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Life of Crime: Nice but Plain Crime-Comedy
Published On: 31/08/2014

Unable to take the plunge and fully immerse itself into its own pool of ideas, Daniel Schechter's Life of Crime – drawn from the pages of Elmore Leonard's 1978's novel, The Switch – is, sadly, neither here nor there.   Set in Detroit, Michigan circa 1978,  Life of Crime is centred on inept and useless low-level criminals, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Def), who hope to extract one million dollars from drunken real-estate developer, Frank Dawson (Robbins), for the kidnapping of his seemingly lonely socialite wife, Mickey (Aniston). The plan seems pretty straightforward at first, but little did they know that Frank – who's busy canoodling with his young mistress, Melanie (Fisher) at their vacation home in Florida – has already filed for divorce and is now more than happy to use this opportunity to sidestep the obligatory alimony payments.  Now that Frank has called their bluff, things get a little complicated for the hopeless thugs who have clearly not done their research and even more so when Mickey – who is being held hostage at a home of a Nazi-loving fanatic, Richard (Boone Jr.) – comes to realise that her matrimonial bliss has now truly come to end. The deepening relationship between Louis and Mickey only adds fire to the fuel, causing a riff between the two partners, who seem to be running out of both ideas and time. While the film still manages to serve its purpose and deliver the goods – through a mix of black comedy and slow-burning tension –Schechter, who also wrote the adaptation, plays it too safe; an approach that doesn't really allow for Elmore Leonard's distinctive storytelling  style to shine through. Life of Crime is not the first Elmore Leonard adaptation – see Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Sonnefeld's Get Shorty. Unlike those to adaptations, this lacks an edge, leaving it rather placid. Aniston shines as the lonely trophy wife whose kidnapping – although distressing – also ends up being a one-way ticket out of her isolated and troublesome marriage. The actress, who is not usually seen in these types of roles, manages to show great versatility and the chemistry shared between her and Hawkes is equally convincing. Robbins is persuasive as the alcoholic, two-timing husband while Fisher was deliciously manipulative as the seductive mistress.       Capturing the 70's era with plenty of polish and charm, Life of Crime is rather forgettable, despite occasionally popping into action – the source material deserved better.

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Paul: Authentic French Boulangerie in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall
Published On: 31/08/2014

In a city like Cairo, diminishing daily meals to a fast bite here and there can often be the case – and the Cairo dining scene is largely set-up for exactly that. But from time to time, we all like elevate eating to a much more refined experience. French boulangerie, Paul, has found a welcome home in Cairo over the last few years and the branch in Downtown Katameya Mall in New Cairo is just one of many. During our visit, it was fairly crowded when we entered, and no one greeted or seated us. The outside seating area, overlooking the fountain, was filled with hungry customers and so we reluctantly walked in and chose one of the few empty tables available indoors in Paul's signature blend of French artisan cafe decor and furnishings. A waitress immediately came by our table and placed the tableware as well as the menu. The beautifully designed menu was absolutely alluring; we wanted to devour every single item on there. From hearty soups to light salads and sandwiches to full-on main courses and sinful pastries, the place has it all.   Wanting to stick to our plan of having a light brunch, we settled for a Pesto Chicken Sandwich (59LE), requesting a brown instead of white baguette, Pain Au Chocolat et Pistaches (17LE), and a Chocolate Crepe (35 E). For drinks, we opted for some fresh Orange Juice (20LE) A couple of seconds after our waitress took our order, we were brought a complimentary basket of freshly baked bread with butter and olive paste. The bread was amazing and the olive paste definitely awakened our taste buds. The service was astonishingly swift and the food was gracefully laid on our table within minutes of ordering it. The sandwich was absolutely lip-smacking satisfying, although slightly lacking in Pesto sauce. The crepe was fluffy, light, drizzled in delicious chocolate and topped with a scoop of sweet Vanilla ice cream. The Pain au Chocolat et Pistaches tasted freshly-baked, and was surprisingly light despite being filled with chocolate and topped with powdered sugar and pistachios. Finally, the orange juice was fresh, but unfortunately a bit too warm for our liking; some ice was definitely called for. While the service was quick and pretty impressive, it was slightly over the top. At times it felt like we were being rushed with our tableware being lifted the second we put our forks down. All in all, Paul offered us a lovely, authentically French dining experience. The service, despite being a bit too pushy, was quick and efficient and the food's quality, taste and look were unbelievably close to perfection. À bientôt, Paul; we're coming back soon.

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The November Man: Clichéd Spy Thriller
Published On: 30/08/2014

Pierce Brosnan returns to the world of action films as an ex-CIA operative in Roger Donaldson's latest espionage drama, The November Man; a clichéd spy thriller that relies heavily on outdated tactics to deliver the goods. Written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, and set mostly in Eastern Europe, the film opens in 2008 with the veteran CIA operative, Peter Devereaux (Brosnan), teaching the tricks of the trade to new recruit, David Mason (Bracey), whilst out on a mission. However, when Mason fails to follow through with the instructions given, the mission – although successful – leave an innocent civilian dead. The story then fast forwards to five years later, with the now retired Devereaux drinking his pension away. He is soon approached by his former colleague, John Hanley (Smitrovich), who wants him to get back into the game for one last job; travel to Moscow and help extract a CIA contact who holds valuable information on the soon-to-be president, Arkady Federov (Ristovski). With a little bit of Bourne, Mission Impossible and Bond thrown into the mix, it's easy to see where inspiration has been drawn for The November Man. Loosely based on Bill Granger's 80's novel, There Are No Spies, Roger Donaldson – see Cocktail and Dante's Peak – manages to offer a couple of relatively interesting action set-pieces; however, with the incorporation of every single espionage trick in the book, the minutes tend to feel a little predictable, outdated and, most of all, terribly clichéd.  Despite the film's shortcomings, Brosnan manages to hold his own and although his particular action mould lacks edge, he still manages to charm his way through the film and delivers a performance that's relatively entertaining, if a little too wholesome in the context of modern action films. On the whole, The November Man is a generic and a somewhat conventional thriller but for those looking forward to seeing Mr. Brosnan back in the spotlight, it does provide a certain level of enjoyment.

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Dishes: Comfortable Outdoor Dining in Maadi
Published On: 29/08/2014

Recently, we've been going checking in on some of the longer running Cairo restaurants to see how 'things' have been going. Our most recent endeavour took us to Dishes in Maadi. The relatively small venue in Degla, set up in the side area of a large building, boasts a typical comfortable outdoor area plus shisha and big screens combo, targeting mostly a younger demographic, particularly football fans. The semi-circle couches with the bright orange cushions, combined with the dark wood of the tables and grey plastic chairs reflect all the colours Dishes use in their long and creates a nice colour scheme throughout the venue. They have an all-around menu that has options for breakfast through to dinner, including soups and salads and a large number of cold and warm drinks. Nothing exceptionally creative, however, just a lot of options. We walked in and found some seats, a few moments later a waiter greeted us at the table and gave us menus. After some browsing we opted for a Magic Chicken Milanes (51LE) and a Chicken Tandoori (46LE). Main courses come with either a side of pasta with red or white sauce, or two sides of the regular sides like sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes. The food was relatively late which we found a little disappointing considering the restaurant was empty. The Chicken Tandoori was quite tasty, with large chunks of tender chicken floating in a creamy, slightly spicy, curry. We had ordered a side of rice and sautéed vegetables. Both were very disappointing. The rice was overcooked and tasted cheap, while the sautéed vegetables were bland and slightly crunchy. The Chicken Milanes was similarly disappointing. The chicken tasted stale and the seasoning was off, while the side of spaghetti with red sauce tasted virtually no different to pasta made at home with packaged sauce and not fresh tomatoes. The all-around experience wasn't very good. While the outdoor setting is decent, the slow service combined with very average food fails to impress. Perhaps a good spot of a cold drink with a shisha, but you should probably skip the food.

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Z Restaurant: Affordable Food in Tahrir Square
Published On: 28/08/2014

Joining the ranks of the smaller and cheaper restaurants in Cairo is Z Restaurant. Located in Tahrir Square, between Hardee's and Ali Baba, Z has very simple decor consisting of wooden chairs and tables, with rows of photographs of food lining the walls. What first attracted us to Z was the decent menu with very cheap prices.  Specializing in mostly fast food plus some localized international dishes. All main courses are the same price, 25LE, and arrive in generously hefty portions sure to satisfy an empty stomach.    We ordered Kofta with Rice (25LE) which was decently priced, considering the large bed of rice and generous portion of kofta; the taste of the rice was a little bland though the juiciness of the kofta made up for this especially when smothered in ketchup. We also opted for the Chicken Fajita with Rice (25LE) from the Mexican cuisine which was much more pleasing to the palette. The chicken had a tangy sauce which, albeit a little too spicy, was a tasty choice.  It was mixed with a little salad and wrapped in a soft tortilla giving a variety of different textures that fit together nicely. From the English cuisine Z restaurant offer the choice of Roast Beef with Potatoes, Scallop with Potatoes or Steak with Potatoes all arriving on large overflowing plates.  In addition to the eclectic main course menu there is a choice of Pasta Bolognaise at 9LE as well as several other cheaper dishes containing much of the same as the main courses. These cheaper dishes are much smaller and make for a decent meal for a child or light-eater. Additionally, there is a small selection of side dishes available, each costing 5.50LE, including baba ghanough, pickles and french fries. Z Restaurant also serves sandwiches in three size options, costing between 5.50LE and 12LE, and a range of cold and hot drinks are on offer, with warm drinks at around 6LE and canned drinks at 4LE. While Z Restaurant isn't the most stylish, it's a good place for a dependable and affordable meal.

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L’Occitane En Provence: Natural Skin Care Products From French Brand at Mall of Arabia
Published On: 27/08/2014

The Cairo shopping scene is nothing short of a kaleidoscope of good, bad and strange, but when it comes to beauty products, both traditional local products and international brands share a comfortable coexistence. One such example of the latter sits across from Gate 3 in 6th of October City's Mall of Arabia. Founded in 1976, French retailer,  L'Occitane En Provence enjoys a lofty reputations for providing natural skincare products and essential oils with organic scents Fitted with dark brown wooden racks, neatly organised with each product collection, mud coloured tiles and wicker baskets displayed on the floor with spring yellow flowers, the store gives off a composed and peaceful ambience. Located in the centre of the store is a metallic sink with a small mirror for customers to test the products. At the entrance is a wide range of natural feminine 75ml perfumes, including scents such as sweet vanilla, amber, floral, jasmine and green tea, ranging between 390LE and 549LE. Each product includes a 30ml tube of scented hand cream (85LE) as well as 175ml shower gel bottle ranging up to 200LE. During our visit, an enthusiastic staff member had us test a few of their products. First, we washed our hands over the miniature fancy sink with Shea butter liquid soap (170LE) - which was also available with sweet almond - then applied lotion to our hands with Shea butter cream (420LE).  L'Occitane is certainly rather expensive, but after our little trial and the way our skin felt and smelled afterwards, we were sure we weren't leaving the store without buying something. There were a few racks dedicated to a limited variety of fun products including lavender, cherry blossom and floral scented candles (240LE). Also on offer is organic face soap (100LE) and hand soap (85LE) wrapped in colourful recycled paper, as well as a few old fashioned bottles of home fragrances offered in candied fruits, spicy cinnamon, amber, rose and winter forest, ranging between 230LE and 390LE. A whole section is devoted to men's skincare products, including Lavender pillow mist (261LE), winter forest deodorant (240LE), shaving balm with a variety of organic ingredients (274LE) and natural scented colognes ranging from between 339LE and 500LE. For shopaholics and beauty care fanatics, shopping at L'Occitane is dangerous business; the aromas whirling around the shop are enough to get you hooked – hooked to a very expensive hobby.

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Cafe Etoile: Cosy Cafe in Heliopolis’ Noisy Tivoli Dome
Published On: 27/08/2014

Anyone who's ever been to Heliopolis' Tivoli Dome knows exactly how crowded it can get. With so many shops crammed into such a small space, and a large influx of people rushing to celebrate the arrival of the weekend, one cannot even fathom the possibility of finding a quiet spot to have a conversation there. Café Etoile, however, provided exactly that. We were greeted at the entrance by a pleasant waiter who offered us both outdoor and indoor seating. Wanting to sit down somewhere we can talk and avoid the large crowds' clamour, we chose to sit indoors. We all immediately called dibs on and sunk into the comfortable couches. The waiter instantly placed our menus in front of us and gave us our space to make our choices. In the mood for dessert and tea, we ordered a strawberry drizzled cheesecake (27.90 LE), an Etoile Tarte (31.90LE) and some soothing Green Tea. The menu featured some typical main courses but nothing you wouldn't find in any other Cairo cafe. The drinks, however, were offered in abundance and we kept catching glances of the waiters carrying around some colourful and refreshing-looking smoothies. Our cheesecake and tarte arrived quite swiftly alongside our tea and we simply could not wait to dig into their sugary goodness. The cheesecake was, despite its strangely small size, deliciously creamy and deceptively light with sweet Strawberry jam on top. The Tarte, however, was not as pleasing; the base did not have that distinct crumbly yet fluffy tarte texture and tasted like stale, crunchy pancakes. We also found the banana-caramel mixture covering the base a overwhelmingly sweet. Mixed with the vanilla ice cream, however, the overall taste was a bit more balanced and tolerable. The Green Tea was served in a metal tea pot which kept leaking water from the side and was, in our humble opinion, all together uncalled for. To recap, our experience at Café Etoile, gooey tarte aside, was quite a pleasant one. Our waiter was pretty efficient, refilling our water every now and then, and did not, for a second, completely disappear. Thus, we found the overall service to be stellar. The prices were also reasonable and there was no minimum charge, as is the case with many other cafes in Tivoli Dome. Moreover, we found the general ambiance to be rather calm in a usually chaotic and noisy place.

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Cuba Cabana: Quality Dining at Reasonable Prices in Maadi
Published On: 26/08/2014

On a quest to check out some of our old favourites on the Cairo restaurant scene, we decided to stop by Cuba Cabana in Maadi. It had been four years since our last review, and many a restaurant have shut down in that time. Located on the quiet Road 7, Cuba Cabana boasts beautiful décor and a spacious, comfortable courtyard. The shades of brown and beige create a subtle contrast that's complimented by touches of greenery and strikingly-coloured cushions. Eager to try some of the higher-end food this time around, we were seated by a friendly waiter at an outdoor table adjacent to a small wooden bridge that leads you from the courtyard to the indoor area. Although we were interested in a hearty launch, Cuba Cabana's menu offers everything from breakfast options like omelettes and pancakes to soups and salads, their signature square burgers, fajitas and enchiladas, all the way through the main courses to desserts and an extensive drinks menu. We opted for a medium-cooked Balsamic Onion Steak (84.99LE) and a Salmon Steak (94.99LE). Both are served with sautéed vegetables and your choice of a second side including potatoes – mashed, baked, wedges or French fries – pasta or a salad. We chose wedges and a baked potato. Served roughly 25-30 minutes later, our food arrived hot on large white square plates. The 250g tenderloin Balsamic Onion Steak was cooked medium as requested. The meat was brown and slightly firm around the edges, while the inside was tender and just the right colour of pink. The steak is topped with balsamic sauce and caramelised onions creating a very pleasant mixture of sweet and slightly tangy. The sautéed vegetables, albeit a little too greasy, were seasoned and topped with butter. Finally, the baked potato, although completely bland itself, was complemented by a ranch sauce that's heavy on the blue cheese which rendered any seasoning unnecessary. The 250g Salmon Steak, seasoned with herbs, capers, pickled onions and ginger was tender and had a crispy crust around the edges. The salmon is topped with a creamy lemon and dill sauce giving it that extra bit of zing. The salmon is served with the same seasoned and buttered sautéed vegetables, plus another side of potato wedges that's seasoned the same as the vegetables. We do wish they were baked to additional crisp though. All round, the food was quite delicious. The atmosphere is very relaxed outside and, should you want, the indoor area has a more intimate vibe. At night, the restaurant features low light yellow lamps that add a nice subtle ambiance. Moderately priced for main courses of that calibre, and with friendly attentive staff, it's no wonder Cuba Cabana has survived for this long.

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Earth to Echo: Innocuous Sci-Fi Family Adventure
Published On: 26/08/2014

The spirit of Steven Spielberg's E.T: Extra-Terrestrial is very much alive in Dave Green's directorial debut, however, thanks to its limited sense of creativity and originality, the end-result, unfortunately, fails to impress. Written by Henry Gayden, the story is set in a small Nevada town and follows the adventures of three young friends; foster child, Alex Nichols (Halm), avid YouTube addict, Tuck Simms (Astro), and tech-savvy Reginald "Munch" Barrett (Hartwig). Thanks to the government plans to build a new highway – that's to run straight through their neighbourhood – the boys and their families are facing eviction. As they are not ready to say goodbye to each other just yet, they are desperate to look for a way to keep their homes. After realising that disruptions on their mobile phones – showing strange images and text – kick in at a certain point in the neighbourhood, they realise that one of the images looks like the map of a desert nearby and hatch a plan to ride out there.  They soon stumble on a strange piece of scrap metal – which they initially mistake for satellite debris – and later discover a small and extremely timid alien-being, who looks hurt and terribly lost. Amazed and intrigued by their new discovery, the boys need to keep shifty government officials at bay and help their new friend – who they soon name Echo – find his way back to his mother-ship and return home. Strong influences from films like J.J Abrams' Super 8 and Richard Donner's The Goonies can also be found in Dave Green's directorial debut. Though this homage, if you will, infuses the film with a genuine sense of adventure, there's only so far one can go before it's considered downright mimicry. Similarly, the found-footage format is a little too demanding; shaky, incoherent and perhaps even a little aggressive, it ends up leaving room for gigantic plot holes. With that being said, however, the cast of unfamiliar faces manages to keep the ball rolling, despite the story's palpable shortcomings.  Comparably, the special effects used to create Echo, and his big, blue, sad eyes, are incredibly endearing and the little earth-bound creature is almost impossible to resist. Borrowing heavily from 80's family-movie masterpieces, Earth to Echo is a fairly entertaining tale of adolescence. Unfortunately, however, it is also a story which is completely impeded by sense of familiarity and by its endless abuse of the dead-in-the-dirt found-footage format. 

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Peking: Popular Chinese Restaurant Arrives in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall
Published On: 25/08/2014

As one of the longest standing Chinese restaurant chains in Egypt, Peking has long been known as the place to go to satisfy Asian food cravings in Cairo, so when we found out about a new branch in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall, we had to pass by and see for ourselves. Peking holds a unique location in the relatively new shopping complex. Its outdoor seating area is set over a bridge with a few tables aligned next to its rails, overlooking the busy mall. Its indoor seating, however, offers a much quieter and intimate experience with wood-panelled walls and a tranquil colour scheme. Upon entrance, we were greeted by the head waiter who apologetically showed us to our table indoors as the outdoor seating we had requested was already full. Within a couple of minutes we were seated with our menus neatly laid out on our table. Peking offers a range of Chinese delights: traditional Won Tons, Spring Rolls and Dumplings were pretty much the only items we recognised in the appetisers sections. The usual soups and salads were offered, with nothing seeming out of place or particularly Chinese other than the Hong Kong Soup – a mixture of prawns and Chinese spices. The main course section comprised of crisp fried chicken and seafood, some stir fried dishes, noodles and some meat-based dishes, ranging from baked to BBQ to stewed options. Strangely enough, some Paellas, very traditional Spanish dishes, were offered as well. Upon scanning the menu, we decided to go for the Vegetable Spring Rolls (11LE), some Prawn Crackers (9LE) and the Peking Soup (17 LE) for our appetisers. Our choices for main courses included Chicken BBQ (41LE) and Fried Beef Noodles (31LE). Our food arrived earlier than we had anticipated despite how busy the restaurant was. The Spring Rolls and Crackers were both satisfyingly crispy and light. The hot sauce that comes with the dishes, however, was much spicier than advertised.  The soup was creamy, belly-warming and had actual chunks of chicken in it; a feature many 'chicken' soups lack elsewhere. Our main courses were served next, with all dishes arriving in a pot with a lit candle underneath them. The BBQ chicken tasted quite similar to very oily chicken fajita and wasn't exactly the most pleasant thing to try and digest. The Beef Fried Noodles, however, were delicious with the noodles being well-cooked and seasoned. All in all, Peking offered us a pleasant but not particularly authentic Asian experience. Despite the food being well-served and mostly delectable, it lacked any distinct Chinese flavours. The service, however, was adequate and on-point with the food's timely arrival and our waiter pleasantly passing by our table half-way through the meal to make sure all is well and to generally make sure our meal was satisfactory. 

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Cairo Weekend Guide: The Citadel Festival, the 'Big Cook Off' & More!

Hello Cairo! It's the last weekend of the August, which signals the end of the summer for many, and if you haven't made it out to the beach yet, you really should. Otherwise, check out what we have in store for you over the weekend right here in the city. On Thursday, CJC kicks off the weekend with