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The Canal: Uneven Irish Indie Horror
Published On: 27/08/2015

A truly original horror film isn't easy to come by these days; even the likes of Paranormal Activity and, going further back, The Blair Witch Project don't stand-up to second viewing after the dust has settled from the initial impact. Irish production, The Canal, isn't the film that's going to change that, but it does have its positives. The story tells of a husband troubled by paranoia; film archivist, David (Evans), suspects that his wife, Alice (Hoekstra), is having an affair and his suspicions are proven right. Amidst the impending demise of his marriage, he also comes to discover that a gruesome murder was committed in his house some one hundred years ago and he becomes increasingly unstable when Alice goes missing and he becomes the number one suspect. While it's far from perfect, writer/director, Ivan Kavanagh, manages to create a sense of dread and anticipation throughout, all the while resisting the conventions that have come to define the modern horror genre. It wouldn't be completely off-point to call The Canal a more traditional, old-school haunted-house horror, with the dreary Irish backdrop making for an apt setting. The aesthetic seems to have seeped into the dialogue, however, and paints the script with dreary deadpan interactions. But what will keep you engaged most is David's slow emotional descent; it gives the film a humanness that many modern horrors lack. But as we've mentioned, this is a film not cut from the same mould and European film continues to produce diverse and unique horror. Again, this is far from perfect and there's a Hollywood polish that moviegoers have become accustomed to that's lacking and at times this is a film that will make you feel uncomfortable in the best of ways. It's as much as psycho-thriller as a horror and despite an underwhelming conclusion, it's indie horrors like this that will impact the genre in the decade to come.


Some Kind of Beautiful: Brosnan, Hayek & Alba in Exasperatingly Cliched Rom-Com
Published On: 26/08/2015

You've got to feel sorry for Pierce Brosnan; it's difficult to evaluate how good an actor he is because it's impossible to picture him outside of his stint as James Bond and, for us at least, he will be most remembered for getting a antelope thrown at his head by Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire in that strangely satisfying pool scene. In fact, these two roles have come to define his career and his roles often fit into one of two categories – smooth, charming Englishman, or slimy Casanova. His role as a Cambridge poetry professor in romantic comedy, Some Kind of Beautiful, straddles the line between both, but only serves to prove that this very particular 90s style of rom-com is becoming less and less relevant. The story goes like this; womanising professor, Richard Haig, impregnates a student of his, Kate (Alba), and tries to do right by her, by putting a ring on it, so to speak, and moving from England to California. Their imposed married life soon comes crashing down when Kate falls for another man, but Richard stays close to his son. Down on his luck and facing possible deportation, Richard finds solace in Kate's step-sister, Olivia, who comes to develop feelings for him. Directed by Tom Vaughan, the film pieces together the most trite rom-com clichés to sickly effect and frames its interpretation of romance in the most clichéd, and outdated, of ways. Brosnan's character is pushed as a sort of misunderstood here; a victim of his own overflowing charm, his magnetism being as much a burden as it is a way to lure his unsuspecting students and other similarly beset women. Subsequently, Alba is painted as boring and promiscuous woman and essentially plays a bit-part in the telling of this most unnecessary of narratives. This in turn characterises Olivia as the fire-cracker woman who tames Richard. Granted, Hayek does the whole fiery Latino sexpot thing pretty well, but the whole thing folds one cliché into another – something that extends to Malcol McDowell's turn as a forcibly amusing, grumpy old man, while Richard's son does little but force a generic and hollow sense of sentimentality into proceedings. In the end, the most interesting thing about this production, as harsh as it may seem, is that it's another plaque on the Vaughan rom-com wall of shame – see Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in 2008 flop, What Happens in Vegas. A film like this essentially suffers from what one might call like the domino cliché effect. Once the first cliché hits, it's impossible to stop the rest.


La Piña: Pineapple Chandeliers Can't Save Bland Maadi Restaurant
Published On: 25/08/2015

On Cairo’s restaurant scene, truly unique dining experiences are few and far between and our expectations for a top-notch dinner at La Piña in Maadi sold us short with poorly executed main dishes.    Located in Qanal Street, the restaurant has an outdoorsy area concealed by dark brown wooden walls and equipped with flat screen TVs, as well as indoor seating for those looking for a cosier setting.   Decorated with capitonné chairs, scattered asymmetrical wooden wall designs and dim lighting, La Piña’s ambiance straddles the thin line between quirky and tacky; while the pineapple chandeliers add a creative touch to the overall atmosphere, there was something about the grey wall-paint, paired with the dark brown wall designs and the chairs, that just screamed gloom.  Baffled by La Piña’s huge menu, choosing what to have for dinner just wasn’t an easy call. While the restaurant’s name initially suggested specialty dishes from Spanish or Latin American cuisines, the diner offers a bundle of different international cuisines, including Italian and American.   The meats section, for example, stood out, offering the likes of a 300 gm T-bone Steak with vegetables, mashed potatoes and rosemary sauce (96.95LE), the fried and mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce-smothered Escalope Napoli (84.85LE) and a 250 gm Angus Rib-Eye Steak(188.95LE) with gratin potatoes, sautéed vegetables and Café de Paris sauce. The pasta section caught our eye, too, with the  Fusilli Ala Pesto (44.95LE) served with pesto sauce, fresh cream and grated parmigiano and the Ravioli Di Mare(62.95LE) –  stuffed with seafood and pink sauce – standing as some of the more tempting options. We kicked things off with a simple serving of spring rolls (41.95LE), which was made with chicken, vegetables and spices, served with a sweet chilli sauce. Served hot and crispy, the chicken, vegetables and the blend of spices worked quite well together, especially when dipped in the sweet chilli sauce. However, when initially brought to the table, the waiter knocked one off the plate and despite acknowledging that it was his fault, failed to replace it. Encouraged by the starter, we opted for Grilled Norwegian Salmon (91.95LE) and La Piña Chicken (71.95LE) for our mains, with the latter a signature dish featuring chicken breasts with risotto and caramelized pineapple, served in a pineapple skin. After roughly 20 minutes, our main dishes came along and immediately won points for their exquisite presentation – but that’s about as good as it got. Served with sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes, our Norwegian salmon was overcooked and so dry that even the accompanying butter lemon sauce couldn’t save it. We always applaud creativity and innovation with food, but the La Piña Chicken simply didn’t work; seasoned with garlic, lime, salt and pepper, the chicken itself was grilled to a nice tenderness in the middle, though little overcooked on the outside; but combined with pineapple and the incredibly lumpy risotto, it’s a dish that was brought down by several mistakes. The only saving grace was our Carrot Cake (40LE) for dessert. Soft, fresh, heavy on the walnuts and topped with icing, it was a delightful end to a disappointing meal. Perhaps the main problem with La Piña is the restaurant’s lack of identity, which subsequently translates into an unfocused and needlessly large menu. Most of all though, we’re still wondering why that rogue spring roll – possibly the highlight of the meal – was never replaced.


Fantastic Four: Fox Fails Miserably with Marvel Superhero Reboot
Published On: 24/08/2015

If Hollywood was to be defined by its trends, then the next few years belong to the world of comic book heroes. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe already established and welcoming more and more superheroes into the fold, DC is about to jump into the deep-end with its own universe and the X-Men franchise is arguably as strong as ever. Marvel's Fantastic Four – a franchise owned not by Marvel Studios, but by 20th Century Fox – haven't been so lucky. After two forgettable attempts at bringing Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing to life on the big screen – and an exhilarating appearance by the Silver Surfer – the franchise has been rebooted with a production that seemed doomed from the very start. The film re-explores how the Fantastic Four came to be, with its characters made considerably younger than we've seen them before; a motiveless scientific experiment opens a 'Quantum Gate' to a parallel universe named Planet Zero, which our heroes-to-be recklessly investigate and subsequently suffer severe consequences from. An ensuing botched return home leaves one of the scientific team stuck in Planet Zero, while an explosion in the Quantum Gate gives Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm their powers. The man left behind goes on to become a figure that is historically the Fantastic Four's deadliest foe, Doctor Doom. Despite its solid cast of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell – a collection of some of the best young actors around – the film is so underwhelming, that it makes the previous Fantastic Four films look like works of art. There are glimmers of a solid, modernised adaptation of a loved comic, but the execution of that vision has been tainted from the start and there are basic elements in the film that demonstrate little understanding of what made the foursome one of Marvel's most popular characters. Firstly, by making the main characters teenagers, the film eliminates much of the dynamic within the group – Reed, for example, has yet to become the brilliant scientist we know him as and because he and Sue are not yet an item, the familial set-up that gave the group heart isn't there – and it's a huge problem. A problem that is only further confounded by the fact that, as teenagers, there is no logical reasoning behind their motivations – no reason is given as to why these teens want to build a Quantum Gate. Throw in some of the worst plotting and pacing to ever taint the silver screen and a strangely gloomy and sombre tone and you have, well, not very much. And we haven't even talked about the infighting, the re-shoots and the fact that this film was rushed and released as soon as possible in order for Fox to keep the franchise from returning to Marvel. Sigh.


Paper Towns: Light, Airy and Ultimately Fluffy Coming-of-Age Film
Published On: 21/08/2015

Following the relative success of The Fault in Our Stars, American author, John Green, sees another of his books come to life on the big screen with the much more uneven Paper Towns. Turning from teen romance, to revenge, to road-trip thriller, the film certainly paces through the plot quickly – possibly too quickly - but it's the performance of the leads – especially model, Cara Delevingne – that keeps things interesting. Opposite Delevingne is Natt Wolff, who also starred in The Fault in Our Stars; if this is a coming-of-age story, then it's his character's story. The film opens with the main characters, Quentin 'Q' Jacobsen (Wolff) and Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne), finding a dead body as kids against the backdrop of Quentin developing feelings for Margo.  We then flash forward to our leads in the run-up to their high school graduation and though they've drifted apart, it's suggested that Quentin still very much has feelings for Margo. One night, Margo appears at Quentin's window and lure's him to help her take revenge against her cheating boyfriend and the friends who knew about his infidelity. That stretch of action has its own quirks and highlights, but the aforementioned thriller element of the film kicks in when Margo leaves town, leaving a trail of clues for Quentin to find her. It's this part that very much confirms the film as a teen flick through and through – and this is its big problem. Film critic Rebecca Keegan put forward a good argument when comparing it to possibly the greatest high school movie ever made, The Breakfast Club, pointing out that there's something intangible that's missing from Paper Towns; but that thing becomes all too clear half way through. It's simply not as profound as it presents itself. Keegan goes on to say that The Breakfast Club lingers in your mind as you enter adulthood – when it comes to Paper Towns, however, that isn't true, because it explores issues such as unrequited love, finding your path in the world and friendship in very predictable ways. It's saving graces, too, are somewhat superficial, but enjoyable nonetheless; the soundtrack, which feature music from Twin Shadow, Santigold, HAIM and Vampire Weekend among others; there's a typically somber, indie tone to the humour and of course we have the rise of Cara Delevingne and Natt Wolff who both demonstrate what bright futures they have in Hollywood. Apart from that, this is not a film that stings, lasts or moves – it's just a nice indie movie at the end of the day.


Bazaar Al Shaaban: Colourful Mosaic Lighting in Old Cairo's El Muez Street
Published On: 20/08/2015

As a street that encompassses the beauty and authenticity of Islamic Cairo with all its architectural treasures, a walk down El Muez Street in Khan El Khalili always leaves you inspired. With hundreds of handicrafts shops and bazaars selling a variety of gifts and souvenirs in the area, it it's hard not to stop by and shop. Our last visit to the busy and vibrant street left us particularly drawn to a small boutique in El Muez Street selling colorful and beautifully crafted mosaic lighting called Bazaar Al Shaaban. Inside Bazaar Al Shaaban, hundreds of colorful mosaic lamps sit along the shelves, while colourful brass lamps in different designs dangle from the ceiling, and look nothing short of stunning.  Most of the lanterns exhibited in the bazaar are inspired by different cultural aesthetics; lanterns inspired by Islamic architecture - some of which are shaped to resemble the dome of the mosque - and lamps derived from the Ottoman style, made from brass and mosaic stones, as well as Indian lanterns with colorful mosaic-carved roses stand out in particular. Among our favourite pieces, however, the oval shaped, scattered-mosaic lamps colored in blue, red, white and green; create gorgeous reflections and light patterns in the dark. Other interesting mosaic lamps include vase-shaped lanterns, mosaic lamps which resemble an upside-down drum and square shaped lanterns. We were particularly amused to see small mosaic balls with mystical lighting which looked like a gypsy's crystal ball.   Prices of the lamps vary according to size, shape and style; small lamps sell for 70LE to 250LE and larger ones - with intricate copper and brass carvings - cost betwwen 400LE to 2500LE.     The pieces at Bazaar Al Shaaban are 100% handmade by Egyptian craftsmen, which the owners take great pride in. The lamps are perfect for adding a colorful touch to any room and also make for excellent gift ideas.


Kazouza: Delicious Street Eats in Small Portions at Maadi Favourite
Published On: 19/08/2015

No matter how much we love pizza, sushi or nachos, our very own traditional Egyptian cuisine will forever remain our go-to comfort food; because let's face it, it's in our genes. Craving some homemade Egyptian food, we paid a visit to Maadi's Kazouza on Street 9, which hits enough right notes in terms of atmosphere and delicious Egyptian street bites offered.  After miraculously finding a parking spot around the corner and doing a discrete little happy dance - spotted by the people in the car next to us - we were greeted by thefriendly staff into an all-outdoors area, where we took our seats next to several fans leaving us slightly pacified in the insufferable heat.  With a traditional Ahwa Baladi setting, Kazouza offers Egyptianised décor with retro touches, including circular Ahwa tables, old-looking salt and pepper shakers, aged frames as well as vintage tin boxes - the kind of stuff you'd find at grandma's house.       Checking the menu, we were a little disappointed to find that many items were either unavailable or are still to be added in Kazouza's new menu. . After some debate, we opted for some fries (8LE) and Cheese Sambousak(14LE) as appetisers, which arrived, hot and delicious, in no time. The fries were gold and crisp, while the four sambousak pieces satisfied our afternoon cheese-cravings; perfectly crunchy on the outside, with soft molten cheese on the inside infused with fresh mint. Coming up next was the much anticipated feteer, Kazouza's signature dish served on a wooden cutting board; we went for a Mixed Meat Feteera (50LE) - comprised of sausages, minced meat and salami mixed with vegetables and cheese. We also wanted to try out Kazouza's Kofta sandwiches (12LE), served in fino bread. Taste-wise, the feteer was among some of the best we've ever had, boasting a fluffy texture, fresh ingredients and a balanced combination of cheese, meat and veggies. As far as the size goes, however, the portion was rather small. The kofta sandwiches were also a success; smothered in tomatoes and tehina, the meat wasn't too greasy and we loved flavourful seasoning. After our feteer and kofta fiesta - and after washing it all down with some cold refreshing lemon juice and some Karkadeh (11LE each) - we were ready for dessert. Dessert, however, wasn't ready for us; many of the items in the menu, including rice pudding and cream caramel, weren't available at the time of our visit. We eventually opted for  Cream and Custard Feteer (31LE). It must have been fate, though, because we quickly forgot about the unavailable dishes; filled with heavenly fresh cream, sprinkled with coconut and dripping a delicious syrup, it made up for the initial dessert choices we craved. Overall, we left Kazouza with mixed feelings; on one hand, the food and the service were excellent, the décor and props were creative, but on the other hand, the small portions and the unavailability of several items was disappointing.


Maharaja: Indian Authentic Eats in Maadi
Published On: 18/08/2015

Within its ever-growing restaurant scene, Cairo has several eateries offering Indian food; perhaps Maharaja in Maadi, is one of the best we've tried so far, with its savory affordable genuine Indian dishes.     With two other Indian restaurants down the corner including Maharani, Maharaja already faces some serious competition over who's the restaurant serving better authentic tastes. As soon as we stepped into the cozy 6-table lounge, the kitchen was close to the dining room as the smell of spices and cooked food invigorated our nostrils and we felt the aggression of them to the extent that some tears were about to drop from our eyes; yet we could hardly wait to see what's in store for us. Maharaja's ambiance is encouraging a substantial Indian experience; with beautiful elephant picturesque on the walls, an overpowering aroma of spices and songs playing in the background-similar to the ones we hear in Bollywood movie productions on television. The place wasn't crowded there were only three other customers sitting next to us, yet if the restaurant was crowded we wouldn't have felt much comfortable `as all the tables are connected with one large couch. Drowning amidst the names of the dishes, one of the waiters-who was quite friendly and helpful, explained what most of the dishes comprised of, while also recommending Maharaja's signature dishes.  As a starter, we ordered a Tikka Nan (15LE)-traditional Indian bread stuffed with carrot and chicken, and garnished with watercress. The dish was mildly spiced and served with three different sauces; mint, spicy mango chutney and pickled peppers. The Tikka Nan was light, crispy and quite tasty. The sauces were also quite delicious-of which we specially loved the mango chutney sauce with its sweet and chilly taste; only the pickles sauce was too bitter for our taste.    As our main dishes, we opted for a Chicken Korma–curry chicken flavored with clove, cardamom, bay leaves, cauliflower and pepper (40LE) and a Ran Maharaja (60LE) with Vegetanie Biryani rice (35LE). Full of cashew, parsley and garlic the Chicken Korma was moist and spicy and well cooked; apart from two of the pieces which were almost burned and still had bones. The rice had a beautiful appetizing aroma and a great taste-especially when we sprinkled some Masala sauce on it. It wasn't however served on our table, only rather upon our serving request; one of the restaurant's measures to avoid having lots of wasted food.    Served on a small flame, our Ran Maharaja seasoned with Masala-India's signature blend of ground spices, and plopped in old cheese, cream sauce and spices, looked and tasted fantastic. Overall the dish made a nice change to the tomato-based sauces and curries that have to define Indian cuisine outside of its native kitchens. As our dessert, we ordered a Coconut Ice Cream- served in a coconut fruit with peanuts, raisins, cinnamon and a sweet carrot topping (20LE) and we were served two other complimentary ones from the house. The ice cream was quite refreshing; only the coconut fruit left an over sugary taste in our mouths; making it hard for us to gobble most of it. With its music and overall ambiance, Maharaja is a restaurant that brings you the Southern flavors of Asia; it is surely a straight flight to India. The menu has variety of interesting dishes especially for vegetarians who want to try something new. Overall, apart from several overcooked chicken pieces and the small space-inconvenient for those who hate small restaurants, dining at Maharaja was a delightful experience. 


While We're Young: Cast Chemistry Carries Wandering Indie Film
Published On: 16/08/2015

Often described as 'the new Woody Allen', writer-director Noah Baumbach – who made his film debut with Kicking and Screaming back in 1995 at the tender age of twenty-four – returns to the big screen with a distinctive dose of panache in the intelligent and witty cross-generation comedy, While We're Young.   Like so many indie, coming-of-age films, Baumbach's latest production asks the impossible-to-answer questions in this game called life. Set in Brooklyn, New York, the story is centred on forty-something year-old married couple, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), whose entire childless existence is brought into question when close friends Marina (Dizzia) and Fletcher (Horovitz) become parents for the first time. Forced to ask themselves some big life questions, the anxieties of being stuck in a rut, growing old and Josh not being able to finish his latest documentary project, are soon taken to another level when they meet a so-hip-it-hurts young couple, Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried). Charmed by their much-younger friends, Josh and Cornelia soon begin exploring and embracing their quirky life. Written and directed by Baumbach himself, it's definitely not the most even and balanced of pictures, though its honest and humorous look at the challenges of getting old proves to be a premise worth exploring. The funny and the not-so-funny differences between the two generations is portrayed with a mix of humour and sombre realism and it's definitely not hard to spot a bit of Woody Allen-influence in the way the dialogue progresses. As far as the performances go, Stiller is easy to root for and his portrayal of a middle-aged documentarian struggling to make sense of his existence is funny and relatable. Meanwhile, Watts, Driver and Seyfried are superb and the onscreen chemistry between all four is evident throughout.   While We're Young is one of those ambiguous indie-darling films that the critics have raved about, but audiences have been much more hesitant about – the old adage that we fear what we don't understand is just as true in the world of film. The plot is engaging and welcomingly simple, though there is a sense that Baumbach doesn't really have a clear idea where he wants the story go. But there's something endearing about its misguided and muddled nature that serves to be a perfect reflection on its equally disorientated characters.   


Art Corner: 'Ta7ya Masr' Group Exhibition
Published On: 14/08/2015

When it comes to artistic variety, Zamalek's Art Corner never fails to deliver, particularly in its current group exhibition, Ta7ya Masr, which includes a large collection of paintings by some of Egypt's most talented artists, each showing a variety of techniques and ideas. While the exhibition has been held to commemorate the New Suez Canal, it doesn't exclusively feature elements of patriotism and explores much more. Some people say that art should evoke some kind of feeling or emotion from the viewer, even if it a negative one. In the first collection of paintings by Mohamed Tamam, the process and technique are clear too see; thick layers of dark blues and vivid yellows are applied by a palette knife to create a heavy pasted effect.  The subject is unclear, though the first piece shows a face with red eyes and open-mouth, below it a human body lying down and could perhaps represent a death; it appears figurative, scenic and expressive. Our favourite of them all had to be the three gigantesque paintings by Fathi Ali whose focus is on the darker side of life; in his first painting, he portrays a group of people who appear to be Egyptian from their long gallabeyas and head scarves.  Three of them have faces that portray a feeling of obscurity and confusion through the dripping marks and empty eyes, though the most disturbing part is the red face with the horns who clearly represents Satan and the presence of evil being among us. In the next room there are two more paintings by Fathi Ali focusing also on a darker, but more topical, side of life – terrorism, particularly that of ISIS. The pieces show figures in the bright orange jumpsuits we have all come to despair at, with one showing not only the violence but also the sadness left behind as a distraught mother holds up a photograph of her son, alluding to the execution of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya in February this year. Testament to the sheer and boundless variety of work in the exhibition, one of the other collections that catch the eye are some cartoon strips and paintings looking at Egyptian heritage; one is a beautiful rural painting by Eman Hakim of an old lady in a scarf on a background of mixed countryside scenes.  The colours are soft greens, blues and yellows creating a relaxed and positive scene. Though the gallery space is quite small, Art Corner's latest exhibition manages to bring together a collection rich in variety, style, colours and subjects, despite its name.


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An Interview with 'Barbatoze': Egyptian Comic-Book Artist & Writer Sherif Adel

Though there's still much debate on the subject, those familiar with the often addictive fantasy world of comic-books and graphic novels insist that the platform is a legit form of art and literature – and it's hard to disagree. Comic-books have been shown to be just as challenging, thought-provo