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Playing it Cool: Rom-Com Tries Too Hard to Be Quirky
Published On: 26/02/2015

Justin Reardon's feature-length directorial debut, Playing it Cool, sees an attempt at bring some freshness and originality to the rom-com genre falling into the same old clichés. Dreaming of one day becoming a successful action screenwriter, the main character of the piece – simply referred to as 'Narrator' and played by Chris Evans – isn't all that enthusiastic about being handed the task of scripting a romantic comedy. See, he's never been in love – a side-effect from his mother's abandonment when he was only a young boy – and therefore, he's unable to see himself writing something that he 'doesn't believe in'. Enter 'Her' (Monaghan); a beautiful young woman he meets at a charity event. Sparks fly and he is instantly smitten; however, she's already engaged to be married to handsome and aloof Brit, 'Stuffy' (Gruffudd). Powerless to get her out of his mind – a place filled with a vivid, and often dramatic, writer's imagination – emotions soon spiral out of control and, well, you know the rest. Desperately trying to swerve away from the lovely-dovey trappings of the genre, Playing it Cool is the kind of film that's really difficult to pin-down. Is it a rom-com parody? Or, is it just another movie that begins by dismissing the very notion of romance before eventually falling into the very hole it's been trying to avoid from the beginning? We'll go for the latter. Already drawing comparison to movies such as Amelie and 500 Days of Summer – a notion that's awfully difficult to grasp to begin with – the story lacks the charm, focus and the overall substance that made the aforementioned movies the cinematic success they are. In fairness, though, the two leads do share some genuine onscreen chemistry; however, the movie's relatively unexciting script is not smart, strong -or creative enough to take advantage of the fact. Monaghan is the stronger of the two; her charm is infectious and it's easy to see why any guy would fall for her while Evans, who just doesn't seem right for the role, tries his best to stick it out. However, just like the story itself, he just doesn't seem comfortable in his own skin – stick to being Captain America. Essentially, the problem here is that this is a film that tries too hard to be unique, quirky, ironically, doesn't play it cool one bit.

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Welatain: Spicy Comfort Food in Maadi
Published On: 26/02/2015

There's no food you love-to-hate more than greasy, fried fast-food. There's just something about it. But think about when you order that late night burger or fried chicken; it's a process of moving between several restaurants and picking the one you're least bored of. Having originally found fame in Heliopolis and Nasr City, Welatain has since expanded into Maadi, occupying an impossible-to-miss large space on the intersection of El Nasr Street and El Laselky Street. Welatain doesn't offer anything you can't find at KFC, Cook Door or Hardees - let's be serious, these restaurants don't differ much. What it does offer though, is a relatively cheaper alternative. The spacious venue is brightly lit and occupied by several seating areas in the typical fast food diner fashion. The servers greet you from behind the counter with a smile and take down your order promptly. You can then either wait to take it back to your table, or just sit down and have them bring it over - the usual, really. What Welatain specialise in is the spicy food and offer their sandwiches in different sizes, including the Torbiny - a 50cm monster that's not for the faint of heart. We opted for a Sub Chicken combo (25LE) and a Hareeka Sandwich (19LE) with an additional Crispy Fries order (8LE) side. The Sub Chicken is a very standard chicken fillet with cheddar cheese, mayo and lettuce - neither terrible nor awesome. The chicken is cooked well, the cheddar and mayo work and the lettuce is crisp and fresh. The fries, however, fluctuate in quality as was proved by two separate visits. At the time of the review, they were cooked to a near perfect crunch, though during a visit two days prior, they were coarsely cut, soggy and just overall unpleasant. The Hareeka Sandwich – a fried chicken breast topped with a surprisingly tasty buffalo sauce – was definitely the winner of the two. The chicken was fried well, retained an excellent crunch and the seasoning packed it with flavor despite being smothered in sauce. The Crispy Fries – regular French fries coated in a seasoned batter – were also a treat, providing a different texture and an interesting take that is every bit as addictive as the popular Hardees curly fries. Though there's nothing to wow diners, here, Welatain does what it aims to do: provide affordable and tasty fast food. Even if it doesn't become one of your favourites, it'll definitely become a fast food alternative to the other chains whose menus we have all come to know by heart.

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The SpongeBob Movie - Sponge Out of Water: Cartoon Adaptation Sure to Please Fans
Published On: 25/02/2015

Arriving almost eleven years after its first big-screen adaptation with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, one of the most popular Nickelodeon series of all time has ventured onto the silver screen again. Directed by Paul Tibbitt, Sponge Out of Water returns to Bikini Bottom, the story begins with Mr Square Pants and co learning that the infamous Krabby Patty formula – Krusty Krab's signature recipe – has been stolen. Krusty Krab's nemesis, Plankton, is the first suspect, though it quickly becomes clear that he's innocent. As things get desperate in Bikini Bottom, he's even eventually convinced by SpongeBob to join the search for the missing recipe, with their adventure eventually leading the rag-tag team to ruthless pirate, Burger Beard – voiced by one Antonio Banderas – and forcing them to step out of the water and onto land. Entertainingly silly, though at times perhaps a little testing, SpongeBob Out of Water is mainly targeted at the series' existing fan-base; for those unfamiliar with the character and the story – whose seemingly abstract premise is hard enough to digest – might find it a bit hard to find any value in the film's goofiness. It's definitely a strange world to get sucked into, however, that doesn't mean it's not worth dipping your toes. Told through a series of more traditional and old-style animation storytelling methods and once again using live-action settings,  there's a cheerful, optimistic and at times even psychedelically euphoric quality about that is sure make the film appealing to both adults and children alike. The jokes are aplenty and the humour is definitely one of its strongest points.  However, the story does falter a bit in the third act – once SpongeBob and his buddies wash-up ashore and turn themselves into a group of modern-day superheroes – and the film loses energy and momentum. Nevertheless, the franchise has proven that it's still going strong and, even though it might not win over any new fans, it will keep the old ones – which there are plenty of – very happy and satisfied. 

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Dragon House: Old Asian Restaurant in Maadi Isn't What it Once Was
Published On: 24/02/2015

Asian restaurants are in no short supply in Cairo; in fact, Asian cuisine has actually flourished in recent years, with the lesser known Thai and Korean cuisines coming to the forefront in the capital. With the emergence of so many new Asian restaurants, we dropped by one of the older competitors to see how they fare with new challenges. The Dragon House Group, founded in 1993, operates a number of branches around Egypt, including Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh, and a sister restaurant called India Corner. Surviving for over two decades in the Egyptian restaurant scene is no easy task, so we went over to Road 9 in Maadi and took the difficult-to-find staircase up to Dragon House, where we found it still retained the red and gold Chinatown colour scheme paired with bright green carpets. Is the décor a bit much? Perhaps. Is it any different from any other Asian restaurant? Hardly. A pleasant waiter greeted and seated us and then proceeded to place the different menus on our table. We were in a particular mood for Chinese, so we opted for Fried Won Tons (16.25LE) and Steamed Fried Dumpling (16.25LE) from the appetsers. For our mains, we opted for the Spicy Fried Chicken with Garlic (48.5LE) and the Beef with Broccoli (55LE), in addition to Fried Rice with Eggs (15.5LE) and Handmade Noodles with Beef (32LE). Despite being something akin to sambousak, the won tons boasted crispy golden outer layer and a chicken stuffing that was actually quite tasty. The Steamed Fried Dumplings weren't as interesting, because only the underside was fried and the stuffing was the same as the won ton. Unfortunately, things went south from there. Our previous review of Dragon House praised the Beef with Broccoli highly, but we found it to be bland in seasoning and the beef overcooked and, basically, chewy. The handmade noodles with beef suffered exactly the same problem; the beef was chewy and flavourless, pulling down the equally flavourless noodles. The Spicy Fried Chicken with Garlic was slightly better than the beef – but not by much. Masking the same kind of blandness with chilli, the chicken was cooked better, though, once again, there was a distinct lack of flair and flavour – something that Asian cuisine is loved for. The Fried Rice with Eggs was decent, but only just. Despite being an institution of Asian dining Cairo for the last two decades, Dragon House has failed to keep-up with the more modern restaurants across the city and seems to have forsaken authenticity. What was left during the time of our visit, was forgettable – even objectionable – food that is now easily found at better quality.

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Imagine Dragons: Smoke + Mirrors
Published On: 23/02/2015

After their 2012 debut album, alternative-rock band, Imagine Dragons, were propelled into relative stardom. On top of going multiplatinum, Night Vision topped charts and its singles have since been featured in several movies and TV series, with 'Radioactive' even winning a Grammy. The band further drew in critical acclaim whilst touring by proving that they are just as strong live as they are on their studio-recorded hits. The quartet returns once more to the scene, giving 2015 one of its most intriguing albums to date; Smoke + Mirrors. Right from the get go, listeners are drawn into a mixture of music genres that is hard to classify into a single one, but if there is one dominating theme for the album, it is 'the more the merrier', resulting in an instrumental fiasco of sorts. The band's attempt at taking their efficacious debut and expanding it into something more is evident with their sophomore release's full-fledged electronic-streaked songs. Whether this attempt was for the better or for the worse, however, is quite debatable; certain moments along the album descend into a bewildering calamity of overwhelming sounds that seem to have been uncomfortably crammed into a single album. All throughout the album, it is easy to notice how the foursome has drawn inspiration from various other artists. In album opener, 'Shots', lead singer, Dan Reynolds, echoes Bon Iver's hauntingly high-pitched vocals, which are then accentuated by an alternative-rock-meets- dance-anthem backbeat. Moreover, The Black Keys' signature blues-infused garage rock can be evidently heard in 'I'm So Sorry',  whereas Coldplay's signature lingeringly soothing choruses serve as the muse for pretty much the second half of the album. But it's not all bad. 'I Bet My Life' harks back to the sound that carried Imagine Dragons' debut.  On the other hand, whistles, folky guitar strums and tormented, slow-mo vocals accentuate 'Gold'; perhaps the most eerie-sounding tune, one that is perfectly fit to be the soundtrack of the apocalypse.  Best described as a lyrical juxtaposition, Smoke + Mirrors is seemingly fuelled misery-infused, highly emotional lyrics that are then heavily contrasted by booming moments of euphoria. Reynolds flatly croons "I'm a reckless mistake" on 'Polaroid' and then later on calmly belts out "open up your eyes, open up your mind" on 'Summer'. As a whole, Smoke + Mirrors does have its moments of sheer musical genius, that perhaps are more noticed after the ear becomes more and more familiar with the album's initially confusing collisions. It is, at the end of the day, the result of the band's experimentation with different sounds, which has done with a notable effort. Do we, however, miss the heavy alternative rock sound of Night Vision? Sadly, yes. Definitely and tremendously. 

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Kingsman - The Secret Service: Super-Violent, Super-Fun British Spy Comedy
Published On: 23/02/2015

The only way to truly enjoy this latest homage to espionage-thrillers is to fully embrace the goofiness and the over-the-top antics it's got on offer. Directed by X-Men First Class' Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Secret Service – a super-slick and a cleverly refreshing spy-movie send-up – is not without a fault. However, there is still plenty to enjoy. Scripted from a comic series titled, The Secret Service, the story is centred on Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin (Egerton); a troubled twenty-something delinquent who, after losing his father at a young age, has grown up to be a street-smart and a directionless wise-ass.  With zero respect for the authorities, Eggsy – who believes that his father was killed in combat somewhere in the Middle East – continues to defy the law and soon gets into some serious trouble with the police. Luckily, he is soon rescued by Harry Hart (Firth); a leading member of an elite spy agency – a.k.a Kingsmen – an old acquaintance of his father. Believing that Eggsy has got the makings of a true Kingsmen, Harry soon convinces him to join the agency.  However, he first must undergo a series of tests and obstacles – overseen by the group's tech expert, Merlin (Strong) – before he can even be considered, while in the meantime, a super- dangerous threat emerges on the scene in the form of a billionaire tech guru named Valentine (Jackson), whose super conniving plan – involving a SIM card - must be stopped before it's too late.    Kingsman: The Secret Service just may well be one of the finest spy-thriller takeoffs on the popular – but seemingly dying – genre, whose deliciously-daring and R-rated cartoonish violence will keep audiences amused.  Not everyone will find the violence welcoming but, Michael Vaughn – see Kick Ass, Layer Cake – has managed to find  just the right balance, offering plenty of laughs and stylised action – the gadgets make for particularly fun viewing – to qualify a fun, easy and a stress-free viewing experience. Bringing  every inch of his charm and on-screen elegance to the table, Firth does a magnificent job as the almost charmingly aloof Harry Hart, while Jackson – sporting a tip-to-toe neon look and an awfully entertaining lisp – is a true scene stealer.  However, it's Egerton who deserves most of the plaudits as the heart of the story and his scallywag-to-suave-spy arc is surprisingly satisfying. Super-violent but super-fun, it's not all gags for Kingsman; there's a strory and there'ss a heart and even if it does go a little far with its ideas, the film still delivers.  

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Taboon: Zamalek Restaurant Relaunches as 'Urban Lebanese Kitchen'
Published On: 22/02/2015

Almost a year ago, Cairo 360 reviewed Lebanese restaurant, Taboon; a review that raised every question there is to be raised when it comes to assessing a restaurant and found it lacking. Since then, however, the Zamalek restaurant has been through a major transformation that claimed to have tackled the previous review's many issues. Naturally, a revisit was in order. Relocated to Abul Feda Street, the new Taboon – described as an urban Lebanese kitchen – boasts a more cheerful setting with sunflower yellow walls with a number of turquoise shelves, scattered framed mirrors and a wide LCD mounted across them. The indoor tables are made of light wood, while the outdoor tables are black. with both areas populated with orange and black metal chairs. The menu has a wide selection of items to choose from.  There are several breakfast options such as hummus and yoghurt fattah (22LE), fava and falafel (35 LE) and eggs (35 LE). Other than that, the rest of the items are exactly what you'd expect; cold mezzes (10L–25LE), hot mezzes (8LE–30LE), salads (25LE–35 LE) and, of course, grill items. Unfortunately, there were several items unavailable at the time of our visit, including desserts and shawerma. With other options plentiful, however, we opted for fatayer bel jebneh (20LE) as a starter; white cheese rolled in sambousak pastry. Though the dough was light and crispy, the cheese filling was devoid of any seasoning, while the sharp taste of black seeds didn't add much as they were only present on both ends of each roll. For the main courses, we opted for sish tawook and Kofta orfaly (55LE each). Each meal is served with Basmati rice, batatah harra (spicy baked potato cubes), pickles and Lebanese bread. The shish tawook was cooked to perfection; the chicken pieces were juicy, flavoursome and sufficiently soaked in the well-balanced marinade of olive oil and lemon juice. Unfortunately, the other main course was the exact opposite; said to be grilled with a special mix of green pepper and onion, the kofta barely had any flavour thanks, once again, to an almost complete lack of seasoning. It's a shame, because it was cooked very well. Of the included sides, the spicy baked potato cubes were a success; soft and tender beneath the crispy crust, the cubes were well-seasoned and subtly spicy without being too hot. The Basmati rice didn't fare as well, however; it was bland, tasteless and under-cooked. Though there was plenty to be displeased about, Taboon has improved in terms of service and hygiene; yet with small mistakes ruining the dishes, there's little to make the restaurant stand out amongst the increasing number of Lebanese eateries in Cairo.  

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Red Onion: Maadi Bar Hasn't Changed One Bit, For Better & For Worse
Published On: 22/02/2015

When it comes to Cairo nightlife, there's an increasing variety of bars, clubs and pubs to choose from. There are, however, staples that have become second homes to nocturnal Cairenes; venues that have been there for what feels like forever; ones that you can turn to when experimenting with the newer venues is just too much of a hassle. For Maadi residents, the Red Onion has been one such place. Looking quite small and demure from the outside, the bar and restaurant is located on one of Maadi's quieter side streets and is almost easy to miss. Stepping inside, you find yourself in a stuffy, dimly-lit space with off-white walls and several small tables occupied by loud crowds. A rather confusing and loud playlist does nothing to compliment what looks to be a traditional Mediterranean theme that the interior design is trying almost too hard to portray. Ragheb Alama sings his heart out on one of his 2007 tracks followed by Usher's infamous 'Yeah' – you get the picture. A waiter scurries amongst the clouds of smoke filling the air and is immediately by our side ready to take our order. When asked for menus, he simply said "we offer everything, just shoot" – a rather odd and quite perplexing response. Not actually wanting to order food, we dismissed the waiter's peculiar answer. Whereas a can of regular soda will set you back 13LE, a Stella beer will cost you 20LE – it doesn't make sense, but little in Cairo ever does. While cocktail prices vary, they do so within reason. We opted for a Tequila Sunrise (30LE) and a whiskey and Coke (69LE). Our drinks came within a few minutes accompanied by a small bowl of salted popcorn and another of Lupini beans, which were devoured within minutes and were, sadly, not refilled throughout the night. The Tequila Sunrise was very peachy and refreshing, while the whiskey and Coke had a surprisingly large serving of whiskey – we aren't complaining. Service wise, the waiters are quite efficient and you can always spot one standing somewhere nearby. The drinks arrived swiftly and were of sufficient quality, as well as comparatively very low prices. All in all, Red Onion has retained its satisfactory level of service and its interior hasn't changed at all. The loud crowds and even louder, outdated background music can, however, be a tad unsettling especially if you're simply looking to unwind after a long day. To compare the Red Onion with Cairo's more modern bars would be unfair, however; this is one nightlife spot that very much relies on a steady stream of regulars. You can by all means enjoy a night there, just don't expect five-star anything. Or four-star anything for that matter.

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Antique Khana: Traditional French Bistro in Zamalek
Published On: 21/02/2015

The increasing number of noise-polluting, sidewalk-encroaching cafes and restaurants in Zamalek has been an issue for some time. The island that was once known to be home to the capitals wealthy is n over run with loiterers and the bored. There are few places in Zamalek that completely shield you from the hustle and bustle of the streets, though Antique Khana on Brazil Street does just that. Located on the first floor of the building opposite Mobinil, the bistro – which also functions as something of an art-space – has a distinctly nostalgic vibe to it. As you step in, you're met by a drinks counter that sits under a brass and stained glass dome. Across from the counter are four seating areas, each of which carries up to four people. The tables are made from white marble and the chairs of dark brown wood. To the left of the counter is an old piano with bookmark (15LE) displayed on top of it for sale. The second and bigger dining hall features lighter coloured walls and a bigger number of tables. There are antiques on sale here, too, including a porcelain vase (3000LE), a collection of paintings (500LE/piece) and an old radio (300LE). We seated ourselves at a table and were not greeted by a waiter. In fact it took fifteen minutes before one eventually placed menus on our table. We opted for a Caesar Salad (32.95LE) Chicken Antique (75.95LE) and a Steak Fillet (99.95LE). We were not asked how well we wanted our steak cooked. After a long wait, we were served the Caesar Salad; the lettuce tasted fairly fresh, the dressing was just enough and it was all topped with two well cooked and marinated chicken breasts. The chicken contributed greatly to the general flavour of the salad, but the fact that there was no parmesan, but instead black olives, took away frm what could have been a perfect Caesar Salad. The Steak Fillet, served with sides of mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables, definitely looked the part. As with most French restaurants, the portion is smaller than usual, and while the steak was well overcooked, the fillet was drenched in its gravy and pepper sauce which made it much more bearable. The Chicken Antique dish consisted of chicken breasts stuffed with pesto sauce, cheese and slices of carrots. The chicken breasts were thick and cooked consistently without becoming dry and the pesto sauce was delicious without the basil becoming too sour, but there was a distinct lack of cheese. The mashed potatoes were creamy and of a tasty consistency, and tasted even better when mixed with the gravy from the main courses. The sautéed vegetables, while well cooked, just didn't wow us in the flavour department. Though the service – or lack thereof – has us a little miffed, the manager very graciously, without us raising the issue, apologised with an on-the-house Crème Brûlée. Funnily, it was the highlight of the meal; it was delicious in flavour and the satisfying hard layer of caramel was executed almost perfectly. Overall, Antique Khana's food isn't quite as grand as the restaurant's aesthetics demand. Don't get us wrong; it's a charmingly unique venue that swallows you into its world of nostalgia, but several small , but crucial, missteps took the shine off of an otherwise pleasingly subtle dining experience that you'll keep coming back to for more.

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The Boy Next Door: J.Lo Stars in Weak Thriller
Published On: 19/02/2015

Almost shockingly predictable and seemingly unaware of its own inescapability, The Boy Next Door – penned by the first-time feature writer, Barbara Curry – is a film you've seen a thousand times before. Lacking originality or any sense of awareness, this latest not-as-erotic-as-you-might-think thriller is just as painful as its much-too-revealing trailer suggests. Directed by the Fast and Furious' Rob Cohen and produced by JLO herself, the story is centred on suburban high-school teacher, Claire Peterson (Lopez) who's dealing with a broken heart caused by her now estranged husband, Garrett's (Corbett), recent infidelity. Trying to put the heartache behind her, Claire tries to focus on her work as a literature teacher and her son, Kevin (Nelson) – who is still very much fond of his absent father. Her troubles, however, are soon put to the side when she meets a very handsome next-door neighbour, Noah Sandborn (Guzman); a nineteen-year old orphan who has just moved in to take care of his sickly great uncle. At first, Claire is welcoming – as any mom would be – and she even begins to encourage the idea of Kevin hanging out with their new neighbour. However, her niceness soon gives Noah the courage he needs to escalate their flirty relationship to a whole new level. After having spent one steamy night with the young man, it doesn't take long for Claire to realise that she's made a mistake.  Unfortunately for her, Noah doesn't feel the same and he will do everything in his power to let her know that. There is very little here that sets The Boy Next Door apart from any of the other similarly plotted thrillers – see Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Single White Female - that have gone on to explore – indisputably to a much, much better effect – the subjects of seduction and obsession. In fact, everything about the story feels familiar and worn-out. There's little-to-no suspense, the plot is weighed down by clunky dialogue and the film's constant tonal shifting doesn't help its already weak premise. Guzman, whose portrayal of an obsessive psychopath resembles something you see in a Spanish telanovela, doesn't click, while JLO – who doesn't look a day over 35 – seems a little lost with this one and not even her usual charming ways – not to be confused with acting abilities – could have saved this mess of a film.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: Cairo Flea Market, Tania Saleh, Cinderella the Ballet & More!

Hello Cairo! A sunny few days is teasing us with the promises of better weather as we count down the days to summer, but it fares well for the weekend ahead with Cairo's nightlife venues, theatres and cultural spaces playing host to an eclectic range of events. On Thursday, Cairo Jazz Club kicks of