix flour and yeast in a bowl with a pinch of salt, and then add oil and water.
-    Knead the dough. Then put it back in the bowl and leave in a warm place for an hour.
-    Roll out the dough, put in a pizza pan, add desired toppings, and place in preheated oven.
-    Take out of the oven after about 20 minutes. The base will have become like wood and the toppings will have taken on the texture of rubber.
-    Now get a hammer and chisel, and try to force the pizza out of the pan.
-    When that fails, call the nearest pizza place and order a large pizza, preferably with extra cheese. Enjoy.

- By Sameen Amer 

Us Magazine, The News - 22nd September, 2017 *

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Can I Say - the extraordinary life of Travis Barker

book review
Book: Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums Drums Drums
Author: Travis Barker (with Gavin Edwards)

Travis Barker has had an extraordinary life, and it is also quite extraordinary that he is still alive. Not only has the American drummer survived a plane crash, but he has also done just about every reckless thing that you can possibly think of, all of which he talks about in his memoir Can I Say, a candid look at the first four decades of the musician’s life.

The percussionist’s passion for drumming takes center stage throughout the book. Barker’s childhood hero was Animal, the “pure primitive orange insanity” on The Muppet Show, and at age 4, the youngster already knew what he wanted to do with his life: he wanted to be a drummer. He had received a tin drum from his parents on his first Christmas, and subsequently got a full set of drums on his fourth birthday as his parents had started realizing his nascent talent. Drumming lessons helped him hone his skills, and his mother’s encouragement helped him pursue the activity and turn it into a career; one of the last things she said to him before her death when Barker was 13 was to continue playing the drums and follow his dreams. “Keep doing it,” she told him, “no matter what anybody else says.” And he did.

In junior high, Barker joined his first rock band, Necromancy, and subsequently joined and formed a number of groups, most of which did not have any considerable success or last very long. His luck turned with the punk rock band Feeble in the early ‘90s, followed by the ska punk group The Aquabats in 1994, and finally the pop rock outfit Blink-182 which he joined in 1998. Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge recruited Barker after they fired their previous drummer, leading to the Blink-182 line-up that would find massive success following the release of 1999’s Enema of the State. A string of hits made the outfit one of the most popular pop punk acts of the time, propelling them to international fame.

This recognition as well as his reputation for being one of the best drummers in his field subsequently gave Barker the chance to pursue several other projects – including Box Car Racer, +44, Transplants, and TRV$DJAM, all of which are mentioned in the book – and perform with a number of artists from various different genres, as well as establish his clothing line, Famous Stars and Straps, which was inspired by his passion for “skateboarding, BMX, cars, tattoos, rap, metal, [and] punk”.

But while his determination and dedication helped him achieve his childhood dream of becoming a successful drummer, his addictive personality has also caused him a handful of problems behind the scenes. “Everything in my life that I’ve ever had, I wanted in abundance,” Barker writes, and the impact of this statement is visible throughout Can I Say. “If I like something, I get addicted to it,” he states, and his many vices have included drugs, drinking, smoking, and pills; his addictions and slow recovery are chronicled in this book. He also writes repeatedly about his countless sexual encounters, and discusses his two failed marriages – first to Melissa Kennedy, second to Shanna Moakler (with whom he has two kids, Landon and Alabama, who clearly mean the world to him) – although the way he talks about women comes off as disturbing and at times even disrespectful, and the frequency with which the topic comes up starts to get tiring and off-putting.

There are also testimonials from his friends and family members throughout the memoir that add more context to his tales (like when Hoppus and DeLonge share their thoughts about the group’s falling out, for instance) and – when they aren’t being overly flattering – are a nice touch.

The highlight of the book, though, is his harrowing account of the 2008 plane crash and its aftermath. The incident claimed the lives of four people on board, including two of his closest friends; the only other survivor – Adam Goldstein, a.k.a. DJ AM – died less than a year later from a drug overdose. Barker – who was always afraid of flying – writes about the chilling experience and its consequences: he was left with third-degree burns on 65 percent of his body and broke his back in three places; required 26 surgeries; and suffered from post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt, and suicidal thoughts. His account of the gruesome ordeal makes for tough yet riveting reading.

The drummer’s life is so eventful and unusual that it automatically makes his book fascinating, but Can I Say – which was co-written with Gavin Edwards – could have been better organized. There are parts of it that feel repetitive, and sometimes the book just jumps around from topic to topic. Still, the biography is chock full of information about Travis Barker and his many musical projects, and fans of rock music – and obviously Blink-182 fans in particular – are likely to enjoy this volume.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 31st August, 2017 *

Friday, August 25, 2017

Baby Driver - an offbeat heist caper

movie review 

Baby Driver 

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal
Director: Edgar Wright
Tagline: All you need is one killer track.

When most filmmakers seem content with retreading familiar ground and sticking to tried and tested formulas, it is refreshing to see someone try something a little different. That’s what British director Edgar Wright has done with Baby Driver, a heist caper that plays out against the backdrop of near-constant music.

Based on an idea that the director came up with over two decades ago, the film follows the tale of a getaway driver, nicknamed Baby (played by Ansel Elgort), who listens to nonstop music in order to mask the ringing in his ears which he has had since being involved in a car accident that killed his parents when he was a child.

Baby works as a getaway driver for a rotating crew of rag-tag bank robbers led by Doc (Kevin Spacey), but hopes to leave behind his dicey past after performing one final heist and paying off the debt he owes to Doc for stealing one of the kingpin’s cars. But his escape from the criminal world is short-lived when he finds himself being threatened by Doc and coerced into returning for another heist.

Things don’t go quite as planned, leaving Baby to figure out how to escape his predicament and protect the people he loves – particularly his girlfriend Debora (Lily James), who is a waitress at a local diner, and his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).

Baby Driver’s premise may not be very original, but it’s the offbeat execution and eclectic soundtrack that make the film stand out in the well-worn genre of crime capers. Wright has managed to give an old tale a new spin, and has made the project all the more impressive by coming up with well-executed action sequences coupled with good cinematography.

That said, the film, on the whole, isn’t nearly as exciting as one would hope. All too often, it feels like the filmmakers chose style over substance. The movie doesn’t really manage to transcend your typical action film clichés and stereotypes. Also, the female characters aren’t very well crafted. And Wright’s script can be downright corny – there are times when the dialogues are practically cringe worthy.

As for the cast, Elgort isn’t exactly the best choice for an action film lead and is a tad boring in the titular role. And while the supporting cast is terrific – Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal play some of the members of the heist crews in the movie – their characters rarely get to do anything memorable in the film.

On the whole, the latest offering by the Cornetto trilogy mastermind is a fast-paced, well-made action flick that doesn’t quite have the depth to dazzle its audience but still impresses with its esthetics and visuals.

Rating: 3 out of 5

- S.A. 

Us Magazine, The News - 25th August, 2017 *

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sorry Not Sorry - to Glee and beyond: the story of Naya Rivera

book review 

Book: Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up 
Author: Naya Rivera

Say what you will about teen drama Glee, but you have to admit that the series was a terrific showcase for young talent. The musical comedy propelled a number of hitherto unknown performers to global fame, many of whom have continued their journey in the entertainment industry since the show wrapped up two years ago. Among its prominent alumni is actress Naya Rivera, who received praise for her portrayal of the acerbic Santana Lopez, but also gained attention for the drama that appeared to be surrounding both her personal and professional life during and after her time on the Fox series.

The actress has opened up about her struggles and triumphs both on- and off-screen in Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, a memoir that explores the salient events from her life, from her childhood to the present day.

Rivera talks about her beginnings as a child actress, starting with appearances in advertisements as a baby, and culminating in her first television role in The Royal Family at the age of five when her budding career hit a snag – the sitcom was cancelled after only one season following the death of its star, Redd Foxx (who suffered a sudden heart attack on the show’s set and passed away a few hours later). Despite getting a guest spot on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and a recurring role on Family Matters, the young performer couldn’t land any significant jobs in Hollywood during her childhood, and her acting career had effectively dried up by the end of elementary school.

The actress subsequently found herself struggling with anorexia and was misdiagnosed with depression. Her family also ended up facing financial problems, which further strained her parents’ – “aspiring model” mother and “surfer boy” father – rocky marriage, leading to their divorce when she was 17.

Despite a series of odd jobs – including telemarketing, waitressing, and working in retail – Rivera stacked up a huge debt at a young age that would eventually take her 5 years to pay off, and had almost given up on her acting dream when she was cast in Glee, a little show that would go on to garner massive attention.

She relays the experience of being a part of the series, and says the cast and crew were “just as close-knit and the dynamics just as messy as they were on-screen”. She touches up on her rumoured feud with Lea Michele, saying that they are both “strong-willed and competitive” which is not a good mix; fondly remembers Cory Monteith, expressing her heartbreak at his untimely, “unnecessary” death; and says she isn’t “totally shocked” about her ex-boyfriend Mark Salling’s current legal troubles.

Also discussed in detail is her well-publicised relationship with ex-fiancé Big Sean and the very public dissolution of their engagement, which was quickly followed by her wedding to Ryan Dorsey, who was her husband at the time of the writing of this memoir. Rivera gushes about Dorsey – with whom she has a son, Josey – and tries to depict her marriage in a very positive light even though the couple separated a few months after the publication of this volume.

As with most such books, Sorry Not Sorry is a light, quick read. The prose is simple, although that is to be expected – you aren’t going to pick up a celebrity memoir if you wanted to read quality literature. But the book is fairly adequately written, and the author manages to get her point across in an interesting, engaging way. Rivera comes off as quite candid in the memoir, especially when she openly talks about difficult or controversial topics, like her financial troubles, suffering from an eating disorder, decision to have an abortion, getting plastic surgery at the age of 18, and her identity struggles as a mixed race, “quarter-white, quarter-black, half-Puerto Rican” woman. But this memoir isn’t exactly a tell-all. There are several topics that Rivera could have discussed in more depth. Even when she talks about an issue – like her purported feud with Michele, or Ariana Grande’s role in her split from Big Sean – she doesn’t really offer any proper details. There are several other subjects she could have delved into; for instance, she could have talked more about her siblings or explained why her music career stalled and her debut album never surfaced.

And she could have definitely shared more stories from the set of Glee, since the show's fans are most likely to read and enjoy this slim volume. If you are not significantly impressed by the actress or her best known project, then there isn’t much in Sorry Not Sorry that will pique your interest. But if you’ve enjoyed her work and miss the musical comedy that made her famous, then this book will offer enough titbits to entertain you while inspiring you with tales about the actress’s life and career struggles.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 13th August, 2017 *

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - trying to be funny

book review

Confessions that appear to have been undertaken for form’s sake

Book: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer is one of the most talked-about comedians of recent years. The 35-year-old shot to massive fame with the release of her film Trainwreck — the publicity blitz surrounding this big-screen venture made it impossible for anyone to avoid the actor. She also released an HBO stand-up special, performed as an opening act for Madonna, and landed a book deal for a reported eight million dollars.

However, the actor hasn’t been able to maintain the momentum since her meteoric rise. Schumer has been over-promoted to the point of audience fatigue, hounded by plagiarism accusations, criticised for some of her more controversial statements, and has put her television show on an extended hiatus amidst falling ratings.

After her jump from newfound fame to overexposure, she published The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, a collection of candid essays about everything from her family to her relationships.

Schumer begins by saying the book — the title of which is a play on Stieg Larsson’s bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — is not an autobiography, acknowledging that she has “a long way to go until [she] is memoir-worthy.” Instead, she describes it as a set of stories from her life as a “daughter, sister, friend, comedian, actor, girlfriend, one-night stand, employee, employer, lover, fighter, hater, pasta eater, and wine drinker.”

As expected, there are anecdotes about dating athletes and a musician (whose identities are not revealed), and listicles about things that make her happy and things that make her “insanely furious,” but she doesn’t shy away from delving into heavier topics either.

Born into a well-to-do family, several twists of fate changed the course of Schumer’s life. Her parents lost their wealth when she was a child, her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and her mother subsequently had an affair with Schumer’s best friend’s father, which led to her parents’ divorce. She also shares the harrowing experiences of being in a physically and psychologically abusive relationship and being sexually assaulted by a boyfriend. Also discussed is the tragic shooting in a theatre at a showing of Trainwreck which claimed the lives of two young women, an incident that has since led her to advocate for gun safety.

In several chapters Schumer talks about difficult personal and social issues, broaching topics that many wouldn’t be comfortable discussing openly. Readers are likely to be impressed by her boldness and strength, and find her body-positive attitude inspirational. Also, it is obvious that she cares deeply about her sister and brother and her love for them is endearing. Perhaps that is why her words are at their most powerful when she writes about her family.

It is hard to deny, however, that the book constantly gives an impression of being formulaic. Over the last few years, many American comedians — including Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham — have published collections of confessional essays. Everyone has been jumping on the female memoir — or “femoir”, as it has been dubbed — bandwagon, and this is what Schumer is doing too.

In a note to readers at the very start of the book, Schumer says she has no wisdom or advice to offer, but then she spends much of the book trying to do just that. Even though the empowerment angle and “love yourself” message have become fairly routine at this point, the comedian continues to emulate this inspirational tone in trying to spin every flaw and failure into a positive while asserting self-worth, straining to find wisdom at every turn, and often falling short.

The humour, as you would expect if you’re familiar with Schumer’s work, is generally crude, but her inability to finish a thought without making it about sex gets tiring quickly. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo’s worst offence, however, is that the book simply isn’t that funny. Of course, humour is subjective and some might find more amusement here than others, but the book just doesn’t deliver the level of mirth you’d expect from a collection written by a comedian. It certainly isn’t devoid of wit — there are several amusing observations buried in the text — but the jokes don’t always work.

Perhaps something is lost in the transition from stage to page; what might have been funny as part of her act just falls flat here. Obviously, if someone is good at stand-up comedy, that doesn’t automatically mean they are also a good writer. Performance and prose are two very different mediums; a style that works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other. In the case of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, the author’s casual tone seems too conversational and rambling. Instead of coherent and clear essays, the pieces come off as a jumbled mess of thoughts, more akin to overlong, meandering blog posts than book chapters. Schumer jumps from topic to topic in no particular order which gives the book a disorganised feel, and random subjects, such as her stuffed toys and her preferred funeral arrangements, won’t fascinate anyone except her most ardent admirers.

- Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 30th April, 2017 *