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Whiplash: Simmons & Teller Star in Thrilling Oscar-Winning Music Drama
Published On: 25/03/2015

Shot in only nineteen days, there is a lot to be said about Chazelle's mesmerizing Whiplash – the director's second-feature after 2009 film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench – but dull, quiet and uninteresting are certainly none of them. Based on the director's eighteen-minute short of the same name, Whiplash is set in New York City and tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Teller); an aspiring nineteen-year old jazz drummer and student at the elite Shaffer Conservatory in Manhattan who dreams of one day becoming the next Buddy Rich. So, when he's approached by one of Shaffer's most prestigious and respected conductors, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), and offered the chance to be the new drum alternate in his jazz orchestra, Andrew doesn't know whether to be excited or absolutely petrified at what awaits him in the days and months to come. Eager to get started and throw himself into the music, Andrew quickly learns that Fletcher' teaching methods are not the most conventional ones, with his tenacious drive for perfection often resulting in both verbal and physical abuse of his students. With very little option at his disposal, Andrew – who quickly dissolves any romantic entanglement with his near-girlfriend, Nicole (Benoist) in order to completely devote to the music –  pushes himself to the absolute limits and tries his best to meet Fletcher's almost impossible standards. One of the first things you will notice about Whiplash is how Chazelle has freed the picture from any unnecessary clutter – the focus is clear.  Music is the central core of Whiplash; the energy is electrifying from the beginning and the tension - which is at times almost palpable – is compelling all the way throughout its pulsating minutes. While this is a film that can comfortably be considered as a coming-of-age story, it's the obsession buried deep into every artist's psyche that forces them to achieve absolute greatness that serves to be the film's underlying exploration. In what is probably one of his most riveting performances to date, J.K Simmons is absolutely captivating as a fearful, talented and downright frightening jazz conductor who uses fear and bullying as the main motivator in his pursuit for perfection. The veteran actor crafts his character with great complexity, though young Miles Teller deserves similar plaudits. Ferocious and unforgiving, Whiplash never skips a beat; it will entertain, shock and enthral – a must see.

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Café Blanc: Popular Lebanese Restaurant Impresses at Cairo Festival City
Published On: 25/03/2015

After its smashing success on the North coast, Café Blanc wasted no time in opening in Cairo and, not unlike its Sahel branch, the restaurant-cafe takes up an outdoor seating area at Cairo Festival City mall that provides a pleasant an inviting dining experience. The decor of the venue uses bright vivid colours and comfy, chic seating options make it perfect for a laid back afternoon lunch. The indoor area is even louder, with it's trademark sky blue colour dominating a space that includes some attractive arched ceilings. We took some time to go through the extensive menu, which included a range of traditional Lebanese dishes with modern twists, from which we chose the Raheb Salad (20LE) and some Tabbouleh (25LE) to start. From the Hot Mezza section, we opted for the Makanek in Pomegranate Molasses Sauce (40LE), Chicken Liver (35LE), Ras Asfour (38LE) and Cheese Rolls (30LE). Since the manakeesh are made right before our eyes in a live cooking station, we had to give them a try so we ordered the Akkawi Chili Man'oushe (35LE).  For the mains we had the Kofta Platter (70LE) and Fattet Shawarma (55LE). Shortly our salad arrived accompanied by a basket of steaming warm bread. The Tabouleh was light and zesty while the Raheb Salad was even more impressive with mashed grilled eggplants, diced tomatoes, peppers and onions, marinated with lemon and olive oil. The hit appetisers quickly followed; the Makanek and Chicken Liver were both smothered in flavoursome, sweet molasses sauce that truly rang in our tastebuds. The Ras Asfour, small thin slices of beef in gravy sauce, came in a rather small portion, but was nonetheless cooked and seasoned well. However, it was the cheese rolls that stole the show, coming piping hot and filled generously.  The friendly waiter then brought in the rest of our dishes promptly. The Kofta platter featured three skewers of Lamb kofta grilled to perfection with a side of delicious wedges and tehina dip. The Man'oushe was authentically Lebanes and stuffed generously with salty Akkawi cheese; needless to say it vanished in a couple of minutes. The Fattah, unfortunately, didn't fare as well; it was lukewarm, the yoghurt seemed diluted and runny, while there was a strange lack of rice. From the diverse desserts menu, we opted for Jabal Lebnen (38LE) and the trio pudding (30LE) – the latter of which was recommended by the waiter. Jabal Lebnen is a traditional Lebanese dessert featuring a simple but vibrant combination of flavours; Halawa, pistachios and delicious Mastic Ice cream.  The trio pudding was light and sweet, consisting of three servings of rice pudding, muhallabieh and meghleh; a cinnamon and spice-infused pudding. While many restaurants in the capital claim to serve truly authentic Lebanese dishes, only few actually do and Café Blanc has proved to be among them. The service was impeccable and the friendly waiters made sure to attend to our every need. All in all, we had a rather enjoyable experience despite the fact that some dishes were considered to be over-priced compared to the portions served.

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Incoco Egypt: Online Cairo Shop for U.S. Nail Appliques Brand
Published On: 24/03/2015

While many still curse the frivolity and unimportance of social media, in Egypt, the likes of Facebook and instagram have become important platforms for Cairenes with an entrepreneurial spirits to showcase their products. Many have turned to importing merchandise that is not readily available in Egypt, the likes of cosmetics and apparel. "Incoco Egypt" has done just that by offering Cairene nail art fans the infamous "Incoco" nail strips. Stumbling over their Instagram account, we saw in their products an alternative to the hectic and messy process of applying nail polish. We contacted them right away over WhatsApp, chose our favourite colours from those showcased on the account and set up a time and place to meet them and receive our chosen strips. Our purchase consisted of purple 'Royalty' shade (40LE), the red 'Passion' colour (40 LE) and a classic French manicure set (50LE). With a 3-for-2 offer, however, we wound up paying for just 2 of them (90LE in total). Incoco Egypt offers a variety of monotonic shades, as well as an array of different designs, including floral, glittery and duo-toned strips. We received our products on time and were given a brief explanation on how to apply them, as well as a complimentary nail file. The application of the products was, in all honesty, the trickiest part. Each set comes with fourteen nail strips, seven for each hand, so that you have extras to experiment with during the whole trial-and-error process of applying them. Once we got the hang of it, however, the process seemed a lot simpler and, in fact, easier than applying nail polish. The strips fit perfectly on the nails and looked professionally done – well, as professionally as possible considering the intricacy of it all. They also instantly dried up and stayed put on the nails. Due to the fact that they are actually made from nail polish that has been compressed and dried, they looked just as shiny. All in all, the Incoco strips were much more practical than one might think, especially in times when one needs to run out of the door and has no extra minutes to spare lounging around while their nail polish dries up. The price, however, may be a bit a bit steep, especially since they are made for one-time use. Nevertheless, the standard and efficiency of the product and service, in terms of delivering the right products at the right time, makes it worth the extra penny or two.

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Cinderella: Simple, Charming Remake of Classic Fairy Tale
Published On: 24/03/2015

Surprisingly straightforward and refreshingly old-fashioned, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella – the delightful live-action remake of one of the most popular and beloved Disney's animated classics – gets it right and proves that there is still room, time and love in our hearts for classic fairytales and the forever enchanting happily-ever-afters.    The skeleton of the story story is as you will remember it. Following her mother's untimely death, the beautiful and kind-hearted Ella (James) is raised by her loving father (Chaplin) who has singlehandedly brought up his daughter to believe that kindness and generosity is the key to happiness. After years of loneliness, though, Ella's father decides that it's time to remarry, leaving his daughter with no choice but to share her happy-home with an icy and unforgiving stepmother, widow Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and a couple of equally nasty and spoiled stepsisters, Anastasia (Granger) and Drizella (McShera). Welcoming her new family into her home is not easy and when Ella's father dies, things get even more difficult as she is now left completely alone and in Tremaine's care. Dismissing half of the household staff, Tremaine forces Ella to take over the house chores and to wait on her and her ungrateful daughters hand and foot. Despite the hardships, Ella – who is quickly renamed Cinderella – doesn't want to leave her home and tries to make the best of things without knowing that her life is about to take on a whole new meaning when she and falls in love with none other than the Kingdom's prince, Kit Charming (Madden). Taking on a more straightforward and undemanding approach, Branagh keeps things grounded and simple, but vibrant enough to appeal to the modern audience. Thoroughly enchanting from beginning to end – although there are a couple of subplots which could have gotten a little less attention – Cinderella is sweet, but not syrupy and, unlike other recently released Disney remakes – Maleficent, Into the Woods – there are very little touch-ups, story twists and overall changes done to the original narrative. The lead performances are equally strong and James – from T.V's Downton Abbey – is absolutely delightful and her onscreen romance with the similarly charming Richard Madden –Game of Throne's Robb Stark himself– is believable and truly endearing to watch develop.  However, it's Helena Bonhem Carter as Cinderella's wacky fairy godmother and Blanchett as her evil stepmother, who truly elevate the film, delivering outstanding performances. All in all, Cinderella – a story which has been written over three hundred years ago and adapted to the screen about a hundred times since then – is definitely worth the time and attention. Capturing the magic and heart of the 1950's classic, it proves to be an endearing and truly engaging watch for all ages.

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Al Kotob Khan: Still the Cosiest Bookshop in Maadi
Published On: 23/03/2015

After eight years of being a Maadi favourite, thanks to its warm and cosy atmosphere, Al Kotob Khan recently moved onto bigger and better things with a new branch in Degla. Unlike its old branch on Laselky road, Al Kotob Khan's new shop has plenty of space for books and people alike. The venue is a two story villa with a fair-spaced balcony that houses sets of tables and chairs. Both floors have books stacked from the ground up to the ceiling, as well as seating areas adjacent to the bookcases and shelves. At the time of our visit, much of the seating area was occupied by students who found a suitable atmosphere to study. As mentioned earlier, the shop is much bigger than the previous branch, so stocking more varieties of books is one main advantage; everything from classic and modern novels, to historical and educational textbooks. You can also find multilingual books if you're looking for some language expansion. Such diverse options make the shop a haven for bookworms; however; if you're a first-time-goer, the sheer amount of stock may overwhelm you. Next to the cashier's desk on the first floor is a fast-food bar that boasts a menu covering all sorts of snacks and drinks, starting from coffee, soft drinks, muffins and chocolate cakes, all the way to Panini sandwiches and chips. As with any modern bookshop, there are plenty of stationary items for sale; an entire wall on the second floor dedicated to notebooks, printed and handmade, with colourful patterns and various sizes. It's easy to see why Al Kotob Khan has become a second home escapism to book-lovers; the welcoming and calm atmosphere and its wide range of books give it a slight edge over the franchised bookshops of Egypt.  But be warned; you will almost certainly become addicted to Al Kotob Khan after a single visit, be it simply for book-shopping, studying or even catching a quick coffee with friends.

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Harah 9: Maadi Restaurant Serves Up Slice of Old Cairo
Published On: 23/03/2015

There's an intangible charm in simply walking through the roads and winding alleys of Downtown and Old Cairo that many simply become smitten with. It's a charm that is becoming rarer and rarer around Egypt's capital, but one that Cairenes have also become more appreciative of in the last few years. In Maadi, hidden restaurant, Harah 9, uses that as an inspiration and tries to recreate the feel of 1930s Cairo. As soon as you step in, you will find the decoration of boxes engraved with stones, colourful carpets and antique wooden furniture will take you back to an Egyptian cafe from the 1930's complete with a courtyard as well as two floors of indoor seating. The interior reflects this mood using colourful carpets and antique – possibly faux antique – wooden furniture. The menu is primarily built on classic Egyptian dishes and offers the likes of Kabab, Kofta, Tarb, Fattah and Molokhiya. We opted for Sambousak (25LE) from the appetisers as well as well as a Moza with Rice Casserole (85LE) and an order of Kofta and Veal Chops (100LE) for our mains. We began our culinary exploration with a couple of drinks; a classic Lemon and Mint (20LE), a basic Orange Juice (22LE) and a slightly more peculiar Lemon and Kiwi (22LE). All three were noticeably fresh, with the lemon and kiwi being a particularly tasty combination. Moving onto the food, we found the Sambousak to be fresh, hot and quite tasty, retaining just the right amount of crunch you would want it to. The Moza Casserole featured delicious seasoned rice, although you can have Fattah instead; unfortunately, the meat was cooked a little unevenly and left us in a game of Russian roulette. The Kofta and Veal Chops, meanwhile, are served with your choice of rice, fries or vegetables. The Kofta was fantastic; cooked and seasoned to perfection, there was little to complain about. However, the Veal Chops didn not fare as well; they were extremely fatty and, essentially, difficult to eat. For dessert, we wanted to try the Crème Brûlée, but we were told it was unavailable. Shelving our disappointment at testing the kitchen's mettle at what is a notoriously tricky dish to pull off, we instead opted the gluttonous-sounding Sweet Potato with Caramel Sauce (30LE). Served in a cup with whipped cream, the dessert was hot and every bit as sweet and delicious as you'd expect. In fact, it was just as good when it became cold.  Harah 9's staff were incredibly friendly – and patient to our indecisions and questions – and despite some faults with the foods, we left feeling satisfied with the dishes. As a whole, though, Harah 9's decor and ambiance lends it better to being a cafe or hang-out spot..

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Kelly Clarkson: Piece by Piece
Published On: 22/03/2015

Kelly Clarkson's unambiguous orchestral balladry hasn't been heard in its full glory since 2011's Stronger – save for misguided 2013 Christmas album Wrapped in Red. Four years after her last full studio album, the American Idol star has set the tone for her 2015 with Piece by Piece. Throughout what has been a whirlwind career and rise to fame, Clarkson's music has primarily revolved around themes of heartbreak, survival, struggle and self-empowerment, all thrown together under the banners of country and pop. Staying true to her origins, Clarkson covers the same lyrical themes on her latest LP, but shows signs of evolution, with Piece by Piece taking strong eighties inspirations as well as sprinkling it all with a hint of electro-pop. With a catchy bubblegum chorus and a cheery Clarkson crooning about an exhilarating new love, 'Heartbeat Song' opens the album, which, as a whole, shows Clarkson's voice to be much more versatile – something that is perhaps most evident on 'Invincible'. Co-written by Sia Fuhrler, the track is a slow-building power ballad that mixes the worlds of pop and electronic music to chart-friendly effect and feels like a continuation by previous hit single, 'What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)'. Covering none-other-than German rock band, Tokio Hotel, Clarkson delivers an r&b-adorned duet of 'Run Run Run' with John Legend; a tune dripping with despair that gives the album more emotional depth – and, of course, the vocals of Mr Legend. But for every emotional exploration, there's an equally hollow song to go with it; tracks like 'Dance with Me' sees Clarkson lean the way of contemporaries such as Katy Perry with a disco-pop number that sees her sing, "And when the music starts and the lights go down we will all be found." It's this type of modern chart pop that sways the album into mimicry; 'Take you High' draws heavily on the use of electronic vocal tampering, resulting in Clarkson's vocals being void of any of its distinctiveness. This is the struggle that 'Piece by Piece' embodies; it feels like Clarkson is trying too hard to make a statement – what that statement might be isn't immediately clear, but it's almost certainly motivated by the need to stay relevant. The lyrics go from being emotionally draining and gritty to fun and bubbly, and while it showcases a flexibility and adaptability that we've not seen often, Clarkson shines brightest when she uses her strengths – namely, her voice. While she delivers the more en vogue pop sounds well, she is at her best when her voice leads – something that doesn't always happen on what is a largely digestible album.

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The DUFF: Easy-Going Teen Comedy
Published On: 22/03/2015

Although it's nowhere near creative as other similarly-plotted teen-dramas out there– see Easy A, Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You – as far as high-school comedies go, The DUFF is expectedly formulaic, but is far from the worst film you'll see this year.   Loosely based on the novel of the same name – written by the seventeen-year-old Kody Keplinger – the story is centred on Bianca Piper (Whitman); a quirky, socially-awkward and zombie-movie-loving high-school senior who spends most of her time hanging out with her two 'more attractive' best-friends, Casey (Santos) and Jess (Samuels). Known for her laid-back look – which involves a lot of overalls and plaid – and casual approach to life, Bianca is considered somewhat of a loner by her other schoolmates; someone who has learned to turn a deaf ear to all the high-school drama and a girl that pretty much abides to her own set of rules. However, she soon receives the shock of her life when her childhood friend and neighbour, super-hot jock Wesley (Amell), informs her – very nonchalantly – that she is in fact a DUFF; a Designated Ugly Fat Friend who is only used to make her other friends look good in comparison.   Astounded and saddened by his statement, Bianca soon makes a deal with Wesley and asks him to – in exchange for Chemistry tutoring – help her shake of her DUFF image and turn herself into someone who Toby (Eversman) – Bianca's long-haired and guitar-playing crush – might even consider dating. Adapted to the screen by Josh A. Cagan, the story embodies a long list of teen-drama tropes and its only the occasional witty and sharp writing that elevates the film above being just another teen movie. Heavy on social media references and pop-culture nods, The DUFF is kept afloat by a well-assembled cast of performers who, apart from a couple of half-baked  characters – including Thorne as the evil Queen Bee – manage to keep the film above the standard teen framework. Mae Whitman – remember that adorable little girl who played the President's daughter in Independence Day? – is all grown-up and delivers the highlight performance; her spot-on comedic timing and sharp wit is a fantastic match for Amell's surprisingly layered and sincere performance as Wesley. Yes, The DUFF is a film we've all seen a million times before and anyone who has ever sat-through at least one high-school comedy in the past already knows what to expect. However, that doesn't mean it's any less enjoyable.  On the contrary; it's sweet, easy-going and fun.

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Ponderosa Steakhouse: US Steakhouse Chain Making Noise at Citystars
Published On: 22/03/2015

There's nothing this reviewer likes better than a good steak; unfortunately, few Cairo restaurants deliver. Call it primal if you will, but when it comes to pure satisfaction from a dish, little can match up to a medium-rare cut. Having landed in Citystars just last year, Ponderosa Steak House is one of those restaurants that takes meat very seriously. The restaurant itself is franchised from the US; many will remember it as the steakhouse right next to Disney World in Orlando. Located on the fourth floor of phase two, the restaurant boasts a light wooden décor with bright lighting. The wooden panels cover the walls and are matched by the chairs and tables. As we stepped inside, we were greeted by a pleasant waiter who showed us to a vacant table, placed menus on it and disappeared to find a bottle of water. The menu, like many American diners in Cairo, features a wide selection of mains and appetisers, covering beef, chicken and seafood. We opted for a Fried Shrimp (45LE) appetiser alongside Chicken Wings (40LE) for our starters. For our mains, we opted for the 280g Sirloin steak (110LE) as well as the Seafood Platter (130LE). Serving time was generally decent and the ambiance of the restaurant kept the loud and crowded at bay. Our appetisers arrived with an array of sauces including tartar, marinara and ranch. Both the chicken wings and the shrimp were fried very well and drained of excess oil, retaining a very decent crunch. We favoured the chicken wings, though, as we found them to be more flavoursome. The mains arrived shortly after. Our Sirloin was ordered medium-rare alongside sides of baked potato and green beans. The steak was served it just how we ordered it, retaining a great level of juiciness and natural flavour. The baked potato, topped with butter and a little cheese, was creamy and delicious while the seasoned green beans were similarly simple but delicious. The Seafood platter, featuring salmon, fried and grilled shrimp with the same baked potato side and brown rice, will definitely get you full. The 150g salmon steak was seasoned with lemon, dill and butter and cooked to perfection. While the fried shrimp was just like the appetiser, the grilled shrimp soaked up more of the zesty flavour and was by far the superior of the two. While the prices at Ponderosa may seem relatively steep, it is certainly reflected in the quality of food. With pleasant staff and more than pleasing food, Ponderosa's only downfall may be being located inside such an insufferably busy mall.

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Lehnert & Landrock: Shop, Gallery, Publisher, Treasure Cove in Downtown Cairo
Published On: 20/03/2015

Hidden a little too well amongst the shops on Sherif Basha St. in Downtown Cairo lies a gem of a shop; Lehnert and Landrock. Standing proud since 1936, the name of this shop comes from the founders; two friends born in Bohemia and Saxony, though their successful partnership began in Tunisia in 1904.  Rudolf Franz Lehnert and Ernst Heinrich Landrock were photographers, writers and travellers whom, after many years of travelling, wound up in Cairo where they opened the shop as a representation of all their passions - photography, art, travel books and culture. Over the years, the shop has remained very much the same, but with the addition of extra merchandise and art, particularly handcrafts in the form of textiles which can be found on both floors. Bags cost an average of 110LE, while simple threaded bracelets start at 10LE. There are also wall hangings portraying an extensive amount of patience and hard work on display.  Ceramics are also available on the second floor in the form of cups, glasses, plates and bowls, many with an Egyptian theme or touch to them. The books are mostly in English, though some German, French and Arabic language books can also be found on topics such as travel and culture.  Prices are a little high, starting at around 100LE per book, but all are brand new, neatly bound. Not only is this a shop where items are purchased, it is also a a gallery of sorts, containing historic artefacts from the past of these two talented gentlemen-an antique typewriter, a wood box camera and a collection of old photographs all displayed in a large glass cabinet.  It's an exhibition in itself. Colourful displays of creativity fill the shelves and almost everything inside is centred around Egyptian culture from the books on the shelves to the paintings on the walls. The prices for many items at Lehnert and Landrock seem high yet at the same time very appropriate as you are not just paying for an item, you are buying a piece of art.  This store is definitely ideal for gifts small and large as it's just filled with a variety of knick knacks like coasters, Christmas decorations carved from wood, bookmarks, greetings cards, calendars, fridge magnets, and notebooks. Lehnert and Landrock is the kind of store you can get lost inside for quite some time.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: D-CAF2015, Sound Chemistry & Stand-Up Comedy

Hello Cairo, What a beautiful weekend this is looking! The sun is shining, the birds are singing - no, wait. That's the sound of unnecessary car horns. Whatever the case, there's plenty to see and do across the capital this weekend. On Thursday, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, D-CAF201