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The Boxtrolls: Fun & Quirky Stop-Motion Animation
Published On: 28/10/2014

If you've enjoyed the type of quirkiness in 2009's Coraline or the creepy-goofiness of 2012's ParaNorman, then The Boxtrolls – the latest stop-motion creation and an adaptation of Alan Snow's Here Be Monsters! novel – might be right up your alley. Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, The Boxtrolls is set in a Victorian-like city of Cheesebridge. The residents, through scary and gruesome fables, believe there are deadly Boxtrolls living underneath their streets. When a human boy goes missing, it is believed that the scary monsters from down-under have eaten him. Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Kingsley) – a sneaky pest exterminator – offers to go in and eradicate the threat himself, in the hope of gaining access to the elite society known as White Hats. However, the missing boy in question is in fact an orphan named Eggs (Hempstead-Wright), who has been living with the the so-called monsters ever since he was two years old and, just like them, he now spends most of his time collecting recycled trash and building various devices and gadgets out of them. Luckily, Eggs and his faithful buddies are more than capable of staying out of trouble and far away from Archibald's menacing grip; that is until, Eggs – a boy who is part-human and part-Boxtroll – lays his eyes on beautiful young human girl, Winnie Portley-Rind (Fanning), and instantly falls for her. However, Eggs begins to learn the hard way that his infatuation with her is going to cause him problems. The latest production to come out of Laika studios – a renowned stop-motion animation company specialising in feature films – is another unique and quirky addition to the company's filmography. Dark, whimsical and delightfully unconventional, The Boxtrolls sings to its own tune and succeeds in creating an original setting and a story that stays unique to Disney and Pixar.  The time and effort that went into creating the world of Cheesebridge – and all of its peculiar, British-speaking residents – is evident. Led by Game of Thrones' Hempstead-Wright – better known as Bran Stark of Winterfell – the performances were equally solid and although Eggs could have had a little bit more spring to his step, it was Kingsley – as the deliciously evil exterminator – who steals the show along with Frost, Ayoade and Morgan, who provide the voices for Archibald's thugs. The Boxtrolls; it's by no means groundbreaking, but it is an incredibly fun and unusual watch.

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La Rosa: Simple, No-Frills Restaurant in Maadi that Focuses on the Food
Published On: 28/10/2014

Sometimes you just need wholesome, dependable food – and there's little you can depend on, when it comes to dining in Cairo. It doesn't matter which cuisine, just one that you know you love and can have repeatedly. For this reviewer, that happens to be Italian, and while this is a cuisine we've discussed at length as the single most badly executed in Egypt, there are a few gems out there who get it. One of these is a small diner on Road 231 in Degla Maadi called La Rosa. With a very casual atmosphere and framed photos of Italy combined with wine bottles covered in wax to set the décor, La Rosa is laidback and puts the focus on the food. The lighting is dim and when there's music, it's suitably low, only lingering in the background. A waiter will greet you at the door when you walk in and set menus at the table for you. The prices at La Rosa vary greatly. On one side of the spectrum, you have very affordable pizza and pasta (27LE40LE), though on the other end, the main courses range between 75LE and 95LE. We decided on the Pizza Funghi (32LE) as well as Tortellini (34LE) and Farfalle la Rosa (35LE). From previous experience we knew the Tortellini isn't as filling as the other dishes and would serve better as an appetiser. As per custom at La Rosa, a complimentary Bruschetta appetiser is served before the food. The soft in the centre, crunchy around the edges bread worked very well with the topping of seasoned and diced tomatoes. The pizza at La Rosa is one of our favourites across Egypt for two reasons. The crust is the perfect thinness, crunchiness and doesn't flap – and they don't charge you 60LE for it. Our Funghi Pizza was exactly that; the tomato sauce was delicious, the cheese wasn't overpowering and the fresh mushrooms were the cherry on top of a very delicious cake. Unfortunately, the pasta didn't hold up as well. The Tortellini, one of the hardest to execute because of a specific folding technique to the pasta, came undone on our plate. While the ricotta cheese and spinach stuffing was flavourful and seasoned well, the cream sauce was a bit in terms of combining with the other flavours. With the Farfalle la Rosa, consisting of pasta with pink sauce and cooked smoked salmon, was perfectly cooked and tasted fresh. The salmon wasn't as plentiful as we had hoped, but delicious nonetheless. While we may remember La Rosa as slightly better than what we experienced, at least in the pasta department, the pizzas were still up to standard and the restaurant prioritises the quality of the food over the shallow pizzazz that so many other restaurants seem to want to rely on.

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Fury: Solid, Engaging WWII Drama
Published On: 27/10/2014

Written and directed by David Ayer, Fury may come across as just another WWII story that has been told many times before, but there's more to it than it meets the eye. Set in April of 1945, the story centres on the final days of the war, just as the Allies and their forces have pushed the Germans back into their own land for one last fight. Having just returned to base from a long, drawn-out battle, Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Pitt) and his loyal 'Sherman' tank crew, including Boyd Swan (LaBeouf), Grady Travis (Bernthal) and Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Pena), are mourn the death of their buddy, Red. However, they're soon presented with his replacement in the form of Norman Ellison (Lerman); a young and a naïve clerk, who's only been in the army for eight weeks and has never set foot on a battlefield, let alone operated heavy artillery. Naturally, the Sherman boys aren't very keen on welcoming the fresh-faced soldier onboard. Nevertheless, they all soon head onto the battleground to fight what is left of the Nazi forces and Norman's inexperience, naivety and general apprehension of blood and war is soon put to the ultimate test.   There are over two hundred WWII Hollywood-made movies and although the genre has produced some truly memorable films over the years, the majority have failed to add anything new. Enter David Ayer – the director and writer behind gems such as Training Day and End of Watch – who manages, ever so subtlety, to inject the story with plenty of essence. Extremely violent and grey, Fury – told mainly from within the confinement of a military tank – is explosive and full of anger – hence the title – however, it's more peaceful and quieter moments that speak the loudest and the harshness of war and loss is felt throughout. The onscreen chemistry between the loyal band of brothers keeps the film interesting. Pitt offers an engaging performance as a hard-worn sergeant, while LeBeouf, Bernthal and Pena round off the impressive cast with solid performances. Similarly, Lerman, better known for his role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, delivers the naivety and innocence of youth that the role demanded with aplomb. While many will consider Fury to be of little significance in the large scope of war period dramas, it's very much the case that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You won't see anything new here, but the film's heart and soul is largely owed to its central characters and a director who knows how to tell a story.

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Crave: Revisiting Maadi Branch of Popular Restaurant Chain
Published On: 26/10/2014

Dining in Cairo is as unpredictable as anything else in the city and a visit to an old favourite is always a pleasure; but with recent mixed reviews of Crave, we had to put suspicions to rest and find out how it racks up against our first review. Crave's Maadi branch is more spacious than the one in Zamalek and is, unanimously, thought of as having and overall better atmosphere. The restaurant was as clean as we remember it, and our favourite decoration item remains the light hangings decorated with cutlery over the tables. Upon entrance we were greeted at the door by a friendly waiter who leads you to a table of your preference in either the smoking or non-smoking section. The menus are laid out on the table, and the waiter retreats unless you have any questions. Among our favourite dishes at Crave were the Zombie Burger with Mushroom and Cheese (48.95LE), the Beef Teriyaki (86.95LE) and the Shrimp Konafa. We wanted to check on the rest of the appetisers as well so instead we opted for a Combo Platter (68.90LE) and substituted the Fish Fingers for Shrimp Konafa. Arriving around thirty minutes later, the Combo Platter featured fried mozzarella sticks, stuffed mushrooms, chicken strips and shrimp konafa; surprisingly, the oil was drained particularly well as nothing felt greasy, though the mozzarella was average and lacked flavour and the chicken strips were a little on the dry side. The stuffed mushrooms, on the other hand, were cooked and seasoned well, while the shrimp konafa was exactly how we remember it - delicious and fresh. The main courses arrived shortly after. A good rule of thumb we employ when ordering steak is, who asked for the cooking? If they ask you, you're probably safe, but if you have to mention that you want your steak cooked medium, you're probably going to be served well done. Thankfully, at Crave, they asked, we said medium and that's what we were served. The Beef Teriyaki was perfectly cooked, beautifully seasoned and an absolute pleasure to munch down. While a little scarce, the glass noodles that are served with the dish were similarly tasty, but clumped together a little more than it should. The Zombie Burger, sadly, didn't quite match-up. While the patty itself was flavourful and seasoned well, it was really overcooked - to the extent that parts of the inside were almost black. Otherwise, the burger was very well put together, decently sized, and had a very good bread to patty to toppings ratio. Crave's prices are slightly expensive for their portions in comparison to other restaurants, but they do serve much better food - especially in the steak department. Crave's popularity is understandable, but closer attention to the small things could make what is a good restaurant into a great one.

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Left Behind: Disastrous Book-to-Film Adaptation
Published On: 26/10/2014

Back in 2002, a straight-to-DVD adaptation of the novel, Left Behind, left what could have been a potentially interesting film franchise a horrible mess. For some reason, a Hollywood bigwig decided to give the green-light to a new adaptation. Left Behind begins its story at JFK airport where we meet Chloe Steele (Thompson); a college student who has just arrived home to celebrate the birthday of her pilot father, Captain Rayford (Cage). Unfortunately, her father, portrayed as a heartbreaking player amongst his peers, is unable to attend; he has decided to work the overnight flight to London –  in order to get away from his wife, Irene (Thompson), and her newly-found relationship with God – and also, to have a little bit more time to canoodle with the attractive air hostess, Hattie (Whelan). Disappointed by her father's no-show, Chloe soon pours her heart out to TV reporter, Buck Williams (Murray), whom she meets before he boards her father's flight. Soon after, she heads home to see her mom but only to end up having a heated argument – mainly about religion – forcing her to storm out and take her younger brother, Raymie (Dodson), out to the mall. However, strange happenings soon begin to take place when millions of people – including Raymie – mysteriously disappear, leaving only their clothing and belongings behind. Similar occurrences take place on her father's flight, leaving the Captain and what is left of his passengers, wondering what or who could be responsible for the catastrophe and whether 'The Rapture' is nigh.   Based on a popular book series of the same name written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, there are no words to describe just how terrible and poorly-executed Left Behind really is. There's zero cohesiveness to the story and the production values are embarrassingly cheap. Poorly paced and filled with a lot of unnecessary dialogue – everyone seems to have something to say – most of the story takes place within the confinement of the airplane and it takes a really long time before anything remotely exciting happens. In what appears to be one of his most questionable roles to date, Cage is his usual melodramatic self, while Thompson's character as a born-again Christian brings embodies the notion's clichés and stereotypes without a shade of pragmatism. The only member of the cast to bring any kind of sincere conviction to his role is Murray, as the helpful TV reporter. Overall, Left Behind is a shockingly poor and devastatingly boring take on the 'end of days' and it is, just like it states, probably just better off left behind. 

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The Trend: Online Outlet Specialising in Handmade Flower Crowns & Headbands in Cairo
Published On: 26/10/2014

You've seen them at music festivals, beaches and worn by celebrities. Just about every hipster and pseudo-gypsy-styling gal has them by the bunch and Cairo has never exactly been immune to trends and fads; flower crowns and headbands are what's in right now and one local retailer is taking full advantage of it. The Trend is a local brand offering those very headbands we've seen floating around Tumblr. We came by the brand's Instagram account, which is where you can view all their designs. Though there's still a certain type of stigma surrounding online shopping in Cairo, it has emerged as a great platform and outlet for local brands and designers who have to compete in the face of the increasing number of high-street brands such as H&M, et al. The Trend, in particular, has kept things simple with its Instagram page, making the shopping 'experience' much easier than one would imagin. From amongst a pool of many different designs (ranging between 20LE-80LE), we opted for three; a red flower crown (35 LE) and two normal white and pale-pink floral headbands (20LE each). You can also order some floral bracelets, as well as custom-made floral headbands and crowns for special occasions including engagements, bridal showers, weddings, photo-shoots and the like. For an additional 25LE, you can get your order delivered right to your doorstep within a pretty short time from placing it. Ours was neatly placed in a plastic bag and to say they looked absolutely beautiful is an understatement. Both headbands were delicate and pretty and work well for both beach and city-appropriate outfits. The flower crown, however, was beyond our expectations; its crimson colour was just perfect and could work for the winter as well. Unfortunately for Cairo's more experimental fashion horses, we live in a country where fashion statements are mostly accompanied by tons of unneeded glitter and tacky embellishments, the already scarce headbands available in stores come with either or both of these features. The Trend bucks this, well, trend, with subtle designs that sell for very decent prices.

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Annabelle: When Evil Dolls Attack
Published On: 23/10/2014

Sinister looking children's toys – dolls and puppets in particular – are a common feature of many a horror film, often somehow possessing dark demonic powers. Annabelle, the latest horror of such kind and the prequel/spin-off to the last year's summer hit, The Conjuring, unfortunately is rather dull. Directed by John R. Leonetti –  of The Conjuring, Sinister and The Mask fame – and written by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle is set in the early 1970s and follows Mia (Wallis) and John Gordon (Horton); a young married couple living in Santa Monica, who are expecting their first child. One night, their next-door neighbours are killed as a result of a satanic cult home-invasion job.  Unfortunately, the drama doesn't end there and they soon end up victims of a similar crime, but after a certain amount of struggle – and blood spilled – the couple manages to come out alive. Soon after their traumatic ordeal, their home – that they've grown to love and care for – begins to suffer a series of supernatural occurrences and after it becomes a little too much to handle, they decide that it's best to move. Unfortunately, trouble follows them to their new home and John and Mia soon realise that Mia's prized collector's doll might have something to do with it all.  Annabelle starts off strong, with Leonetti and Dauberman weaving a decent amount of tension and suspense into the opening.  However, although, their ideas are relatively solid – and some of the scares genuinely frightening – the plot soon become repetitive and what little novelty the premise has wears off pretty darn soon. In terms of performances, both Wallis and Horton managed to sustain a good amount of chemistry; however, their characters – just like the story – aren't formed well enough to form a connection with the audience. Riddled with clichés and familiar formulas, Annabelle is little more than an attempt to cash-in on the success of its much more convincing and entertaining predecessor.

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Studio Masr: Wholesome Grills with Nile-Side View in Zamalek
Published On: 23/10/2014

While many restaurants in Cairo open to great fanfare and hype, it's the test of time that often sends the unsuccessful off to restaurant heaven - being inconsistent is the Cairo's most consistent trait. Powered by Amer Group, Studio Masr has built quite a reputation over the years and has expanded to over fifteen branches, even including a couple abroad. But there's one location in particular that remains somewhat special. The Nile City Boat branch located in Zamalek boasts both a great view and a special mixture of kitsch and Oriental memorabilia. While most of the Nile-side boat venues are pretty crowded on weekends, we decided to have a midweek lunch, opting to sit in their open air terrace-like area, especially in between seasons when there's just the right amount of sun and breeze. The menu hasn't changed much over the years, offering standard Oriental cuisine and grills including kebab, kofta, veal, lamb and chicken, as well as tagens and appetisers. Feeling particularly hungry we decided we would order a couple of mezzas, Hummus with Meat and Pine Nuts (32LE) and Chicken Liver with Garlic and Lemon Sauce (32LE), as well as the Studio Masr Grill Shawaya for two (160LE). This kind of cuisine isn't generally served very fast, so it was no surprise it took upwards of thirty minutes to arrive. The appetizess arrived first accompanied by fresh bread baskets. The Hummus was smooth and freshly made rather than canned. The meat was hot off the skillet and the pine nuts were roasted with the meat.. Similarly, the Chicken Liver was nice and zesty and, along with the fresh warm bread, left us eager for more food. The Studio Masr Grill (160LE), featuring Kebab, Kofta, Veal Cutlets or Lamb Chops, Chicken Breasts and Shish Tawook, was a very decent in portion for two. While the seasoning was delicious all around, the kebab, veal cutlets and chicken breasts were slightly overcooked. The all-around experience was pretty good, if unspectacular. With a pleasant atmosphere in both this and most of its branches, plus food that needs no market education and that Egyptians love, it's no surprise a restaurant like Studio Masr has flourished so well over the last few years.

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Piccolo: Decent, if Unspectacular, Italian Diner in Maadi
Published On: 22/10/2014

Cairo isn't exactly an easy city to navigate, especially when trying to find a place in unfamiliar terrotory. Every now and then, you'll see a random menu or neon sign that you haven't seen before and you'll either be instinctually intrigued, or completely put off. In one such case, we came across a neon backlit sign that said Piccolo. Looking through the glass the restaurant had decent decor with cushioned chairs and plant pots with spotlights at the entrance. A waiter greeted us at the glass door and led us to an empty table, laid out the menus, and retreated. Upon inspecting the menus, which is heavy on Italian dishes. Historically speaking, there have been many that have labelled themselves as an Italian restaurant, only to dissapoint; they don't necessarily have to be high end to serve good pasta, but generally, the odds are against them because of how localised most of Italian cuisine has become. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, a few mains and desserts. We started with a Pollo Salad (22.50LE) and moved onto a Piccolo Pizza (42.5LE) and Piccolo Meal 1 (45LE) from the main courses. The Pollo Salad featured grilled chicken, arugula, cucumbers and tomatoes with balsamic dressing; while the chicken was cooked and seasoned to decent flavour, the balsamic dressing, sadly, overpowered all other flavours, giving the arugula even more of an undesired kick. The Piccolo Pizza, which is topped with salami, chicken, turkey and sausage plus vegetables, olives cheese and basil sauce, was very disorienting as a pizza. The crust was very thick, while the tomato sauce was minimal, with the cheese taking up most of the flavour. We appreciate the use of oregano, but it was more of a turkey and cheese sandwich than a pizza. The Piccolo Meal 1 consists of a grilled chicken breast and pasta. We opted for their Napoli pasta which is simple spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and oregano. The chicken breast was, one again cooked and seasoned well, but rather plain in taste. The pasta, on the other hand, was surprisingly better than we expected, albeit a little greasy. The use of oregano really adds to the complexity of a tomato sauce and the restaurant's use of both basil and oregano extends across much of the menu. While the food, especially the pizza, could certainly use some revision, the venue is clean, the waiters attentive and the prices are very decent.

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The Maze Runner: Another 'Young-Adult Fiction' Adaptation
Published On: 21/10/2014

With films like Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight finding unbridled box office success, adult feature film adaptations have, to some extent begun, to reach saturation and the latest proves exactly that. The Maze Runner builds on a genuinely intriguing dystopian setting that fails to offer anything new to the genre as a film, despites the interesting premise of James Dashner's 2009 book. Directed by first-time filmmaker, Wes Ball, the story follows Thomas (O'Brien); a young man who finds himself waking up with amnesia and surrounded by an army of equally curious young men.  He soon learns that he has woken up in the Glade; a sprawling savannah that is towered off by high – and maze-like –  concrete walls. Just like Thomas, the boys, led by Alby (Ameen) – who has been stuck in the Glade for the past three years – are unable to recall who they are and how they got there. The increasing number of new arrivals eventually led the confused boys to build a functioning mini-society of sorts, that depends on 'runners' – the fittest, fastest and most agile of the group – to race into the maze each day and look for a way out. The task is made all the more daunting by the fact that the gates that guard the maze close buy sundown and no one dares imagine what could happen to anyone who gets stuck there with the large monsters known as Grievers who patrol the maze at night. Thomas initially has a hard time believing the myth, but realises the severity of the situation when one of the boys' life is put into danger. The group is soon thrown into complete chaos when the first girl to arrive at the Glade, Teresa (Scodelario), shows up with a threatening message, making the boys realise that they can no longer wait for a miracle but, that they themselves must find a way to escape – and fast. The Maze Runner marks the first and the opening chapter of a planned three-part series that once again sees a group of teenagers fighting for their lives against a mysterious and much superior force. To its credit, though, the story is fairly engaging, as the plot builds on a similar premise to William Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. The film succeeds in projecting a deliciously claustrophobic tone and the characters are likeable, while even the action is pretty solid throughout. However, the film plays out like an intro to the series and those who haven't read the book might feel a little cheated by the fact that the character of Thomas is never really explored and short-changed by the abrupt - and calculated - finale. Overall, The Maze Runner is a decent, if unremarkable, first chapter to the series and now the pressure is really on for the second.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: Halloween, Arab Music Festival & Conference, Brunch & More!

Hello Cairo! Halloween weekend has arrived and boy, are there a lot of options! On Thursday, Cairo Jazz Club ends the week on a ladiback note with Jazz Cabaret featuring the Riff Band and a 1920s theme, while renowned Egyptian musician Yehya Khalil takes the stage at the Cairo Opera House. VENT hos