Most Wanted

It seems that Hollywood has fallen in love with comic books all over again. Ever since Spider-Man swung his way into the box office, Hollywood has set its sights on bringing each and every comic book to the big screen.

Wanted is the latest in a string of Hollywood comic book adaptations and it has big stars and even bigger explosions. The story tells of a young man Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) living a life of misery and despair. His employer is an abusive and overbearing woman, his girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend and to top it all, poor Gibson suffers from frequent anxiety attacks that prevent him from taking control of his life.

The film is based on the comic of the same name, written by Mark Millar and illustrated by J.G. Jones and follows very little from the original. The film reads through the first few pages of the comic and a couple of issues later Hollywood decides to dictate the action, story and everything else in between. However, it’s refreshing to know that co-creator Millar was deeply involved with the film’s production and approved of the changes.

Millar expressed his view on the film and his doubts on the initial script to Wizard Magazine, “I wanted the film to basically be the opposite of Spider-Man, the idea of someone getting powers and realising they can do what they want, then choosing the dark path. The (script) I read was just too tame. It just seemed a little bit Americanised. But Timur came in with his Eastern European madness, and he really made it nasty. He went closer to the spirit of the book.”

Director Timur Bekmambetov makes his Hollywood debut after his fright fest horror movie, Night Watch. Bekmambetov was clearly hired for his intricate action sequences rather than his ability to draw the character out of the actor or set the pace of the plot. Speaking of characters, this film has some pretty interesting characters and actors.

It’s strange to see James McAvoy in this film. Not that you don’t expect him to be here but strange because some of the film he starred in were more character driven and had considerably less bullets. Atonement and The Last King of Scotland brought the young Scottish actor into the limelight, but it will be Wanted that will make him a familiar face in Hollywood.

Angelina Jolie plays Fox, mentor to Gibson, and a member of the Fraternity of Assassins. Though Jolie is a considerably good actress she often does roles where her characters often end up without their garbs (Beowulf, Original Sin) or always comes out guns blazing (Tomb Raider, Mr and Mrs Smith). Her role in Wanted is part Gone in 60 Seconds and part Tomb Raider: Smart-talking, gun-swinging and generally pouting towards the direction of the camera.

The leader of the Fraternity of Assassins, Sloan (Morgan Freeman) offers a two-fold revelation to the young Wesley that will change his life forever: His father was a deadly assassin and he is supposed to exact revenge on the murderer. Freeman is at ease with this kind of role, you can clearly tell he’s hardly flexing any acting muscle, yet at the same time he’s doing a good job about it — kind of like that Mr Universe bodybuilder that flexes for all show.

Rounding up the cast are Common, the rapper-turned-actor who plays The Gunsmith and the token-coloured character of the film, and Konstantin Khabensky as The Exterminator. He was cast so the director would have a familiar face around. Khabensky also starred in Bekmambetov’s Night Watch.

Wanted has had its share of writers. Originally written by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, screenwriter Chris Morgan was hired to revise the third act of the script. And when Angelina Jolie joined the cast, screenwriter Dean Georgaris was brought in to tailor the role of her character for her.

This film is all about action sequences. Though we’ve all seen it before a la Equilibrium, The Matrix and Transporter, Bekmambetov does pull in a few interesting twists to the tried and tested formula of Bullet Time and Gun Kata action sequences.

Hollywood is mining these comic books for all they’re worth, while creators Mark Millar and J.G. Jones have said they won’t write a sequel to their comics, director Bekmambetov has already worked out a second outing, much to the delight of the studio executives.

Will Wanted be what fans want? Judging by the initial trailer downloads and the buzz it’s been generating, yes it will be — but comic book film adaptations are a tricky art. Judging by the current trend and rave, however, fans will definitely get what they want.


House MD - The Elementary Medical Doctor

Gregory HouseImage via Wikipedia
Dr Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) believes that everyone lies. That’s because he lies, has been lied to and has seen people lie to each other. With so many lies going around him, it’s no wonder that he has such a pessimistic, bleak view of life and no bedside manner to speak of.

For three seasons now, House MD has captivated audiences and reinvented the medical drama, a genre previously perfected by ER and the infamous M*A*S*H series. But House MD brings an element of mystery and detective work to the medical genre along with sharp, witty and thought provoking dialogue.

The premise of the series is a medical mystery drama and what better inspiration than Sherlock Holmes. Creator David Shore modelled House on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous English detective. Certain mannerisms like drug addiction and a friendly sidekick crossed through verbatim in the adaptation. An irony unto itself, however, since Doyle based Holmes on his associate Dr Bell, whose specialty was diagnosis.

Through the seasons, both House as a character and Laurie as an actor have progressed considerably. Laurie brings a wry, sarcastic touch and at times a sense of anger to his character. Known for his small British comedy roles, the actor fooled producer Bryan Singer, with a deadpan audition, into believing that he was an American.

Joining him, are Lisa Edelstein as Dr Cuddy, House’s boss and the punch line for many of his jokes. Omar Epps portrays Dr Eric Foreman, a headstrong doctor, who always gets in House’s way, because Foreman sees House as more of a nuisance than a genius. But time and events have made Foreman make peace with both the nuisance and the genius. Jennifer Morrison’s character, Dr Allison Cameron, starts off as a near-romantic interest to House but quickly pulls back. Dr Robert Chase, Jesse Spencer, is an ambiguous character: at times he’s tried his best to get House in trouble, but at other times, he’s probably the only ally he has.

Robert Sean Leonard portrays House’s polar opposite, Dr James Wilson, the Watson to his Holmes. Leonard’s astuteness for stating the obvious to House is what keeps the doctor detective at bay and in check. But through all the show’s seasons, we see even Wilson starting to see House as a burden.

Three seasons of House MD are now available. Each season has bonus material, including commentary and behind the scenes features.

(This review appeared in the 26th June, 2008, edition of The Review)

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The Monster Maker

He was the master artist that gave shape and life to the creatures and monsters of the silver screen. Stan Winston was best known for shaping the look of three films; the assassin cyborgs from Terminator, the rampant dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park series and the nightmarish and monstrous aliens from Alien.

Winston began his career in the early ’70s as a make-up artist apprentice at Walt Disney Studios. It was a decade later that James Cameron hired him to design the Terminator robot for his film and the following year, the director hired him again and together with artist H.R. Geiger, the Alien monster was born.

His flair for the unknown, weird and downright scary monstrous creations continued throughout the ’90s with movies such as Edward Scissorhands, Jurassic Park, Island of Dr Moreau and Lake Placid.

Winston was considered to be one of the pioneers of the hand made special effects genre, along with his contemporaries, such as Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Winston tried his best to keep things as realistic as possible, using computer graphics only when necessary.

His latest work included Iron Man and Constantine, and he was currently working on a string of big budget projects, including the upcoming Terminator Salvation film starring Christian Bale.

Stan Winston, Academy Award winning special effects wizard, make-up artist and film director, passed away on June 15th 2008.

(This obituary appeared in the June 23rd Edition, 2008 edition of Dawn Images.)
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Getting Carried Away - A review of The Sex and The City Movie

This is the summer of blockbusters. There are films about men in iron suits attacking other men in iron suits, giant angry green men fighting on the streets of New York and then a man in a bat suit chasing a clown! See the common thread there? Usually the summer blockbuster is staple entertainment for 20-somethings around the world. It has been this way for some time now.

However, this year things appear to be quite different from the usual suspects of testosterone-driven, CGI-infested blockbusters. Four young(ish) women from New York will change all that. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) reunite for the motion picture adaptation of HBO’s Prime Time, Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning series, Sex and the City.

The original series, based on a novel by Candace Bushnell, premiered on HBO on June 6, 1998, and was one of the highest-rated sitcoms of the season. It became an anchor for the subscription-based network and pitted it against the free-to-air networks at the time. And because of its cable status, HBO claimed an edge over the other networks in being able to push the envelope of the series’ content by staying somewhat true to the book. The show ran for six seasons and defined the woman of the 21st century, her fashion sense and her ambitions: Both for work and love.

Now, four years later, and 10 years after the show first started, Carrie and the gang take their adventures and stories to the big screen. The film opens to the classic voiceover by Carrie explaining that “Year after year, 20-something women come to New York City in search of the two ‘L’s: Labels and love.” With that brief sentence (add another good two decades to the age factor) she recaptures and reiterates the essence of the series. The montage that follows brings us up to date on the characters and their story, four years after the show ended.

Here’s a quick primer on where our favorite characters are now: Miranda is now living in Brooklyn with Steve (David Eigenberg), their son, Brady, and their housekeeper, Magda (Lynn Cohen); Charlotte and Harry (Evan Handler) live in Upper East Side bliss with their daughter, Lily; and Samantha has made Malibu her home and manages the career of her actor boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis). Meanwhile, Carrie herself is almost settling down with her on-again off-again but now on-for-the-moment beau, Mr Big aka John James Preston portrayed by Chris Noth.

Joining in the cast is Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson. She plays Carrie’s personal assistant, Louise, and brings a point of view from the younger members of the audiences, the 20-something crowd, about the show.

They say that behind every successful man is a woman. In this case it’s four successful women and behind them are two men: Michael Patrick King and Darren Star. It would be a mammoth task to bring the vision and feel of the show to the big screen, and any other director would have quite a difficult time. But not Michael Patrick King. He was an executive producer on the original show along with show creator Darren Star. He also directed most of the show’s latter seasons.

Star paid Bushnell a reported $50,000 for the rights of her book and her columns and used them to develop the series, which would be realised by directors such as King later on in the season’s run. But it is King now who directs and writes the film and he has kept Star’s original vision in mind.

This, however, is not the first time they’ve tried to make a Sex and the City film. Shortly after the series ended in 2004, rumors began to circulate about the film. Nothing came to realisation however, as further rumors instigated that three out of the four girls did not want to sign up unless they were being paid almost or equal to the amount that Sarah Jessica Parker was getting. There were also rumours that Kim Cattrall did not see eye to eye with Sarah Jessica Parker because the latter had trimmed down the former’s character in the show’s later years.

Sarah Jessica Parker became the producer of the show later on in its run and indeed, the limelight shifted from the show-stealing Cattrall to the show’s star, Parker. But it seems all of that is buried in kitty litter now as the girls put their past differences aside for this outing.

By definition, Sex and the City is the mother of all chick flicks. Add one part marriage, one part couple wanting a baby, two parts woman coming to terms with her age, and a dash of romance sprinkled with funny moments all round. But you can’t limit it to that; it’s so much more.

For fans of the show this film is like getting a letter from a loved one, a visual treat and nod to a series that brought so much fun and joy to its fans. To its critics, it is everything that is wrong about the show: A giant glorification of beauty that is skin deep and celebrating bad jokes in just as bad a taste.

It is no justification to call this film a romantic comedy. Sure, there are moments that are romantic and moments that are comedic. It’s also emotionally realistic, even brutal. The characters are now in their 40s and 50s, and yet they continue to navigate the choppy waters of urban life, negotiating relationships, work, fertility and friendship. Only now, because this is the film, the stakes are higher, the risks are bigger and decisions feel more permanent.

The story predominately revolves around Carrie getting married to Mr Big and interwoven in between are the stories of the other characters. At the same time, the stories are told in such a way that it confounds the audience’s expectations, but satisfyingly so. The surprise of course is in the ability to confound the expectation of an already established (and some would say exhausted) story of a character, which King so brilliantly does.

There is also the question of will they or won’t they? Women have had to bear with buildings being blown up and planes being hijacked and dinosaurs roaming the streets of the cities, so will men go to watch this film? It is only fair that now men bear with four women, as they talk about aging, life, relationships and love.

But being released on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, one would think it wouldn’t stand a chance. To date, Sex and the City has made $222,786,392 worldwide, meaning that fans have indeed welcomed the show back with breathless anticipation and open arms.

So is this the final chapter in the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha? Probably not. Because if Carrie and the girls have their way, they have a whole lot of stories left to tell.

(This review appeared in the June 15th Edition of DAWN Images)


Ugly Betty

Timeline of Colombian historyImage via WikipediaImagine if Cinderella was a girl who worked in the office of a publishing magazine, forever waiting for her fairy godmother and her chance to meet prince charming.

That may be the gist of Ugly Betty, but its true beauty lies beneath its surface. Starring newcomer America Ferrera (from the The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) as the title character Betty Suárez, the show sets itself apart from other shows by displaying an extremely broad sense of humour. But this is more of a dramedy than it is comedy, as Betty soon realises that she is in a difficult and testing world, being surrounded by chic, self-declared style gurus.

She may not live up to their standards of beauty, but as a person she may be the fairest in the land. This fact is discovered by her boss, editor-in-chief of MODE Magazine, Daniel Meade (played by Eric Mabius) who initially dismissed Betty as a nobody. But soon he begins to see her worth and decides to keep her around anyways. But not everyone takes a liking to Betty so easily, as is the case of receptionist and prankster Amanda Sommers (Becki Newton) and Marc St. James (Michael Urie), who try their best to humiliate Betty every chance they get.

The show is not an original, in fact it is adapted from a popular Columbian TV show, called “Yo soy Betty, la fea (I Am Betty, The Ugly One)”. The show has also been adapted as an Indian soap, “Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin” which also saw some success with our audiences.

Whatever the version, Ugly Betty is comedy show with an acute sense of humour laced with drama that will surely touch everyone’s hearts. Season one and two are now out on DVD but currently only the first season is available with special features.

(This review was published in the 12th June, 2008, edition of Dawn, The Review)
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YSL in Film...

Fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent passed away on June 2, 2008. Yves may not be with us today, but his influence will continue to live on. Not just through his work for the masses but also in the people, music and movies that have been influenced by him.

Yves Saint Laurent, a shy introverted person, brought about an extroverted change in the very weave of the fabric and the cut of the costume. Yves believed that the actor was the soul of the character that he or she portrayed and the costume its vessel or body. It played as much a part in creating that sense of belief for the audience as the actor did. At the age thirteen he attended a performance of L'Ecole des femme staged by Louis Jouvet and with sets and costumes by Christian Berard, the young French designer’s fascination began. The door to his future had been opened.

Count Hubert de Givenchy had already treaded onto the silver screen earlier with the 1954 romantic comedy, Sabrina. Though Givenchy would establish Audrey Hepburn in the now classic film as a sort of unearthly and unattainable beauty, Yves Saint Laurent would bring that fleeting sense of beauty within the reach of every woman.

His tryst with the silver screen began in 1963 with Blake Edward’s The Pink Panther. Yves Saint Laurent was hired to create wardrobes for the beautiful Claudia Cardinale and Capucine, and his designs impressed critics and audiences. Though the general audience may have overlooked the designs and wardrobe, the fashion world stood up and took notice.

He was 17 when he started working for a fashion house and at 24, still at House Dior, he started designing costumes for movies. It was however with The Pink Panther that he truly branched out with his own name and flair. He would go on to design fabulous wardrobes for Leslie Caron in A Very Special Favor and Jean Seberg in Moment to Moment.

In 1966, Spanish director Luis Buñuel hired Yves Saint Laurent for his motion picture Belle de Jour. In it Yves found his muse in the form of actress Catherine Deneuve. The friendship they formed on the set of the film was to last a lifetime, Deneuve would go on to model for the designer and her physical demeanor became the base of all his designs. In turn, the actress insisted on wearing only Yves Saint Laurent dresses for her movies, she would don his creations in such films as La Chamade, Mississippi Mermaid, Liza, Un flic and The Hunger. Yves Saint Laurent’s distinct fashion sense and Deneuve’s sense of character complemented each other in a marriage of beauty and temperament.

However, it is not just the world of cinema, music and fashion that have felt his influence. His largest influence has brought women onto the same level of power as men. Women like Hillary Clinton, for example, exude a sense of confidence and power that is helping them to possibly become the single most powerful person on the planet. What has given her that sense of power and prestige? Her trademark business suit. In actuality, it wasn’t even Yves Saint Laurent that brought the suit to the women, it was Coco Chanel. Yves Saint Laurent made the suit an every woman’s suit.

So whether it’s the business woman walking down the street or the lavish design in a motion picture, the legacy of Yves Saint Laurent continues to live on.

The Fashionable Algerian: The Man Who Knew What Women Wanted.

Designs in fashion come and go. Like the passing of a season, when the colors of nature change, so do the colors of fashion in the changing of trends. The industry and the nature of fashion itself are so volatile that the change can be either a slight tremor which overwhelms the present or a violent tsunami that erodes the landscape of fashion.

Through it all, there are very few constants. Fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent is such a constant. No matter how far the industry expands, such is the scope of his work that it will never escape his shadow or legacy.

The son of an insurance company president, Yves Henri Donat Dave Mathieu-Saint-Laurent left home at the age of 17 and found his calling in the world of fashion. He arrived in Paris with a portfolio of design sketches which was quickly swept up by Vogue editor Michel de Brunoff. The editor published the sketches and recommended the young Algerian to Christian Dior who ultimately hired him as an assistant.

His tenure at Dior was to weave his future in fashion, almost immediately after the death of Dior in 1957; a young Yves was put in charge of the faltering fashion house. With his flair for the excess and bravado, Yves managed to please and outrage House Dior during his short tenure there. Ages before John Galliano and Alexander McQueen he was considered fashion’s enfant terrible and years before designers like Calvin Klein and Tom Ford pushed the envelope between fashion and obscenity, Yves was shaking the sensibilities of the fashion world.

In 1960, things took a drastic turn and Yves was drafted into the French Army. Though his time there was short, it was excruciating painful for the shy Algerian, and his comrades in the army looked for every excuse to torture and tease him.

Two months later, having suffered a mental break down, Yves returned to fashion and it would be this stretch between the 60s and the 70s that he would truly leave his mark. Fashion historian Valerie Steele commented, “Most people would be lucky enough to leave a single contribution.” Yves’ contributions would literally shape the history of modern fashion. He went on to popularize a sensibility that was bohemian-chic, ultimately giving way for the hippie aesthetic that would come later on.

He drew inspiration from cultures around the world, welcoming such vastly different influences such as the traditional prints of Africa to Russian folkloric costumes. It wasn’t just culture and influence that he welcomed, Yves broke boundaries in all aspects of fashion. The designer was the first to use colored models on his runway, not as a gimmick but symbolizing them as unattainable beauty, valid and as enticing as any other. This move was bold and audacious, considering the times.

Yves was part of a quartet of designers, along with Christian Dior, "Coco" Chanel and Paul Poiret, who revolutionized, revitalized and reshaped the word of fashion. Without Yves ready to wear would not be what it is today.

Perhaps the single most powerful expression as a result of that is the woman’s suit. Of course the most Iconic of these is the Le Smoking tuxedo suit. Created in 1966, the suit established a minimalist, almost androgynous, style for women which put them on the same level of power as men.

His epitaph will not be written in stone or in words. Though the tributes are pouring in from all walks of life, from politicians to fashion gurus and from the world of music and film, none of these will do his work any justice. Instead his epitaph will be the dresses that fill the closets around the world and the stride put into the step of every woman through his designs. Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion gave freedom to women and it was Yves Saint Laurent himself who gave them the power to express that freedom.

The designer retired from the industry in 2002 and expressed his alienation at the current trends and industry. At the same time he fought a personal battle with depression and prescription drugs, which he came out of stating, "I've known fear and terrible solitude. Tranquilisers and drugs, those phony friends. The prison of depression and hospitals. I've emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.''

Yves Saint Laurent, one the top designers of the 20th century, died on June 2, 2008 in Paris.

(This Obit was originally published in the June 8th, 2008 edition of DAWN, Images.)

Woe to the Gmail.

Google's free email service, Gmail, revolutionised web-based email services trouncing both Hotmail and Yahoo! from their respective thrones when it was launched on April 1, 2004. It offered a mammoth one gigabyte of free space, with both POP3 and IMAP capabilities, and was an invite-only beta service at the time.

Fast forward four years, the free space is up to 6GBs, the service is free and open for all, the email service is linked to an online office application suite complete with a calendar and has a built-in chat service. With so many features, it is no wonder that Gmail has become a favourite among users worldwide. But being the best has a price: once Gmail achieved the status of an award winning multi-million user free email service, it became the target to the malicious hackers of the world.

People were blocked out of their own accounts, the data that they had stored online compromised — not to mention valuable information such as credit card details. Also, since Gmail was linked to other services such as Orkut, the vastness of the damage caused by such attacks can only be imagined.

Gmail uses a well-known web programming techniques called Ajax. These techniques use JavaScript to make function calls. At the same time, JavaScript transmits data such as emails and contacts in plaintext as data in the page source code. Hackers can then eavesdrop on this and become privy to personal and private information. But besides hackers, Google scans each and every email before it is open for the receiver. Users and critics alike have expressed concern over the fact that someone — even a computer — was reading and or scanning each mail that arrives. It puts the entire issue of e-privacy into question.

Consider this fact: each and every search query made into Google is saved. If you are logged into Gmail and searching on Google at the same time, then Google saves your search queries in particular, meaning that you build up a menagerie of your past searches and its results.

Not only that, Google combines the search queries with the information contained in the user’s email. No one knows why such information is gathered and Google states it is following industry-wide practices. One of the possible purposes derived by the critics is that such information is used by law enforcement agencies around the world. If that is not all, deleted information (such as mails) may take up to 60 days before they are removed from Google’s backup systems. Though Google has issued statements that it is actively restructuring its systems to remove deleted data faster, users are not that impressed.

With so much unsure information surrounding Gmail’s services, one can imagine it would be a pretty easy prey for hackers to target users and their Gmail accounts. But, the fact remains that even with all its shortcomings, there are plenty of users who are happy with its service.

Qasim Makkani, Associate Creative Director at an advertising agency, is an avid user of Gmail. His reasons for using Gmail are obvious, “It had unbelievable storage capacity, very convenient to use (very user-friendly), you can send and receive heavy attachments, and it's a darn cool brand,” he gushes about the services and offers suggestions on improving them.

But even Makkani has had bad experiences with the service when his account was hacked. "I tried logging in one day and my password didn't work. Someone had hacked my Gmail and used it to hack my Skype as well. This hacker was calling my Skype contacts and talking to my Gmail contacts, trying to get financial information out of them." Like many users, he tried contacting Gmail but got little to no response from them, besides automated replies.

Kiran Farooque, senior account executive at a PR firm in Dubai also uses Gmail. “I use Gmail because it is fast and efficient. I especially love the conversation threads which keep my mailbox organised.” But like most good users, she uses a simple technique which has kept her email account safe from the prying eyes and codes of hackers. “I believe in changing my passwords very frequently. I change them nearly every two weeks.”

Despite these insecurities, the fact remains that Gmail is an extremely popular service, and the number of users is growing. What is needed — until the Google team mends the loopholes in their security structure – is to keep strict vigil on our accounts and continue to enjoy the service and its many fun benefits.

Following are a few ways for users to save their accounts from being compromised and for staying safe.

It’s all in the “S”

When visiting Gmail, a simple addition of an “s” to the address directs the user through a secure service, instead of a public one. Hacker attacks rely on techniques called “sniffing traffic”; a basic SSL encryption in your traffic makes it impossible (or very difficult) to hack. The address will be https://mail.google.com/mail/ and you are off to your secure browsing.

Filter it

The time when you are logged on to Gmail in one window (or tab) and in the other window you are navigating other pages, is when you are the most vulnerable to hacking. A hacker uses this time to add a filter within your email and uses that as a gateway to obtain certain types of email. To avoid this happening, you need to just periodically check both the ‘Filters’ and the ‘Forwarding and POP’ sections. Make sure every filter and setting is one that you have entered

Gmail’s help centre

Though they may be sluggish in responding to your queries, there are a lot of helpful tips readily available on Gmail’s Help Centre.

(This article originally appeared in the June 7th Edition of Sci-Tech, 2008 - It was incorrectly attributed to another author.)
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