Despite Jason Momoa, contrived thriller ‘Sweet Girl’ leaves a bad taste

Despite Jason Momoa, contrived thriller ‘Sweet Girl’ leaves a bad taste
The film stars Jason Momoa. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 August 2021

Despite Jason Momoa, contrived thriller ‘Sweet Girl’ leaves a bad taste

Despite Jason Momoa, contrived thriller ‘Sweet Girl’ leaves a bad taste
  • Momoa is miscast as an everyman up against professional killers

LONDON: Netflix continues to stuff its movie slate with the biggest stars Hollywood has to offer. Jason Momoa is the latest to get a headlining gig with “Sweet Girl,” an action thriller that sees Momoa’s everyman, Ray Cooper, devastated by the loss of his wife, and galvanized by that loss to hold the head of a greedy pharmaceutical company to account for pulling life-saving drugs off the market.

Painting Ray as an everyman (or, at least, casting Momoa to play him) is the film’s first misstep. Momoa, in everything he does or says — even when he’s doing or saying nothing,  is in no way ordinary. You don’t see him on screen and think, “Oh yeah. He’s just like me.”

When Ray and his daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) wind up on the run from hired mercenaries keen to keep a lid on the Big Pharma story, Ray must use his wits and cunning to stay one step ahead of the trained killers. Trouble is that he’s Jason Momoa. You know? Jason Momoa. Which means that you’d back him in a fight against most people.

To be fair, Momoa manages to make Ray seem about as ordinary as he’s allowed to, and gets the occasional chance to flex his acting muscles instead of his actual ones. He and Merced display nice chemistry during the quieter moments of their flight, but all too soon, it’s back to fighting, and realistically it’s hard to imagine any of the movie’s nameless goons getting the better of the man who played Aquaman and Khal Drogo.




“Sweet Girl” is directed by Brian Mendoza. (Supplied)

Sadly, even these paltry attempts by director Brian Mendoza to make “Sweet Girl” believable are blown out of the water by a final-act plot twist that probably seemed very clever on paper – but that actually serves only to highlight the attempt to bolster a tenuous idea for a movie with a ‘shocking’ reveal.

Presumably, that twist was supposed to encourage viewers to go back and watch the movie again after the credits roll. They won’t want to. Once is more than enough.


New book by leading Japanese calligrapher unveiled at Abu Dhabi Book Fair

New book by leading Japanese calligrapher unveiled at Abu Dhabi Book Fair
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

New book by leading Japanese calligrapher unveiled at Abu Dhabi Book Fair

New book by leading Japanese calligrapher unveiled at Abu Dhabi Book Fair

DUBAI:  Tokyo-born Fuad Kouichi Honda is widely recognized as one of the world’s top Arabic calligraphers and he just launched his new book, “Noor Ala Noor,” during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) 2022, underway until May 29.

The book was released in collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, where a collection of Honda’s work is on display.

“The Arab and Japanese culture share common values, aesthetics and artistic practices that have always acted like a bridge of cultural communication between the two civilizations,” said Dr Ali Bin Tamim, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, which inaugurated the book during a book launch ceremony in the UAE capital.

The book was released in collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. Supplied

“Both Japanese and Arabic languages use calligraphy as a medium of artistic expression and allow calligraphers to reinvent existing styles and innovate and create new ways to personalize their creations. Their styles are based on age-old traditions developed ages ago and are passed down through the generations,” he added.

Syed Mohamad Albukhary, Director of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, said: “The Islamic Arts Museum is proud to present this bilingual publication in honour of the works of Japanese calligrapher Fuad Honda. We hope that together we are able to contribute to enhancing the vision of Arabic art and Islamic calligraphy at the international level. Honda’s works of art carry the message of Arabic calligraphy throughout the world.”

The museum is home to thousands of artifacts and archaeological manuscripts from across the Muslim world that have contributed to the development of Islamic arts, particularly the art of Arabic calligraphy and the decoration of Qurans and manuscripts.

Albukhary hopes that the book, authored and translated by Dr Heba Barakat, will help spread Honda’s calligraphy to a wide spectrum of readers and art connoisseurs.

The Japanese Muslim, who teaches at Daito Bunka University, has won numerous awards for his work, including at the International Arabic Calligraphy Competition.

It was topography that inspired Honda to try his hand at calligraphy. 

After graduating in Foreign Studies at Tokyo University, he joined a Japanese company that was working with the Saudi government to survey and make maps of the Arabian Peninsula. He traveled to the Kingdom in 1974 as a translator for the company. Several of the maps the company was using bore Arabic calligraphy and Honda says he fell in love with the art form. He started teaching himself to recreate the work he had seen.


Pop star Justin Bieber announces additional concert in Dubai

Pop star Justin Bieber announces additional concert in Dubai
Updated 26 May 2022

Pop star Justin Bieber announces additional concert in Dubai

Pop star Justin Bieber announces additional concert in Dubai

DUBAI: Due to high demand for tickets, Justin Bieber has added an extra show in the UAE as part of his Justice World Tour, it was announced on Thursday.

The Canadian pop star will perform at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on Oct. 8 and 9, 2022. Initially, the “Yummy” hitmaker was scheduled to perform exclusively on Oct. 8.

Dubai is just one stop on his tour of more than 30 countries which will run from May 2022-March 2023.

The emirate joins a handful of other cities to get back-to-back shows, including London, Tokyo, Jakarta, Sao Paulo and Paris.

Thomas Ovesen, owner of T.O.P Entertainment and the outfit responsible for bringing the show to Dubai said: “We are thrilled that Justin has managed to find time in his jam packed tour schedule to add a second night to his Dubai stop. What we have seen in the last few days has been absolutely fantastic– the demand for this show has far exceeded any and all expectations. What excites me the most is that the appetite for live entertainment is back – and what a way to welcome it back. Do not delay in purchasing your tickets.”

Pre-sale started on Thursday and general tickets will go on sale on May 27.

The upcoming dates start this month in Mexico, with a stop in Italy before continuing on to Scandinavia for shows in August.  Next up is South America, South Africa and the Middle East in September and October.  The tour will close out the year in Asia, Australia and New Zealand before moving to the UK and Europe in early 2023. 

These new shows come on the heels of his 52-date 2022 North American tour, which kicked off in San Diego on Feb. 18.


Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani
Updated 26 May 2022

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani
  • The young star of ‘Ms. Marvel’ reflects on her ‘surreal’ experience playing Kamala Khan in new Disney+ series

DUBAI: In 2014, a young girl named Iman Vellani was browsing the Marvel comic books at her local bookstore in Canada when she saw something she’d never seen before: A face that looked like hers. It was Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim superhero in the company’s decades-long history. Little did she know, at the age of 19 in the “Ms. Marvel” Disney+ series, she would be the one to bring Kamala Khan to life.

“Playing her is the most surreal thing ever. The whole reason I got into the comics was because I saw in her a girl like me. She was a Pakistani-Muslim superhero fanatic. I was a Pakistani-Muslim superhero fanatic. It was just crazy, because I didn’t think a story like that was possible, because I never really saw it before. This comic book was holding a mirror in front of me, and I just completely fell in love with her,” Vellani said at a recent media roundtable.

Vellani herself has still to properly process what’s happened to her. After all, she was cast while still in high school as a complete unknown with zero professional credits to her name, whisked off to another country to find herself face-to-face with her hero, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. It’s hard to blame her for walking through the entire experience as if it’s just some wonderful dream.

Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim superhero in the company’s decades-long history. (Supplied)

“I was basically in shock for a year and a half,” she said.

Playing her favorite character, however, turned out to be more than just a chance to connect with the cinematic universe that she posted about so fervently online throughout her formative years. It also enabled her to explore her identity as a Muslim and a Pakistani herself — something that hadn’t been easy, growing up with friends who were not a part of her culture.

“Being Pakistani was a part of my life I was very dismissive about, and I felt disconnected from my culture prior to this show. I was born in Pakistan, but I moved to Canada when I was one. I didn’t have any Muslim or Pakistani friends,” Vellani said. “I felt that isolation that comes with not feeling understood. As close as I get to my school friends, they’re never really going to know my experiences and I’m never going to really know theirs.”

Playing her favorite character enabled her to explore her identity as a Muslim and a Pakistani herself. (Supplied)

On set, Vellani found herself surrounded by South Asian actors she had grown up seeing on television, and Sana Amanat, the character’s co-creator and Marvel’s Director of Content and Character Development, herself Pakistani-American, took Vellani under her wing.

“Honestly, one of the biggest things for me is just having brown friends for the first time in my life,” Vellani told Arab News after the roundtable. “I was sitting on set with my co-star Rish Shah and listening to Bollywood music; that’s something I’d never done before in my life with anyone but my parents. I’d never had the chance to socialize with people from the same background as mine, and it really made me see things in a new way.”

At the roundtable, she praised Amanat, describing her as a “big sister” on set. “I felt so far removed from the film industry and wanted to be a part of it so badly growing up,” she said. “I’m so grateful I got to work with so many women and people of color behind the camera. I couldn’t be happier that Marvel is taking steps to be more inclusive and creating space for a character like Kamala to exist. I hope that opens a lot of doors.”

Performing as Kamala Khan was a daunting task at first for Vellani. (Supplied)

Fittingly, her journey is not unlike the one Kamala Khan herself takes in the comics — a coincidence not lost on Vellani.

“I think it’s so cool that there are so many parallels between Kamala and me; that we both went on the same journey of self-discovery, learning about our family and our heritage as the show progressed. And now I could not be prouder to be Muslim, and to be Pakistani. It’s cheesy, but it’s true,” Vellani said.

Performing as Kamala Khan was a daunting task at first for Vellani, who struggled to act naturally as a character she adored so much.

Despite her lack of familiarity with being in front of a camera, Vellani did have some invaluable experience that the writers on the show lacked: Being a teenage girl in 2022. (Supplied)

“It was really difficult, because I felt like I had to put on a face: ‘I’m acting, so I have to be in character.’ And this was my first character — my first role ever,” Vellani explained.

Once again, the women at Marvel helped her through it.

“Marvel’s amazing casting director Sara Finn held my hand throughout the whole thing and said, ‘Look, we cast you. We want you. Just be yourself. You don’t have to put on a face. That’s not you. You’re already Kamala.’ That was all the reassurance I needed,” she said.

Despite her lack of familiarity with being in front of a camera, Vellani did have some invaluable experience that the writers on the show lacked: Being a teenage girl in 2022.

“Ms. Marvel” is not a show that just attempts to capture the Muslim-American experience — it’s also about being a teenager, and all the pain and shame that comes with it. (Supplied)

“The show is written by 30-year-olds and they’re writing for 16-year-old characters. That has, a lot of times in Hollywood, not been the most realistic thing,” Vellani said. “I really appreciate that the (creators) talked to us as humans. Our directors called me and said, ‘We want to hear about you. What was your high-school experience?’ In the end, they brought so many of my — and others’ — real experiences into the show. I think it shows how important it is to have those conversations.”

After all, while identity is certainly a part of “Ms. Marvel,” it is not a show that just attempts to capture the Muslim-American experience — it’s also about being a teenager, and all the pain and shame that comes with it.

“We really wanted to lean into that coming-of-age, corny vibe, because being a teenager is so embarrassing sometimes and cringy. When you’re a teen, everything is so heightened. Small inconveniences feel like the end of the world,” says Vellani. “We wanted to embrace all of that. I think our show is quite self-aware about how corny it is.”

Sana Amanat. (Supplied)

It’s been a steep learning curve for Vellani, who will become a global star almost overnight when the show comes out, and who is going directly from filming “Ms. Marvel” to the set of the upcoming movie “Marvels,” releasing in 2023, in which she will star with Brie Larson.

“I’ve really had to learn to slow down and take care of myself. This has been such an amazing and exhausting experience that if I don’t stop and look after my own needs, I won’t be able to do it,” she told Arab News.

Vellani is well aware that breaking ground as Marvel’s first Muslim superhero means she will be connected to that phrase for life. But she’s smart enough not to allow it to define her.

“It’s an honor and a privilege that Marvel trusts me to bring her to life,” she said. “But I don’t go to work every day thinking, ‘Oh, I’m the first Muslim superhero.’ I’d never get anything done that way.”


Central Asian artists step into the spotlight

Central Asian artists step into the spotlight
Updated 26 May 2022

Central Asian artists step into the spotlight

Central Asian artists step into the spotlight
  • ‘Totems of Central Asia’ — a new exhibition in Dubai — shows how ‘we are all connected through globalization and migration’

DUBAI: Three Central Asian artists reflect on issues of globalization and identity through the intersection of ancient mythologies, regional rituals and modern symbols at a new exhibition, “Totems of Central Asia,” at the Foundry in Downtown Dubai.

Traditional ikat fabric, nomadic games on horseback and a 15th-century astronomer from Samarkand take center stage in this exhibition of works (including NFTs) by Almagul Menlibayeva and Said Atabekov from Kazakhstan and Dilyara Kaipova from Uzbekistan. The show runs until June 11.

While Kaipova takes traditional Uzbek ikat textiles and turns them into contemporary art objects, Atabekov uses photography to depict Kokpar — an ancient game from the legendary steppes — with players sporting new-age logos on their jackets.  Menlibayeva’s prints on silk take inspiration from the famous scientist and astronomer Ulugh Beg as a powerful metaphor to bring attention to environment challenges in her country.

From the series Steppenwolves (ADIDAS), Said Atabekov. (Supplied)

“Central Asia is a unique geopolitical and cultural region, heir to ancient civilizations and the fabled Silk Road. It was mainly excluded from the international context during much of the 20th century. Through this exhibition, I hope visitors will get a better glimpse of this rich region. (The) artists show how we are all connected through globalization and migration,” curator Natalya Andakulova, founder of Dubai’s Andakulova Gallery, tells Arab News.

The title of the exhibition refers to the concept of the totem as a spiritual being, with a life of its own, considered sacred in ancient societies.

“In ‘Totems of Central Asia,’ we are showcasing issues of the preservation of national traditions while adapting to the new world,” says Andakulova.

“Scream Red” by Dilyara. (Supplied)

Atabekov’s “Wolves of the Steppes” series of mostly black-and-white images (only the logo-emblazoned jackets of the Kokpar riders are in color), for instance, shows how globalization has infiltrated even the nomadic way of life.

Kokpar is a traditional sport played by nomads in Central Asia as a sacred ritual. Horseback riders fight for a goat carcass across the undulating green steppes in scenes that can resemble a battle more than a game.

“These are not staged photographs. Here, the players wear what they have and what they like. Through this game I observe what is happening around us — competition, high cost, military conflicts. In this space, we see how every speck of dust wants to find a place under the sun,” the 57-year-old photographer says.

Capsula Ulugh Beg, Almagul Menlibayeva. (Supplied)

Atabekov lives in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. His photographs have won international recognition for their blend of ethnographic signs, recollections of the Russian avant-garde, and post-Soviet globalism.

Visual artist Menlibayeva’s series of prints on silk are made up of stills taken from a video installation she created for the Lahore Biennial, 2020. They are abstract works in which the artist refers to the Uzbek astronomer, mathematician and ruler Ulugh Beg, who built one of the finest space observatories in Samarkand.

“I wanted to show how we perceive space now, at a time when there is increasing space debris,” she says. “It was also an attempt to present Central Asia through my eyes in a global context looking at science and technology from a local and historical (point of view).”

From the series Steppenwolf (FERRARI), 2014. (Supplied)

She expands on these themes with her photography prints, which focus on ecological blunders caused by economic development, focusing especially on the Aral Sea in Central Asia, the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Once the fourth-largest lake in the world, it had completely dried up by 2014, although ongoing efforts in Kazakhstan have revived it somewhat since.

Menlibayeva’s photographs show a derelict part of the Transoxiana region. Centaur-like female figures appear as a mirage in the barren desert. It is an attempt, she says, to alternate between dream and reality, and to show her homeland finding its place between the past and the present.

Born in Tashkent, Kaipova, 55, has spent much of her working life combining ikat textiles with contemporary motifs in an attempt to preserve Uzbek culture.

In her handcrafted traditional ikat fabric designs, well-known brand logos and pop-culture icons represent modern totems. “Ghost Face,” the killer from Hollywood’s ‘Scream’ franchise, features on one of her robes. Other creations feature Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader, mixing elements from the East and the West, symbolizing elitism and mass media.

“I create the sketches and craftsmen from the Ferghana valley, in the city of Margilan, Uzbekistan, make the handmade robes,” Kaipova says. “By including modern, recognizable signs and logos, I have tried to create a different view of the world through the optics of today, the view of a person living here and now. I always hope the audience is interested in the clash of archaic and modern.”


REVIEW: ‘Stranger Things’ embraces the darkness in season four

REVIEW: ‘Stranger Things’ embraces the darkness in season four
Updated 26 May 2022

REVIEW: ‘Stranger Things’ embraces the darkness in season four

REVIEW: ‘Stranger Things’ embraces the darkness in season four
  • The friends face their most dangerous foe so far — and Eleven no longer has her powers

DUBAI: “Stranger Things” is back for its penultimate season. Once again, the sci-fi horror show’s main setting is the fictional town of Hawkins — unremarkable except for a laboratory the Ministry of Defense once used for some deeply unethical scientific experiments. One, involving children, resulted in Eleven — a girl with awesome psychokinetic powers. But they also opened a portal to a dangerous alternate dimension: The Upside-Down — where demonic entities dwell, posing a lethal threat to Hawkins and the wider world.

Last season’s finale laid fertile ground for showrunners the Duffer brothers to explore: Eleven vanquished (with bully-turned-hero Billy’s help) the Mindflayer in the Battle of Starcourt Mall, but at the cost of her superpowers; her adoptive father, Hawkins’ chief of police Jim Hopper, was (we thought) killed while destroying the Russian weapon responsible for reopening the portal to the underworld; and Joyce Byers and her sons Will and Jonathan (and the re-orphaned Eleven) moved to California to start a new life.

The sci-fi horror show’s main setting is the fictional town of Hawkins. (Supplied)

Six months on (but three actual years since the last season), the rest of the gang (El’s boyfriend Mike, his friends Dustin, Lucas, and Max, his sister Nancy, her ex-boyfriend Steve and his friend Robin) remain in Hawkins — a town in mourning following the Mindflayer’s decimation of its population — hopeful that the Upside-Down is now shut forever.

It isn’t. Obviously. And the new danger takes the show further into horror territory than ever before (although its trademark humor remains thankfully intact too). The humanoid demon and main antagonist, Vecna, is terrifying. Not just for his appearance — reminiscent of the undead in “Game of Thrones” — but for what he does to his victims. (No spoilers, so no descriptions, but it’s genuinely horrific.)

The adrenaline-inducing set-pieces are as slickly executed and powerful as ever, but it’s in the quieter moments that season four really excels (at least in the four episodes we’ve seen). There’s a new depth to the characters — Eleven struggling to adapt to her ‘powerless’ reality and getting bullied at her new school; Lucas hanging with the school jocks so he can be ‘cool’; Max dealing (or not) with her step-brother Billy’s death; Steve learning to be actual friends with a girl — that really adds to the show.

The Duffer brothers have ramped up the jeopardy too; every episode has you convinced something terrible is about to happen to one of the beloved main characters. Four seasons in, “Stranger Things” is only getting better.