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Rio 2: Vibrant But Disappointing Sequel
Published On: 15/04/2014

The follow up to Carlos Saldanha's vibrant animated feature, Rio – a film that grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office  - finds the Brazilian-born filmmaker returning to the pulsating streets of Rio Di Janeiro, before setting off into the wilderness of the Amazon. Picking up some time after the end of the first film, Rio 2 finds the Blue Macaws, Blu (voiced by Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway), happily married and living a carefree life while raising their three hatchlings, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon), at the Blue Bird Sanctuary. However, their children's overly-domesticated habits begin to worry Jewel, who is fearful that her children are slowly losing touch with nature and what it means to be a bird. So, when she hears that there may be a flock of Blue Macaws living in the Amazon rainforest, the family decides to fly across for a vacation and a bit of an investigation. Once there, not only does the family discover that there is more of their kind in the world, but that the flock is led by none other than Jewel's long-lost father, Eduardo (Garcia). Jewel soon finds herself toying with the prospect of moving her family there for good, while Blu – who now must prove himself to Jewel's apathetic and unconvinced father – isn't too sure whether he's ready to give up his life in Rio. Meanwhile, Blu's lifelong nemesis, Nigel the Cockatoo (Clement), who is no longer able to fly, follows the family to the rainforest in search of revenge. Eisenberg and Hathaway return to reprise their roles as the lovable Blu and Jewel and, although their shared chemistry can still be felt throughout, it seems that their second outing is not as charming as their first.  Clement is hilarious as the grouchy Nigel, while all of the supporting characters, excluding Chenoweth's hysterical performance as Gabi – a poisonous frog hopelessly in love with Nigel – aren't given much of the spotlight, apart from indulging in a few impromptu sing-offs, including yet another cringe worthy rendition of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. Just like the original, Rio 2 dazzles with its vibrant and bubbly tone; the opening scenes of the New Year's Eve celebration on the bustling streets of Rio Di Janeiro are breathtaking and Saldanha, succeeds in adapting the alluring and captivating magic of Brazil. The story, unfortunately, is not as engaging the second time around and Saldanha seems to have sent the story on a downward spiral the minute he decided to step out of Rio and move his flock of birds into the back woods of the Amazon rainforest. There are still plenty of thrills and spills, but had it not been for the infectious Brazilian music and a handful of interesting characters, this would have been a complete washout.

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Saj & Shawerma: Syrian Shawerma in Zamalek
Published On: 15/04/2014

The Cairo restaurant scene has welcomed more and more diverse cuisines over the years, but that very simple thing called shawerma has enjoyed a popular presence throughout – thanks, partly, to the consistent series of Syrian restaurants opening up. You don't even need an entire restaurant to serve shawerma; sometimes, just a corner. Saj & Shawerma is one such example. Originally operating from the corner of a shutdown café, it is now independently run and managed by a family of Syrians. With the options of either eating in your car or simply leaning on one, there's not a whole lot to judge aesthetically and, thus, the primary concern becomes the food. We were met with warm greetings from one of the waiters; but when asked if we could have copies of the menu, we were told that they ran out – something that became bit of a recurring theme throughout the night. We took our time browsing the bigger menu hung up on the wall next to us. Meat shawerma comes in small (13LE) and large (15LE), while, strangely, a small chicken is 10LE and a large is 18LE. Also on offer are kobeba sandwiches (9LE) and Syrian falafel sandwiches (6LE,) all served in traditional Saj bread. You can also get individual pieces of kobeba for 3LE a piece. We were particularly keen to try the Syrian falafel and kobeba, but, yet again, we were told they ran out. Instead, we opted for the basic chicken and meat shawerma sandwiches. Shockingly, the sandwiches took a whopping forty-five minutes to appear; a fact made all the more surprising when considering that, at the time of our visit, we were the restaurant's only customers. The ridiculous waiting time was partially made up for by the meat shawerma, which was one of the best we've sampled in a long time. The Saj bread tasted fresh and didn't feel soggy, the meat was cooked perfectly and the addition of tomatoes, parsley and tehina made for a flawless combination. The chicken shawerma, sadly, was the exact opposite. Lathered in more toumeya and pickled cucumbers than your senses can handle, you could hardly taste the chicken. We like to give the benefit of the doubt with food, but with most of the menu's more interesting options unavailable and the mind-bogglingly long waiting time, it's difficult not to feel a little exasperated. The only saving graces were the incredibly friendly staff and that delicious meat shawerma.  

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Osteria: Reasonably Priced International Menu in Heliopolis
Published On: 15/04/2014

Located on a narrow, hidden road in Sheraton, Heliopolis, Osteria might not be the easiest restaurant to find, especially if you're not from the area. After getting lost and calling the restaurant for directions, we eventually found our way and were greeted warmly by the waiters who walked us to our seats and passed us our menus. We found a wide range of options to choose from including salads (26LE-38LE) appetisers (16-53LE) steak (58LE-80LE) seafood (40LE-90LE) chicken (40LE-62LE) and fajitas (46LE-74LE). In true Egyptian chain restaurant style, all main courses are served with two sides of your choosing; sautéed vegetables, French fries or pasta. We opted for Chicken Cordon Bleu with French fries and penne pasta with white sauce (47 LE) and Country Fried Shrimp, but were delivered the devastating news that the kitchen was out of shrimp and calamari. Instead, we chose a 220g beef fillet with mushroom sauce, sautéed vegetables and penne pasta with white sauce (58 LE).  We also opted for an Osteria Appetiser Sampler (40LE) which was made up of four spicy chicken strips, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and Doritos covered in herbs and mozzarella cheese. The appetiser sampler comes with three different dips and was served hot and, remarkable, within five minutes of ordering it. Equally as impressive, the main courses took around twenty-five minutes to emerge from the kitchen. Unfortunately, however, the Cordon Bleu was dry and a far cry from the moist chicken cutlet one would expect. In addition, there was a distinct, almost baffling, lack of cheese and the promised smoke beef. Being the positive Petes we are, we were able to at least enjoy the well made and seasoned fries. Already disappointed by the aforementioned shortage of shrimp and calamari, the meal's saving grace came via the substitute dish of beef fillet. Well cooked and at the very reasonable price of 58LE, it was enjoyable without being spectacular -  a slab of beef and no more. Our check came out to 160 LE which is very reasonable for a dinner for two. The service was both great and quick and the waiters always had a smile on – shame about the execution of the food.

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Oculus: Scary but Forgettable Horror Flick
Published On: 14/04/2014

Expanding from his 2006 short film, Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with a Plan, director Mike Flanagan – along with help from writer Jeff Howard – approaches the subject of the supernatural with a considerable amount of imagination and manages to deliver some scares in the relatively unnerving ghostly thriller, Oculus. The story follows the troubled lives of Tim (Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Gillan); a pair of siblings who witnessed the brutal death of their parents over a decade ago. Tim is convicted of the murders and is sent into protective custody and a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie remains in a pit of despair without her family. Years later, Tim is released on his twenty-first birthday and is now looking to rebuild his life and move away from his turbulent past. However, Kaylie has become convinced her brother was innocent and that something unnatural is at play. Kaylie, who works at an auction house, has recently come across the very same oversized, 400 year-old mirror that she believes is responsible for their parents' deaths. Moving back to their old house and installing surveillance equipment, Kaylie and Tim hope to record evidence of the supernatural being. A Blumhouse Productions creation – the same people who brought you Paranormal Activity – Oculus, as luck would have it, steers clear of the increasingly overdone found-footage approach, despite what its trailer might suggest. Instead, director Mike Flanagan seems inspired by the horror films of the 70's and 80's, like recent flicks, The Conjuring and Sinister, and paints the mood of the film with a slow-burning tone of dread and an ominous fear of the unknown. The film transitions between the past and present wonderfully, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Gillan, the Scottish-born actress known for her role in TV's Doctor Who, proves to be a relatively solid lead and manages to paint Kaylie with an equal blend of self-determination and fear, while Thwaites' doe-eyed qualities comes across as a little too sappy. Sadly, Oculus is not without faults. The film is never fully realised as a story and although it provides its share of scare, it's all really rather forgettable.

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Tabla Luna: Latin American Cuisine in Maadi
Published On: 13/04/2014

With so many restaurants in Cairo serving identical menus, when we hear about something different, it warms our hearts and rumbles our tummies. Latin American cuisine in Egypt is now a reality; Tabla Luna – a new, cosy little restaurant in Maadi – serves dishes from across Latin America and sends a breath of fresh and zesty air into the city's repetitive dining scene. The restaurant, on Road 218, is very colourful, using yellow, green and red against a grey backdrop. The floor tiles integrate patterns of Aztec and Mayan motifs, while the boisterous atmosphere reflects the bustling, vibrant streets of South America. Other than a few Mexican food joints that have come and gone, Egypt has hardly scratched the surface of an entire continent's cuisine. With minimal experience with this type of food, our waiter pleasantly explained the menu to us, mentioning which country each dish is from and what ingredients are in them. While choosing what to order, we were served two small tortillas breads alongside two different chilli dips; one was creamy and mild, whilst the other was slightly spicier. The flavours ran seamlessly into each other, teasing you with its spice and keeping you in anticipation of the amazing feast to come. It wasn't easy picking from the menu, as everything genuinely sounded delicious, so after some help from the waiter, we opted for a Ceviche de Camarón (48 LE); a wonderfully zesty appetiser from Ecuador, made of shrimp served in a bowl with lime juice, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and parsley. We also ordered Empanadas Salteñas (28 LE); a pastry from Bolivia – similar to the Egyptian Katayef – stuffed with beef, complete with a spicy kick. For our main course we chose the Confused Argentinean (52 LE); a vegetarian ñoqui with spinach. Ñoqui, or Gnocchi, is a form of soft pasta made from potatoes, originally from Italy that was brought over to South America by Italian immigrants. The sauce was wonderfully creamy and strong tasting, whilst the gnocchi was just the right balance between soft and chewy. We also picked a Sirloin Huancaína (92 LE); sirloin steak served with a lettuce and arugula, Peruvian potatoes, boiled and grilled, and then topped with Huancaína sauce; a creamy, cheesy and spicy sauce from Peru made by blending saltines, queso fresco and aji Amarillo – a mixture of Latin American spice, milk and garlic. Having just opened, some of the food took a little too long to serve, but we quickly forgot when we got stuck in. The chef personally checked on our table to ensure our satisfaction, all while explaining that a lot of the recipes are in fact his mother's – an undoubtedly talented lady. Tabla Luna's authentic, Latin American recipes are refreshing to the taste buds, whilst the place is both friendly and welcoming, transporting us to a more exotic location away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo.

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Flower Power: Stunning Flowers, Disappointing Shop at Downtown Katameya Mall
Published On: 13/04/2014

Flower shopping in Cairo can be a troubling feat, especially given the large number of decidedly mediocre florists in the city. Catering for some of Cairo's most reputable hotels, including the Dusit Thani and the Four Seasons, Flower Power specialises in impressive, fresh flower arrangements for homes, events, offices and basically anything you need it for. With their head office located in Mohandiseen, we visited one of their few retail branches at New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall. With the shop assistant's lack of English – and our lack of Arabic – it was a little difficult to communicate, but we struggled on nonetheless. Unfortunately, the tiny shop space doesn't do the brand any favours; the meagre display of fresh flowers small enough for a bouquet was disappointing and, at around 10LE per stem, putting together our own arrangement on the spot was not an attractive option. However, offering a taste of their full-collection, giant stems of curled bamboo, hot pink lilies and white arum lilies are amongst the more exotic options. Presented in attractive, over-sized glass vases, these were disappointingly not for sale, but were an example of the types of vases available.   With a workshop in the back, a number of flower arrangements were finished and awaiting delivery. A large, eye-catching table-top display of bright yellow and orange flowers would cost around 500LE; such arrangements can be tailored to the customer's specific taste and occasion. Sadly, no catalogue was available to browse through and, unless a consultation is arranged, only vague price ranges are available. Usually, the flat screen TV in the store shows a rolling slide-show of options, but at the time of our visit, this wasn't working either, leaving us a little clueless as to the available options. We were directed to their website with promises of prices and further details, however, only photos could be found. More suitable for  events, the finished products seen in hotels and at weddings are undoubtedly of unrivalled quality and design, as well as beautifully fresh. Scheduled, regular re-deliveries can be arranged to ensure the ultimate freshness of the bouquets. Having seen Flower Power's displays at said hotels and events, we know the quality of flower arrangements is unquestionable. However, had we not done our own research, the small shop would have left us with quite disappointed.

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Alwan: Art Supplies in Downtown Cairo
Published On: 12/04/2014

Cairo is bustling with colourful people eager to create, but unfortunately, essential supplies often run short as art shops are quite scarce. Enter Alwan; a small shop jam-packed with art materials located in Downtown Cairo. A true saviour to all artists, this chain has extended its branches to Zamalek, Nasr City, El Fagala, Heliopolis and will soon open close to the Pyramids.  To our delight, Alwan's tried and tested materials are of the finest quality, and in generous quantity, with a second floor dedicated to storage. Vast supplies of paint can be found in every colour, from titanium white to burnt sienna, alongside those treasured tools held dear to every artist. A large choice of paper, canvas and beautiful crisp sketchbooks, provide homes for all your ideas. The shop may be small in size but customers can easily spend a good thirty minutes browsing through. The shop assistants are friendly, helpful and well-qualified to offer advice or guidance. Known for its transparency and luminous effects, a range of water colours can be found, along with gouache – known for its smooth consistency and compatibility with other mediums – traditional oil paint with its flexibility style but inconvenient long drying periods, or modern acrylic paint, which looks like oil paint, but dries much faster. One 50ml tube of paint costs 11LE, a box of 15 tubes costs 75 LE, and a box of 24 costs 100 LE. Such a box makes either a beautiful gift, or a smart way to lessen the price of each individual tube. An A4 sketch-book costs 18LE and an A3 sketch-book goes for 36LE, though the paper will increase in price if it's made for a heavier medium. While prices may seem a little steep at Alwan, it's important to remember mediums of such calibre are rarely seen in the city, let alone the impressive variety provided. This is one shop that every creative – novice or established – will feel like a kid in a candy shop in.

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Sabotage: Arnie in Violent Mystery-Thriller
Published On: 12/04/2014

David Ayer, the writer behind award-winning Training Day and 2012's End of Watch, ventures into yet another shady underworld of dirty cops with his latest creation, Sabotage. Set in Georgia, the film follows the story of an elite, undercover DEA Special Ops team of nonconformists; 'Monster' (Worthington), 'Grinder' (Manganiello), 'Pyro' (Martini), 'Tripod' (Vance), 'Sugar' (Howard), 'Smoke' (Schlegel) and finally, Lizzy (Enos), who are all led by their grizzled Special Agent, John Wharton – a.k.a Breacher – (Schwarzenegger). While out on a mission raiding the mansion of a notorious drug cartel, the team comes across ten million dollars and decides to conceal it, with the plan of coming back for it later. However, when they return to collect their hidden treasure, the group discovers that the money is gone, and the guys quickly find themselves under investigation for the missing money.   Months later, the case is dropped and the group is quick to return to duty, but things are far from back to normal. The mystery behind the missing money reaches another level of obscurity as the members of the notorious team are killed off, one-by-one. The murders draw the attention of a homicide detective, Brentwood (Williams), who begins digging into the killings, whilst Breacher begins suspecting that the perpetrator might be one of his very own. At times, Sabotage plays out like a classic mystery-thriller and has, rather hastily, been compared to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Other than one seemingly long car chase and a few gun-fights, the story is surprisingly short on action, keeping its focus on the dynamics of the team, who, thanks to an overdose of bravado, are incredibly difficult to connect to, let alone root for.    Surprisingly, Schwarzenegger settles into his role quite nicely; his now ripe physical condition is suited to his character's troubled ways, and although many would find it difficult to swallow the ex-governor as a rogue cop, he manages to sell his side of the story pretty well. As part of the murky mis en scene, Ayer uses a type of violence more associated with a slasher flick and goes a little overboard – in other words, blood for the sake of blood. To top it off, the mystery, supposedly the driving force of the story, is sloppy and is met with one too many confusing twists and turns.  Bloody, vulgar and full of one too many shock moments, Sabotage is passable, but still an overly messy thriller, whose occasionally implausible plot twists suck out both the fun and the logic from its otherwise well-constructed tone.

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Art Talks: 'Beauty & The Beast' by Sabhan Adam & Hossam Dirar
Published On: 10/04/2014

While art is rampant across Cairo's galleries, rarely does an exhibition manage to take our breath away. 'Beauty and the Beast' – a dual exhibition of 'The Beast' from Sabhan Adham, and 'Beauty' from Hossam Dirar – is a demonstration of jaw-dropping talent, perfectly intertwined at Zamalek's Art Talks. Born in Syria in 1973, Sabhan Adam is a self-taught artist and has exhibited his works extensively worldwide. Unleashing his pain and anger onto paper, Adam reflects the suffering and events happening in his homeland, resulting in dramatic, awe-inspiring portraits. Largely using mixed media on canvas, the majority of his paintings are large and almost life-size, looming over the audience in a menacing manner. His figures are half-human and half-animal; while the clothing humanises his characters, the faces are scribbled and sketched, appearing with animalistic features. Some of the faces sport icy blue eyes, but lack any other colouring, while the clothing is colourful, often incorporating captivating glitter and gold accents. In one of his paintings, a man-beast sits condescendingly, cross-legged and confident in a colourful suit, tie and formal shoes, his fingers long and spindly, with piercing blue eyes. In another, a man-beast is dressed in what appears to be a galabeyya. Disturbingly, the face of this piece is distorted, with an extra eye and nose, and splatters of red paint dripping from the mouth. Had the exhibition been solely made up of these beautifully ugly depictions, the collection may have felt a little too intense and hard-hitting. It was for this reason that his paintings were hung alongside Hossam Dirar's contrasting collection. Born in Cairo in 1978, Hossam Dirar is an award-winning graduate of Helwan University and has since also exhibited around the globe. Depicting beauty on the surface, Dirar's work follows society's, and his own, definitions of attractiveness. With the aim of capturing unique identities, his subjects are often passersby; women he sees whilst going about his everyday life. Fragmented, without too much emphasis on their features, Dirar attempts to radiate their beauty and personalities from within, quickly, so that the memory of the moment doesn't fade. His large canvases show the heads and bodies of beautiful women, blurred behind a collage of audacious paint strokes. His work is pleasant, attractive and easy on the eye, using a rainbow of bold, cheerful colours and thick, textured layers of chunky acrylic paint. Despite being visually similar in technique, each painting manages to give off a different vibe; 'I Think We Met Before in My Dreams' exudes a kind of peaceful, dreamy innocence, whilst the mesh of creams, oranges and burnt autumnal colours give it a fading, calming feel. In contrast to this, 'Mirror Mirror on the Wall' boasts the most intense stare, along with a stern expression. Alongside the main exhibition, several abstract sculptures from the acclaimed sculptor, Sobhy Guirguis, are displayed in his memory.             Beauty And The Beast puts a fresh new, realistic and artistic twist on the innocent childhood fairytale. Both artists are undeniably talented and their works fit together flawlessy, making it one of the most visually and theoretically stunning collections we've come across.        

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Manhattan Burger: American Diner-Sized Burgers in New Cairo
Published On: 09/04/2014

With so many shops and restaurants Cairo, it's often a relief to venture out to the less populated areas for a breath of fresh air. Much like the expansion of real estate into the vast spaces of New Cairo, there's an equally large expansion of malls, food courts and shops in Fifth Settlement, transforming Road 90 into the bustling and vibrant heart of a new city. We visited a small food court inside the Oil Libya gas station on the North Road 90, parallel to the main Road 90; this mini-mall has two restaurants, a café and a supermarket. We visited one of the two restaurants, Manhattan Burger; a small American-style diner that specialises in – you guessed it – burgers. The restaurant is small, with only one table for seating and the rest outside in a small courtyard. The simple seating arrangement very much encourages you to eat fast and go – after all, you are sitting in a gas station. Aside from the burgers wrapped in tortilla and the crispy burger in a fried calzone, everything else is served in a bun. From the appetiser options, we opted for a Manhattan Mix (45 LE); a spread of fried chicken nuggets, stringy mozzarella sticks and crispy onion rings served with barbecue sauce and mayonnaise, all covered in a layer of arugula. As our mains, we chose the 250g cold cuts burger, complete with a plentiful portion of turkey and Emmental cheese (42.5 LE), served with a small plate of pickles. The meal can be made a combo by adding 15 LE. The meat patty was thick and tasty, although there was nothing exceptional about it. Although a little pricey for what it was, the meal was both filling and satisfying. We also went for the apple burger (39.50LE) topped with slices of caramelised green apples and blue cheese. Similarly to our first burger, the meat patty was large but decidedly average. The apples were fresh and satisfyingly sweet, whilst the blue cheese wasn't overpowering. For dessert, the menu had two frozen yoghurt options, costing 20 LE and 25 LE with three toppings, but unfortunately the yoghurt machine wasn't operational at the time of our visit. We hope Manhattan Burger make additions to their menu soon, add more tables inside or heaters outside, and perhaps a toilet or even just a sink to wash up. However, our experience at Manhattan Burger was a an overall inoffensive one.  

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Cairo Guide: Celebrating Easter 2014 at the City's Top Hotels

Hello Cairo! The Easter/Sham El Nessim weekend is right around the corner, and while everyone would love to get out of the city for a much needed break, most can't, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve a break too! For those who have to stay in the city this weekend, we've put together a small li