Brothers and Sisters: The First Season

Tolstoy’s famous quote, from the novel Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” is the first thing that comes to mind after watching ABC’s family drama, Brothers and Sisters.

This drama follows the lives of the Walker family which is left completely shattered after the death of William Walker (Tom Skerritt), the head of the clan. Spiralling from his death are dark family secrets that start to seep out and threaten the intimacy of the family and raise questions regarding the character of Walker, too.

Academy Award winner Sally Field portrays Nora Walker, mother to the Walker siblings and widow of William. She discovers that her husband had fathered an illegitimate child, a daughter, as the result of an affair. Through the course of this season, she tries her best to come to terms with a legacy of the William she never knew. It was for this role that Field won an Emmy for Lead Actress.

The rest of the ensemble cast is made up of established stars. Rachel Griffiths, Calista Flockhart, Balthazar Getty, Matthew Rhys, Dave Annable, and Emily VanCamp, portray the distinct and unique Walker siblings. Each sibling comes to terms with their father’s death and the discovery of his dark secrets, one of them being VanCamp’s character, the step-sibling from an affair their father had.

Brothers and Sisters is a drama that was anticipated for its star-studded cast more than its story. But now that the first season is over, it is the witty and graceful storyline woven through each member of the Walker clan that has captivated the TV viewing audience. The first season, filled with special features, is now available.

(Originally published in the March 27, 2008 edition of The Review)


Childhood’s End -- Arthur C Clarke, Science Fiction Writer, Dead at 90

Think of Arthur C Clarke and the first thing that would come to your mind is a giant monolith floating in space against the backdrop of the sun and the awe-inspiring musical motif provided by composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Think of his stories and you will be taken a million miles away on an amazing journey of fantasy and science fiction. But this giant of science fiction came from very humble beginnings.

The son of a farmer and a post office worker, Arthur C Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England. His tryst with science fiction came into being when he discovered a copy of Astounding Stories of Super-Science, a science fiction magazine of its time. It was all the inspiration he ever needed, he then joined the British Interplanetary Society, a group of science fiction buffs who argued that space travel was very much possible and that man achieve it in the distant future: a view Clarke strongly believed in.

His first published novel “Against the Fall of Night” (originally published in a magazine) would years later become the inspiration for the movie, “Pitch Black.” And his other novel, “The Hammer of God” inspired two summer blockbusters, “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”. Clarke’s imagination fascinated viewers, readers and even scientists alike. “I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.” Gene Roddenberry cited Clarke’s work as the inspiration behind his own creation, Star Trek.

His stories ranged from the apocalyptic, “Childhood’s End”, a story which described the final stage in humanity’s evolution to the genuinely weird, “Nine Billion Names of God” in which a group of monk scientists make a startling and strange discovery.

In the spring of 1964, Stanley Kubrick approached Arthur C Clarke with the idea to make a “proverbial really good science fiction movie”. Clarke was known for revisiting old ideas and rewriting them with a new twist. He used the template from an older story, “The Sentinel” and together with Kubrick (who wrote the screenplay) wrote the novel for the next four years. Kubrick would produce and direct the film which although wasn’t as successful in its time, it has found itself to have attained legendary status in cinematic history. From the appearance of the awe inspiring Monolith at the beginning of the movie and the infamous bone transforming into spaceship scene to the poignant humanity of szichophrenic computer HAL to the ominous creation of the Star-Child at the end of the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” continues astonish audiences today.

He went on to write three more sequels to the book, out of which only one was made into a movie, “2010: The Year We Make Contact”. Currently, only “Rendezvous with Rama” is one of his works which is in consideration to be made into a movie.

Though he achieved much, he had little or no regrets in life. He played a pivotal role in the development of the modern day radar, a development that provided success to the Royal Air Force in World War 2. He once recalled to a friend that he had lost billions of dollars by not applying for a patent for one of his most important ideas: using satellites as a form of communication relays. It is in his honor that the orbit that satellites use to revolve around earth is called “Clarke Orbit” by the International Astronomical Union.

In 1956, he permanently settled in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he discovered the wonders of scuba and underwater diving. He told friends and family that it would be as close to the weightlessness of space as he could possibly get. Along with his love for diving, Clarke fell in love with the nation of Sri Lanka and suffered terrible heartbreak as he watched the nation spiral into one of the longest and most devastating conflicts in the region.

A severe attack of polio in 1962 and development of post-polio symptoms in 1984 had limited him to a wheelchair. His vision and imagination knew no bounds. Only recently he had reviewed the manuscript to his latest novel, “The Last Theorem” co-written with American author, Frederik Pohl. The book is stated to be published in late 2008. Speaking about the book to Agence France-Presse, he said, “This could well be my last novel, but I’ve said that before.”

Though he explored strange new worlds, introduced us to advanced cultures and ventured to galaxies light years away in his stories, he kept his own life very private. He married in 1953 to Marilyn Mayfield, also a diving enthusiast, but divorced in 1964, with no children.

Perhaps it is his own words – the ones he chose to be put on his gravestone – that give us a glimpse of who he really was: "Here lies Arthur C Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing.”

Arthur C Clarke died on March 19, 2008 in Colombo, Sri Lanka due to respiratory complications and heart failure.

(Originally published in the 30th March, 2008 edition of Dawn Images)


Anthony Minghella – The English Director

Before “The English Patient”, no one had even heard of the son of Gloria and Edward Minghella, ice cream factory owners. Anthony Minghella was born on the Isle of Wight at Ryde, on 6 January 1954, where he went on to attend Sandown Grammar School and St John's College (Portsmouth). He abandoned the pursuit of doctoral thesis after completing undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Instead, Minghella concentrated on producing plays in the mid seventies working his way into television as a script editor for children’s BBC TV show “Grange Hill” and later as a staff writer on “Jim Henson’s Storyteller”. He would later go on to write for mainstream British television, writing for the series “Inspector Morse” in particular.

In 1990, his made-for-TV drama “Truly Madly Deeply” gained critical acclaim and went on to be released in theatres. Thus, his foray into cinema began. Minghella focused on adapting literature that had a rich visual vocabulary, moving dialogue and powerful themes that won accolades and found audiences.

It was because of such vision that Minghella won the Oscar for “The English Patient” in 1997. It was nominated for a massive 12 awards and ultimately won 9 but it wasn’t just the Oscar that honored the picture it also won the Golden Globe Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Film. It was also a Box Office success quickly gaining the status of the highest-grossing non-IMAX film (and second highest-grossing film overall) to never reach the weekend box office top 5.

He had recently finished work on “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” an adaptation of a novel by Alexander McCall Smith, for HBO and the BBC. It will serve as a pilot for a series.

Like his films which never failed to find awards and accolades, his death also finds a plethora of tribute from friends, co-workers and viewers from around the world. Ralph Fiennes, actor, “The English Patient”, spoke of him, “I am devastated and shocked to hear of Anthony Minghella’s death. Anthony possessed a sensitivity and alertness to the actor’s process that very few directors have. He directed most of The English Patient with an ankle in plaster, never losing his gentle humour and precision. He delighted in the contribution of everyone - he was a true collaborator. His films deal with extreme aloneness and the redemptive power of love, even at the moment of death. I will remember him as a man who always wanted to get to the heart of the matter.”

The writer Canadian-Sri Lankian Michael Ondaatje was extremely satisfied with the adaptation of “The English Patient” and called Minghella "one of [his] dearest friends".

Chris Jones, critic for Chicago Tribune, writes “Minghella was struck down in the middle of his career. I remember him as an enviable wunderkind, a renaissance man of the drama who could do anything he wanted.”

Famed director Sydney Pollack spoke to the New York Times, “He was interested in the magic. Not fake magic, like hiding the ball under the cup, but real magic, the kind that occurs between people. Nowadays, everybody making movies wants to get the clothes off fast and the guns out quick, he was just the opposite. He was interested in the poetry, lavishing the viewer with story, and scope and richness. Look at what you got for your $12 ticket with Anthony.”

“He was interested in the magic,” Mr. Pollack said. “Not fake magic, like hiding the ball under the cup, but real magic, the kind that occurs between people. Nowadays, everybody making movies wants to get the clothes off fast and the guns out quick, he was just the opposite. He was interested in the poetry, lavishing the viewer with story, and scope and richness. Look at what you got for your $12 ticket with Anthony.”

Anthony Minghella died due to post-complications he suffered from Tonsil Cancer surgery on 18 March, 2008.

(Originally published at the March 30th, 2008, edition of Dawn Images)


It's A Crude World Out There -- There Will Be Blood

The ago old Jedi saying is, "Always two there are: A master and an apprentice." If that's the case, it fits the relationship Robert Altman had with director Paul Thomas Anderson perfectly. Anderson cherished being Altman's apprentice, serving as a standby director for Altman's A Prairie Home Companion for insurance purposes, as the elder director was 80 years old at the time. In the last conversation they had, Altman would tell him, "I think this film is something different for you."

He was talking about Anderson's latest movie, There Will Be Blood. Though Altman never got to see the finished product (he passed away in late 2006), his gut feeling proved to be true. There Will Be Blood was nominated for eight Academy Awards and critics agree that this is Anderson's finest work yet. But that's not what Robert Altman meant when he said different.

The movie is set against the turn-of-the-century oil craze in the United States (an American craze that continues to exist but has moved into the Middle East), and shows how the discovery of oil shapes the life of silver prospector Daniel Plainview, portrayed brilliantly Daniel Day-Lewis, who recently won his second Oscar for this role. We follow his life, from the discovery of oil, how it transforms him and how it ultimately ignites a passion that not only doesn't die, but instead shines brighter as the story ends.

Anderson belongs to a generation of VCR filmmakers. These directors learned the craft not in classrooms or through the lens, but through hours of watching movies on videocassettes. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, along with Anderson are a few directors that belong to this school. Most of their movies are ensemble pieces, have intricate storylines and multiple main characters. Their stories are downright gritty, poignant and funny. But most of all, as a whole, their stories have a real quality about them. Though sometimes the plot or setup may be outrageous, an irony of kismet or grand design at work in their stories. And while most of these directors have now an established list of films on their shelves, There Will Be Blood is only Anderson's fifth motion picture. This doesn't mean that he's not been given any chances or is considered risky; Anderson can be credited for reviving the career of Burt Reynolds and transforming Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as A list stars.

The young filmmaker originally set out to write the story of two quarreling families, but was unhappy and lost with the script. It was during this time in London, that he was withdrawn from the script and homesick. Shopping for books, he was drawn to one which showed a Californian oilfield. That book was Oil!, a novel by Upton Sinclair. Though the novel primarily dealt with politics of that day and the political views of Upton himself, Anderson saw the relationships of the characters with each other as the primary crux of the story. Setting the book as an influence, Anderson quickly adapted the theme and the setting and used them to flush out his own story and characters. But there's also something else that was important that made Anderson select that book and that story, and that's perception. "I wonder what people's perception of California is sometimes," he tells LA Weekly. "Do people perceive it as this land of recreation? That's such a misconception, I think. That area, that San Joaquin Valley — on one side of the freeway are all those crops and on the other side are these oil fields. It's amazing — just the leap of a freeway and its two completely different things. And to think, there's oil on one side of it and there isn't on the other."

Daniel Day-Lewis is by far the most talented actor of his time. He's also a very peculiar actor, in the sense that we'll never see him as a villain in the next Spider-Man or Die-Hard movies but we will see him portray characters like Daniel Plainview from this movie. Plainview is the volatile fuel that drives the story, his ambitions and unpredictable behavior draws the rest of the characters in and fits them around himself, like jigsaw pieces.

Paul Dano is part of the supporting cast, portraying not one, but two roles. He plays twin brothers, Paul and Eli Sunday, who cross paths with Plainview. Dano, previously seen in Little Miss Sunshine, plays more of Eli than of Paul. Eli Sunday is first and foremost a fanatic. As the leader of a new church, Eli Sunday thinks he's a man of vision rather than a man of ambition which is what he thinks Plainview to be. Dillon Freasier portrays H.W., the deaf, adoptive, son of Plainview. Though a first time actor, the young Freasier is at complete calm and ease next to his more experienced co-actor, Day-Lewis. Though there are other characters throughout the movie, the only two that really matter are Plainview and Sunday. Even the film's tagline, "There will be greed. There will be vengeance," speaks about Plainview's maniacal greed and Sunday's fanatical vengeance.

So what is it that makes this movie different, as Robert Altman said it would be for Anderson? Well, this is a grand story whose every moment is volatile and far different from the sublime and weirdness of Magnolia. The story more or less revolves around one character, Plainview, unlike Boogie Nights, which was an ensemble piece. And although this movie clocks in more than two and a half hours long, the pacing is much faster than that of his previous movies.

Ultimately, it is different because both Boogie Nights, Magnolia and all of other Anderson's previous work was influenced by his master. Altman knew that There Will Be Blood was Anderson's first and foremost step into becoming a master for himself.

And of course only time will tell when Anderson will complete the journey that will make him into the master Altman was.

Throughout the mid and late-90s, these writer-directors found their niche by studying movies on VCRs. Hence, the eponymous name of the group which comprises of some of the most profound directors of our time, some of which include:

Quentin Tarantino: Though he started out as a writer (Natural Born Killers, True Romance), Tarantino ultimately broke into the ranks of the director elite with Pulp Fiction in 1995.

Kevin Smith: Having sold his entire comic book collection, this director from Jersey set out to write, direct and star in Clerks. An off the wall look at life in a convenience store filled with colourful character commentary on everything from life to Star Wars.

Robert Rodriguez: Starting at the early age of eight, young Robert was fascinated by the addition of the VCR in his home. Needless to say, Robert started being a film-maker at a very young age. So much was his enthusiasm that he has excelled in all parts of movie-making, earning him the nickname of “the one-man film crew.”

(This review was published on the 9th March edition of DAWN Images)

There’s something about Garaj

They’ve been around for a while now, performing locally and even internationally at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of the Earthquake Relief Fund. And after travelling here and there, performing all along the way, they’ve finally released their first self-titled album.

Karam Abbas Khan (lead vocalist) and Imran Ahmed (guitarist) are the two musicians that make Garaj. Karam hails from a family of musicians from the Gawalior Gharana and is the son of the Late Ustaad Ahmad Ali Khan. Whilst Imran handles the rest of the sound, i.e., guitars and such.

The first thing you ask yourself after hearing this album is: What is their sound? Quite frankly, it’s difficult to pin them down, primarily because they’re a fusion act that plays classical, rock, funk, hip-hop and even a hint of trance/electronic. Obviously, when they’re juggling so many genres there are bound to be some casualties.

The album starts to suffer with its first two tracks, Dil Muchlay and Dil Naal Dil. Granted, Karam’s singing is almost hypnotic but it soon becomes annoying and you find yourself reaching to switch to the next track and then again to the third track. Here’s where things get slightly interesting.

Aja Mahi is the song that almost could. We hear the true potential of Karam’s vocal prowess and Imran’s minimalist guitar carries the song through. But what stops this song from becoming possibly the best track on the album is overkill on part of production: a case of too many effects spoiling the track.

Tujh Bin Ghar is the most mediocre track on the album. It sounds like so many other tracks from so many other bands and is clearly the filler piece of the album. Tum Bin Lagay Nahi suffers from weak and almost mouldy lyrics. Mouldy because they are like spoiled cheese but its strength comes from very a very basic sound, something this band should do more often rather than relying on effects and production overkill.

Tum Bin Ik Pal Chain sounds more like an arcade game soundtrack than a proper musical piece. Clearly no serious effort has been put in to fine tune and hone this track. Ajana Morey takes things to an almost retro type beat and although while it’s catchy, it suffers from the same directionless sound heard before on this album.

Jis Din Na Milo Gi and Tanha, Tanha are the purest tracks here. Unadulterated from excessive effects and beats, the almost ghazal-like sound soothes the mood of the listener.

At the end, there’s definitely something about Garaj. But clearly the debut album suffers from lack of direction and excessive production to the tracks. Think the perfect donut but with too much sugar. With proper guidance and fine tuning this album (and this band) could take on the likes of Fuzon or even Jal for that matter. One can only imagine what this album would have sounded like if someone like say Mekaal Hasan had produced it.

As a new band breaking on to the scene, Garaj has to be lauded for talent if not the effort. Ultimately though, it is the fans that will have the final word on Garaj: Will they strike a chord with the masses or wash out like the proverbial baras?